From Kiev, Ukarine
The answer to the question is: I'm here to be an official observer of the Ukrainian national elections on Sunday to select a new Parliament. I'll be back in the U.S. on Tuesday to unofficially observe our own elections.
Speaking of our own elections ...
Romney's bounce in the polls since the first debate remains stubbornly in place. According to the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, Romney has a lead of two percentage points in those polls that have been taken this week.
Two percentage points, as we have been told over and over, is well with the margin of error (MoE) in every single poll. Still, as we have discussed before, given a choice you'd rather be ahead in a close race than behind.
Ok. We know that our system is not a direct vote for President. It is 51 separate elections - 50 states and the District of Columbia - in which 49 of those jurisdictions have a winner-take-all policy: Who ever gets the most popular votes in every state except Maine and Nebraska, gets all the electoral votes.
As long as we're doing Presidential Elections 113, we might as well remind the new people in the class that the number of electoral votes each state gets is the total of the number of Congressional Districts plus two because each state has two U.S. Senators.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win an absolute majority so you might think that states with large numbers of electoral votes like California (55), New York (31), and Texas (38) for a total of 124 or about 46 percent of all the votes a candidates needs would be in the eye of the storm of electoral activity.
Nothing could be further than the truth.
In fact other than for raising money, neither candidate has done very much more than a drop by any of those three states. New York and California will go for Barack Obama. Texas is firmly in the Mitt Romney column.
If both camps agree that a state is "off-the-table" they turn their attention and resources to states that are still in play - battleground states.
Most political pundits list these battleground states thus (numbers indicate the average lead as of last night):
Ohio - O +2.1
Florida - R +1.7
Virginia - R +1.5
New Hampshire - O +0.8
Colorado - R +0.4
Iowa - O +2.0
Nevada - O +2.8
Wisconsin - O +2.7
Pennsylvania - O +4.8
Michigan - O +4.0
Minnesota - O +7.3
North Carolina - R +5.0
Although Obama has a lead in most of these states, the trend lines make it almost impossible to assign a final total.
Early polling has begun in many states - more than 30 have some form of allowing its citizens to vote before the official election day. I voted in Virginia last week, so feel free to take me off your robo-call list.
I wrote a piece for the Daily Beast earlier this week that included actual reporting, in that I interviewed Romney political director Rich Beeson about the polls showing Obama jumping out to huge leads in early voting.
He told me that the Obama campaign is turning out their high propensity voters first and will then go after lower-propensity voters.
Because of a higher level of intensity among Romney supporters, Beeson said
"We know our high-propensity voters will vote; we're focusing our early voting operation on the lower-propensity voters. We want them to get to the polls or to send in their absentee ballots before Election Day."
If that theory is correct, then early voting tallies may not tell us as much as the Obama campaign would have us believe.
Most analysts now believe it will all come down to Ohio and it its by no means clear how Ohio will go.
According to the University of Virginia's Dr. Larry Sabato, "The truth is that the Midwestern battlegrounds of Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin could still go either way."
The corn belt, the rust belt and the cheese belt might decide this whole thing.