The plot thickens. "Shake ups" generally do not occur inside campaigns that believe they are winning; they're reset buttons to change the trajectory of races:
"The cold hand of fear grabbing Chicago."
Todd reports that some of Obama's "sharpest communicators" from 2008 are being called back into service, but who would those people be? Gibbs, Axelrod, Messina, Plouffe...they're all still around. Bill Burton's missing this time (we know what he's up to), but legally can't technically coordinate with the campaign at all. Who will gallop in to save the day? Mitt Romney is not running away with this race by many means -- more on that point in a moment -- but it's gratifying to sense some panic in Chicago. Politico correspondent Glenn Thrush has reported on the depths of Team Obama's arrogance and derision toward Mitt Romney for many months:
“Inside the White House, Romney was such an object of ridicule that it was hard to take him seriously, difficult to narrow the mass of contempt into a single, coherent narrative for not electing the presumptive GOP nominee.”
Now we're seeing that incredible level of hubris jumping up and biting the Obama campaign in the rear end -- to the point that even friendly news outlets are describing the "cold hand of fear" gripping Obama headquarters. What might have them frightened? Beyond the numbers I wrote up earlier, there's increasing evidence of a substantial Romney surge in swing states. In Indiana, a state Obama carried by the skin of his teeth last time in a major upset, Mitt Romney is running away and hiding. He leads the president by 16 points in a new poll. In North Carolina, the site of another narrow and unexpected Obama win in 2008, the Republican nominee appears to be pulling away. A new state-wide Gravis survey shows Romney ahead of Obama by nine points, 50-41. In Nevada, where Obama won by 12 points last cycle, the race is now dead even at 47. In addition to NBC's virtually tied poll in Ohio, ARG has released a Buckeye State survey of their own: Romney 48, Obama 47 among likely voters. Romney edges in front despite a D+9 sample, two points more Democratic than the actual 2008 turnout. Nationally, Rasmussen's daily battleground tracker has Romney pulling into the lead for the first time in weeks, 49-46. Within the poll, the GOP ticket leads by ten with swing state independents, and by six among those "certain" to vote. Even the SEIU/DailyKos national PPP survey puts Romney ahead by two points, 47-45.
There is no question that Romney has gained considerable political terrain within the last week. The boost is real. But it's a mistake to assume smooth sailing from here on out. Obama will steady the ship and make a comeback. Even if it's a minor one, the media will hype it as if the grand conqueror has valiantly managed to fight adversity and emerge with a lead. This is the story they desperately want to write, and dammit, they won't be denied. One explanation for the Romney uptick in polling is probably related to the debate, but not in the way you might think. It's been widely reported that many pollsters are struggling to get people to respond to polls. Anecdotally, Republicans and conservatives seem particularly averse to being polled -- particularly in a cycle when they've been repeatedly informed that their candidate is going to lose. After the Denver debate, I'd bet that GOP voters and leaners were infused with an excitement and hope that they hadn't sniffed in months -- so when that pollster rang them up to ask their opinion, more of them felt emboldened to take the plunge and share their opinion. (This might explain the R+3 sample Pew recorded yesterday, for instance). I suspect this afterglow effect will drop off over time...unless the Romney/Ryan ticket somehow keeps dominating the debates. As I've argued for months, this will ultimately be a turnout election. This new batch of surveys point to strong Republican turnout in November, but still remain very close. This trend should encourage Romney backers, but they should also brace for the probability of "backlash" polls. Setting aside the possibility of an unforeseen game-changing event, I expect this race to be nip and tuck all the way to the finish line. When the chips are down, who will actually get to the polls?
UPDATE - Hmm: Siena has released a poll showing the race in Pennsylvania closing to within the margin of error. Susquehanna has (twice) polled the PA race at a two-point Obama lead, but those results seemed like outliers. But Siena's new data -- Obama by three, taken mostly prior to the debate -- suggests that the Keystone State might be closer than people think. Because Pennsylvania always seems to end up being the state that got away for Republicans in presidential elections, I remain convinced that Obama will carry the state; but if Romney's even fairly close in PA, that bodes well elsewhere.