Even as they celebrate the president's, er, "win" in the second debate, Team Obama has found itself in the unenviable position of denying reports that they are essentially pulling out of four swing states heading down the election's final gauntlet. The electoral rumor mill started with a National Journal piece by Major Garrett that included (read: buried) this tantalizing nugget:
What also became clear after the dust began to settle from the rumble on Long Island was the electoral map has narrowed and Obama’s team, while conceding nothing publicly, is circling the wagons around Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Plouffe said that Obama remains strong in all four states, but he would not discuss the specifics of internal polling or voter-contact analytics, saying only that Obama has “significant leads” in all four places. It is uncharacteristic of Team Obama to concede any terrain, but Plouffe offered no such assurances about Obama’s position in North Carolina, Virginia, or Florida. Romney advisers have seen big gains in all three states and now consider wins likely, although not guaranteed, in all three. They are similarly upbeat about prospects in Colorado but not confident enough to predict victory. That Plouffe left Colorado off his list of states where Obama’s leading and can withstand a Romney surge might be telling
Obama traveling press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the campaign was "absolutely not" giving up efforts in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, three battleground states where the president has slipped behind Mitt Romney. The Obama campaign spokeswoman said the president's ground game in North Carolina was among its best nationwide, and that the campaign expected supporters in crucial swing states to be energized by Obama's performance in Tuesday night's debate...“We’re still going to run in every state like we’re five points behind," Psaki said.
The trouble for Chicago is that they might actually be roughly five points behind in North Carolina. While they aren't formally kissing the state goodbye, the campaign's actions speak volumes. Politico reads between the lines:
President Obama has not stepped foot in the state since his convention drew to a close nearly six weeks ago. After he touches down in Iowa and New Hampshire this week, every other battleground state will have gotten some in-person Obama post-convention love except for the Tar Heel state.
Couple Obama's conspicuous absence with whispers that his campaign is reducing its spending in the Tar Heel State, and it's not a huge leap to suggest their priorities lie elsewhere. If Garrett's story is to be believed, that would mean Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, where David Plouffe says Obama holds "significant leads." What counts as "significant" these days? Recent polls have shown the race dead even in all four states (see previous links). The latter two are probably heavier lifts for the Romney campaign, but they're still very much in play. For a fun snapshot of the Hawkeye State, check out this full page ad in the Des Moines Register, signed by former Obama voters repudiating their own votes. Early voting numbers are starting to improve for Republicans in the state, too. Meanwhile, let's check in on a state that's gone unmentioned for awhile: Wisconsin. Tie ballgame:
The Presidential race in Wisconsin is essentially tied in a new poll by Marquette Law School, with President Obama at 49% and Mitt Romney at 48%, consistent with gains Romney has made nationally since his first debate with Obama in Denver on Oct. 3. That’s a marked change since Marquette’s last poll taken Sept. 27-30, in which Obama led by 11 points. The Senate race is also virtually even in Marquette’s poll, with Republican Tommy Thompson at 46% and Democrat Tammy Baldwin at 45%.
In case you're curious, this poll's partisan split seems about right, if not a point or so too generous to Democrats. Left unmentioned in Plouffe's OH/IA/NV/NH firewall calculation is the underlying assumption that states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania are firmly in O's corner. Given the new Marquette poll and other data we've seen recently, I'm not sure if Obama, Inc. sleep well in any of those states these days. The picture nationally looks grimmer still for Obama at the moment. The most recent Gallup tracker has Romney ahead by two among registered voters. With likelies? Feast your eyes (via MKH):
That's a six point lead for the challenger heading into late October -- not where an incumbent wants to be at all, for historical reasons explicated by Karl Rove here. But before conservatives start measuring the Oval Office drapes, a few big caveats: (1) Rasmussen (you know, the "biased" and "Republican" pollster that liberals routinely dismiss) shows a much closer race, with Obama slightly ahead in swing states -- a far cry from the USA Today/Gallup numbers from earlier in the week. (2) Romney's large and expanding lead was measured prior to the second debate, in which Obama stepped up his game. A few million fewer viewers tuned in than the last one, but the ratings were still huge. Romney won the night on the economy, but Obama managed a slight edge overall: A wash, but an improvement over the Denver destruction. Just by firing up his core supporters, the president will likely close the gap a little bit. Then again, for what it's worth, Democrat-leaning PPP says it didn't detect any Obama bounce in a full day of polling on Wednesday. Hmm. (3) No one on either side seems to be anticipating a sweeping Romney victory in November. Think about it: Even with political intertia pulling everything in his direction in 2008, Barack Obama only won by seven points. The idea that Romney could pull off a similar margin this year seems a bit far-fetched, at least for now. I think it's a near certainty that this race will tighten.
UPDATE - Romney held a rally in northern Virginia last night. If you think there's been any dampening of spirits on the Right for whatever reason, think again. The crowd was massive and absolutely electric, and the candidate was confident and at ease. I'll search around for some video, but here's a photo as a place-holder:
UPDATE - Here's the full video. The entire thing is worth watching because Romney retools his stump speech to riff off of last night's debate. If you're pressed for time, check out the crowd's reaction to Romney's mention of the debates (1:45), the candidate's impromptu jokes about a helicopter passing overhead (19:40), and the huge crescendo at the end (21:15). Enthusiasm:
UPDATE II - Rasmussen's Thursday tracker (which includes post-debate input) grows Romney's lead to two points, and the Republican takes a slight swing-state edge. Gallup and Rasmussen have been playing tag recently, so don't be surprised to see Romney's Gallup edge contract a little bit.
UPDATE III - The Associated Press reports the Romney campaign is considering pulling resources from promising-looking states like North Carolina in order to make a more aggressive push in "bluer" states.
UPDATE IV - Wow. Gallup's tracker has expanded Romney's lead with likely voters to seven points, 52-45. This includes a day of post-debate data. I still expect some real tightening, but not yet, apparently. (IBD/TIPP and Democratic firm PPP both show the race exactly tied today. TIPP is working off of a D+7 sample).
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography
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