The October 3, 2012 debate between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama is shaping up to be a make or break moment for Governor Romney. A slew of national and state polling since the two party conventions shows the president with a small but steady lead in the national popular vote and a somewhat bigger lead in the Electoral College according to the average of polls compiled from RealClearPolitics.com. If the election were today the president would most certainly win around 50 to 51 percent of the popular vote and about 332 electoral votes according to Nate Silver of the New York Times 538 Political Blog. With his vice-presidential pick announced, and his convention behind him, this isn’t where Mitt Romney would have hoped to be against the president in mid – September. Romney must change the trajectory of the race if he is to win and his last chance, barring unexpected events that could politically weaken the president, will be when the two candidates meet in their first debate in Denver, Colorado on October 3, 2012.
One should not underestimate the ability for a presidential challenger to shake up the state of the race with a solid, strong debate performance. One can look back to the 2004 race between John Kerry and George W. Bush. In September of 2004 the polling was breaking for Bush much like it is for Obama now but Kerry decisively won the first debate and ended up making the race a true tossup to the very end (ominously for Romney, Kerry ended up narrowly losing). Likewise, a strong debate performance by Romney could change the image that a growing number of voters have developed towards him and lead them to shift his way instead of breaking towards the incumbent like they have up to this point. Will Romney deliver such a performance? That is the question Republican and Conservative strategists hope will be answered with a yes. For Romney to win the election it is his only path to victory. The reason why is simple, it’s the Electoral College.
The Electoral College
The road to 270 electoral votes (the amount needed to win the White House), as the race heads into the final month and a half, is incredibly difficult and narrow for Romney. As of today, with the president leading nationwide on average by 2.9% according to the average of polls by RealClearPolitics.com, the president has 247 electoral votes that are either solidly, likely, or leaning his direction while Mitt Romney has 191 electoral votes that are solidly, likely, or leaning his way and another 100 electoral votes regarded as up for grabs. The reason why the electoral math is becoming uphill for Romney is because he has failed to truly put into play the states that have been extremely competitive in past elections even though two of them voted Democratic in every election since 1992 and the third state since 1988. Those states are Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These three states account for 46 electoral votes and if Romney had these states truly in play at this point in the race than his path to victory would be much more plausible and in fact likely. If one takes into account polling from the critical state of Ohio (No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio), where the president is leading, and Virginia (A state that was once a solid Republican state in presidential elections up until 2008) where he is also ahead, the president clinches 270 electoral votes even if he lost every other state on the map that’s considered up for grabs. These states include Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. The debate could give Romney an opportunity to close the gap with the president and he needs it because of the structural advantage the president currently holds over him in the Electoral College.
The debate could be the nail in Romney’s coffin for the simple reason that if the race continues on its current trajectory, Romney will go on to defeat and will garner no more than 46 to 48% of the vote on Election Day along with 206 electoral votes, well short of the 270 needed to win the White House. But if Romney hits a grand slam in the first debate and is able to connect to the public in a way he has failed to do so up until now, he could bring this race back to parity like Kerry did against Bush and take a small but steady lead in the final month due to the economic conditions of the country. If that were to happen the state by state electoral problems would recede and the states Romney’s behind in now like Virginia, Florida, and Ohio would start leaning his direction and the states that seem out of his grasp like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania would come back into serious contention. It’s the only way Romney can win. Romney must win the debate, thus changing the narrative to win the national race. Quite simply the October 3 debate is shaping up to be Romney’s make or break moment.
Sources / Supporting Links / Works Cited (If none, please type “none”): RealClearpolitics.com; fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes
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