If the presidential election were any closer, the country might have to consider shared custody. Even though the polls suggest President Obama will secure the all-important 270 electoral votes needed for victory, it’s conceivable that Romney could win the popular vote while Obama wins the presidency.
Only four times in U.S. history has a candidate won the presidency without prevailing in the popularity contest -- most recently President George W. Bush's highly controversial victory over Democrat Al Gore in a 2000 election that eventually was determined by a ruling of the Supreme Court. Perhaps more than any other event in recent memory, that election carved the electorate into two intractable camps that seek to undermine the opposition rather than find common ground.
“It’s going to be a close race,” David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. But if you look at states like Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, all these states right now we think the president is in a good position to win. And we think Gov. Romney’s playing defense. He’s spending his last day in Florida and Virginia Monday, states they were telling you in the media a few weeks ago they thought were done deals. They’re far from done deals.”
Ed Gillespie, a senior campaign adviser for Romney, noted on ABC’s “This Week” that Republicans would benefit from a more pumped-up electorate on Tuesday. “When you're the incumbent president of the United States and you are at 47 percent or 48 percent on your ballot two days before the election, you are in deep trouble,” Gillespie said Sunday. “I believe that Governor Romney will not only win on Tuesday, I believe he could win decisively.”
The polling forecasts all depend on what pollsters call the “margin of error,” the two or four-percentage point swing by which an election survey can be wrong. The Columbus Dispatch poll released Sunday gives Obama a 50 percent to 48 percent edge among Ohioans, but the margin of error is 2.2 percent—the difference between a Democratic win and a Republican squeaker. Obama leads Romney nationally 48 percent to 47 percent in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey of likely voters, with the margin of error being 2.6 percent.
“These polls are like nailing Jell-O to a tree,” Rich Beeson, the Romney campaign political director, told Fox News Sunday.
Margin of error is why Republicans can safely claim through the fog of statistics that voters are with them. It’s also why the Obama team argues they have momentum in places where some polling favors the former Massachusetts governor.
Knowing the math of the Electoral College, Romney is making a last minute push to try to pull out victories in the electoral rich states of Pennsylvania and Michigan. Although there may be other paths to victory, it is generally thought that he must triumph in Ohio if he hopes to be the next president.
Romney enjoyed a surge in the polls after he beat Obama in the first of three presidential debates Oct. 3, but Obama gradually brought the race back to where it stood late this summer. In the swing states, Obama’s polls now look very close to where they were before the two national conventions and the debates, according to a recent New York Times analysis.
The latest Washington Post analysis shows that Obama needs to secure only 27 of 89 electoral votes still considered up for grabs to win, compared to 64 that Romney needs. If Obama can capture Virginia and hang on to his slender lead in Ohio--two states he carried in 2008 -- he would lock up a second term, even without carrying Florida or other key battleground states. Obama’s edge has narrowed in Virginia to 49 percent to 47 percent, a lead within the margin of error, according to a Quinnipiac University survey for The New York Times and CBS News.