Parallel elections

2012-11-02 13:57

Washington - Campaign chiefs behind Barack Obama and Mitt Romney do not just conjure conflicting visions for America: They have irreconcilable diagnoses of the true nature of next week's election.

Republicans believe the president is an incumbent crippled by approval ratings below 50%, low enthusiasm for a dented brand, and high unemployment set to be evicted from the White House by a Romney wave.

Obama's team views that traditional electoral model as delusional, promises a huge turnout of the president's multi-ethnic coalition on Tuesday, and sees Romney's map as full of deadends that leave him short of the White House.

But the time for bluffing is running out: In five days, one campaign will face the sickly realisation that it misread the moment, while the other tastes victory.

Reflecting the stakes of a knife-edge race, each side gets more bullish as election day nears - there is none of the usual caveating.

"We're very happy where we are, and we think that we're going to have a big victory next Tuesday," Romney senior advisor Russ Schriefer said.

Obama's team, however, has all but called the election.

Schizophrenic race

"This time next week, President Obama will have been re-elected for a second term. We have the math and they have the myth, the Romney campaign is selling illusion and delusion," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said on Tuesday.

The schizophrenic nature of the White House race is also revealed in polls.

Romney's team prefers national surveys of the popular vote, which have often shown the Republican up several points, and see growing nationwide momentum.

Obama headquarters endlessly points out that US elections are a state-by-state drive to 270 electoral votes: And Obama leads enough state surveys to allow a route back to the White House.

Democrats also dismiss surveys like Gallup's daily tracking poll, which has often had Romney up five points but which they say takes a shrunken snapshot of likely Democratic turnout.

Romney's camp disputes the central assumption of Obama's re-election bid - heavy turnout among African Americans, Latinos and young voters.

New wrinkle

"Some people want to believe that we're living in a world where the electorate is going to have a partisan composition similar to 2008," said Romney pollster Neil Newhouse. "That's a stretch.

"Intensity drives turnout and you're seeing the lack of Obama intensity," he said, predicting that an advantage among independent voters would see Romney home.

The campaigns also feud over live data from states permitting early voting. Obama's team believes the results validate their theory of the race. Romney world says Democratic numbers are down from 2008.

A new wrinkle has arisen just days from polling day, after weeks when the race was confined to tight battles in swing states like Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

Romney's Boston braintrust has now made big ad buys in states seen as solidly Democratic, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota as aides conjure visions of 300 or more electoral votes.

"We have an expanded map now to get to our electoral goal of 270," said Romney advisor Kevin Madden.

Romney facing heavy lift

"We're playing offense with the map, whereas they're playing defense."

Polling suggest that while the race has narrowed in the trio of states, where there has effectively been no presidential campaign, Romney faces a heavy lift to put them into his column.

Nevertheless, Obama has countered Romney's investment as his Chicago-based team says it is prudent to defend his turf, while painting the Republican offensive as a sign of desperation.

"They understand their pathway with the map they've been playing on since they won the primaries now no longer gets them to 270 electoral votes," said Messina.

Another top Obama aide David Axelrod bet his bushy moustache that Obama would bring the trio of states home on Tuesday.

Independent analysts lean more towards the view that Obama's position on the electoral map is superior.

Obama in the driving seat

"Obama has a clear lead in the swing states and Boston [Romney HQ] is trying to put some additional states in play. The odds against that succeeding are very high," said Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann.

Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas said the facts showed that the president is in the driving seat.

"Obama simply has more ways to 270, there is no other way to put it," he said.

Most analysts believe the key to the election is Ohio, often a kingmaker state.

Romney's team contends Ohio, along with Wisconsin and Iowa - which would virtually assure Obama of a second term - is slipping away from the president.

"Right now their firewall is burning," said Romney aide Rich Beeson.

Claims of overestimation

However, it is Obama who seems to have momentum in Ohio, where one in eight jobs rely on the auto industry, which he saved in a bailout that Romney opposed.

In nine Ohio polls over the last week, Obama led from between one and five points - with Romney up in only one - and the president has an average polling lead of 2.3 points in the state, according to aggregator RealClearPolitics.

Republicans charge such surveys overestimate Democratic turnout.