State of the Race

6:48 am ET

The volatility in the national and battleground state polling has left everyone confused about what’s going on in the presidential contest.

Clearly, we need more solid state data to know what really has changed post-Denver. But the reality is that right around the time whatever debate bounce Mitt Romney got from his performance settles down, the two combatants will have their next face off on Long Island, shaking up the race again.

Between now and then, there are several fundamentals to focus on. One, Romney’s campaign trail performance is without a doubt better than it was before, but it is also getting more attention and being given gentler reviews by voters and the Gang of 500. As long as the Republican is on a roll, even the Old Romney will be seen through new, more forgiving eyes.

Two, the message discipline reversal continues. Romney is running on a theme he can sustain through Election Day (“we can’t afford four more years of Obama”), while Chicago has switched from “Romney is an extremist” to “Romney is a liar who hates Big Bird.” The Obama campaign has some sorting out to do on this, especially in the eyes of the Gang, and, perhaps, with voters.

Third, momentum and confidence matter a lot in politics. Until at least the next debate on October 16, Romney and his forces are likely to have more of both, barring some huge intervening event.

Fourth, while the horserace poll numbers are eye-catching, watch to see if there is Romney improvement on “cares about people like me” questions and on “has better ideas on the economy and jobs.” Those are among the most critical areas.

Fifth, and most important, the President still has an advantage in the Electoral College, both in the individual battlegrounds and in terms of more paths to 270. Whatever progress Romney has made in the wake of Denver, he hasn’t eliminated the Obama edge there, and, obviously, nothing else really matters.

Related Topics: Barack Obama, Mark Halperin, Mitt Romney, 2012 Elections, Analysis, Democratic Party, News, Republican Party, The Page

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