Five Days from Election Day, Where Do Things Stand?

Five days from Election Day both campaigns will tell us that they're right where they want to be. Both can't be right about that. Five days from Election Day, the national polls tend to show Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama, but the state polls tend to say that Obama leads in the swing states that matter most. Both can't be right about that, for the simple reason that swing states tend to be swing states because they tend to mirror the national political divide.

The question is, where are we, really?

No one, especially after the hurricane on the east coast has scrambled everything, knows for sure. Much of the evidence is like that beach sign someone made on the Jersey shore spelling "ROMNEY" -- ambiguous. Was the sign a show of support, or was it a bitter Democrat trying to attach some sort of blame to him?

The polls aren't much help. As I noted before, the state and national polls are diverging. The national pollsters tend to have been in business longer and use larger sample sizes, which should favor them. But the state pollsters may be obtaining more granular data that can be more accurate.

Or not. Today's Marist poll of Iowa, for instance, is definitely overcounting early voters by a wide margin. Marist says 45% of Iowans have already voted, but the state's official stats say that just 32.2 percent have already voted. If that kind of poll is your "gold standard," you may be overvaluing fool's gold. There's a hint here not that Marist is engaged in shenanigans, but that people tell pollsters things that are not true. Some will tell pollsters that they have already voted because it makes them sound responsible, just as some will claim to support same-sex marriage when they don't because that's the politically correct answer. If supporting Obama is the politically correct answer, and in many swing states it probably is to a few percent of voters, then Obama's support is being overcounted.

More than any poll, it's wise to watch the campaigns. Watch their body language and their travel and spending patterns. Looking at both campaigns from that point of view, it's very clear that five days from the election the Obama campaign is in retreat. This morning, Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter accidentally admitted that they're no longer competing in North Carolina, which Obama won four years ago.

That admission parallels David Axelrod's mustache bet: He only wagered a shave if Obama lost all of three states that just a couple of weeks ago were supposedly in the bag for Obama. That's hardly a courageous bet. At the same time, Romney is going up with ads in Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in addition to the swing states that he is already advertising in and campaigning in either directly or via surrogates. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two states Obama must have in order to win, are definitely in play.

Today, Romney is working Obama's silly "Secretary of Business" idea into his closing argument. This is very shrewd in the lead-up to the final unemployment numbers before the election, and a sign that Romney is staying on offense and dictating the terms of the battle. Obama's proposal should strike any American who has ever dealt with any large bureaucracy as unserious. It amounts to moving boxes and names around on an org chart rather than thinking outside his state-centered ideology. And if it was such a good idea, why didn't Obama propose it four years ago when he had control of Congress and could have gotten it done? He elevated the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to cabinet level, but did not think to "streamline" the government's business bureaucracy at the same time? Why not?