How to Tell Which Campaign Thinks They're Winning — and Losing

In a matter of hours, the 2012 presidential race will be over. Amen. Many of us burned out on this race sometime during the summer and have stuck it out this long only because we feel duty bound to see who wins. Of course, we care about the winner but some of us are in a Scarlett O'Hara frame of mind: "I'll think about that tomorrow."

The "What It All Means" crowd are sharpening their pencils for Election Day on Tuesday to tell us exactly what we should be thinking when either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama appears on stage to claim victory. Hopefully. Hopefully Tuesday. Hopefully fairly early on Tuesday. Most of us have probably already lost enough sleep because of this election and could use a break.

Alas, despite the fantasies of Dick Morris, such an outcome is probably not in the cards. In fact, with nine states polling within the margin of error and literally hundreds of election law lawyers standing by to wrangle every last vote from every last precinct -- even if there aren't any -- we may not see an end to the contest until after the national Thanksgiving turkey has been pardoned. Or not. The president may be in no mood to be merciful and might decide that an execution is in order at the White House. After all, if Obama loses, he can hardly cut off Axelrod's head -- no matter how much we might think he deserves it.

But that's in the future. Meanwhile, there's an election to be won and how these final hours will be utilized by each campaign will tell the tale of victory or defeat.

Most of us don't need to be reminded to forget the polls. With so many of them within the margin of error, they can safely be dismissed -- even those with which you might actually agree. Nate Silver and his 79% chance of an Obama victory can also be ignored. Mr. Silver, who used to analyze baseball metrics for a living, can be excused for his determined optimism. No doubt he is a Chicago Cubs fan -- a team that has not won a World Series championship for more than 100 years, but whose fans continue to chant the mantra "wait until next year!" Unfortunately, Mr. Obama might not have that option, although he would make an excellent pitchman for other lost causes like the UN or the Arab League.

How, then, do we determine the state of the race as we go into the last weekend? The simple answer is listen to the campaigns themselves. Not the self-serving spin on issues, or the mindless attacks on their opponent. We should be listening to what they aren't saying in so many words (but are screaming loud and clear) by reading their schedule of appearances.

Where are the candidates going to be between now and Election Day? What states are they visiting? What TV markets are they hitting? Where are their major surrogates going to be? And where are they placing those precious last-minute ad buys?

The U.S. is a continental country and the swing states are spread out from Nevada to New Hampshire,. from Florida to Iowa. The campaign planes can only fly so many miles in so many hours and it is crucial that planners in both camps maximize the impact their principles can have on a given state.

The Christian Science Monitor lists the states both candidates will be hitting in the next few days:

On Thursday, Mr. Obama will be in Wisconsin, Nevada, and Colorado. Friday, he’s campaigning in Ohio. Saturday is Ohio, Wisconsin again, then Iowa and Virginia. Sunday is New Hampshire, Florida, a return to Ohio, and another stop in Colorado. Monday is (whew!) Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa.

Mr. Romney’s schedule isn’t quite as crammed, at least not yet. On Thursday, the Massachusetts ex-governor is supposed to spend all day in Virginia. Friday is Wisconsin and Ohio. Saturday, he’s hitting New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa. His Sunday destinations have yet to be announced, but on Monday, he’s planning to be in Manchester, N.H.

Mr. Romney has since added a stop in Pennsylvania on Sunday. With the polls tightening in the state, the GOP candidate is not only going to visit, but has bought nearly a million dollars in ads to air through Tuesday. As if to confirm that the state is in play, the president's campaign has also purchased a sizable chunk of time in the Keystone State, spending $1.6 million in a state he won by 10 points in 2008.