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.

Even more significantly, according the the Lehigh Valley Morning Call, several Romney super Pacs have also begun to pour money into the state. “Karl Rove’s American Crossroads made a $1.2 million buy, and the billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity a $1.5 million buy, both groups revealed Wednesday.” The paper is also reporting that two of Romney’s main surrogates, Marco Rubio and Tagg Romney, will visit the state.

Coupled with Romney’s investment of precious campaign cash, that’s not only an awful lot of money for a week’s worth of ads, but it also gives the lie to the Obama campaign’s charge that this is just an elaborate feint by the Romney team to force a counter-move by the Obama camp. David Axelrod told the Morning Joe program that “he’ll shave his mustache of 40 years if Obama loses the state.” Darn. And I was going to buy David a mustache trimmer for Christmas.

It’s still an uphill battle for Romney in Pennsylvania, but with the northeastern part of the state angry over Obama’s coal policy and suburban enclaves returning home to support Republicans, the Romney camp obviously sees an opening and is looking to exploit it.


Mitt Romney has said repeatedly over the last week that he wants to “expand the map” into states won by President Obama in 2008 and thought safe for the Democrats in 2012. He is doing this in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, and, to some extent, in Michigan (although there are no plans yet announced for either Romney or Ryan to make a stop there). The Romney campaign has purchased some ad time in Michigan, however, and the Obama camp was forced to counter. This, indeed, may be a feint given the historic ability of Michigan’s unions to get out the vote for Democrats and the most recent Detroit Free Press poll that gives Obama a 6 point lead. But stranger things have happened, and if the Romney campaign sniffs a shift in those polls before Tuesday, they may add a stop or two in Michigan.

It is Wisconsin where the Obama camp appears to be most worried. Despite a Marquette Law School poll showing the president leading by 8 points in the Badger State, the Obama campaign has scheduled no less than three additional appearances in Wisconsin before the election (the president was in Green Bay on Thursday). Clearly, if the president really thought he was up by 8 points in a state he won by 10 in 2008, he wouldn’t be spending precious time by visiting the state to shore up his support.

Part of the explanation for the Obama camp’s nervousness in Wisconsin may be that the GOP has a get-out-the-vote operation that for once is the equal to, or superior to, that of the Democrats. The massive organization built by Scott Walker that outperformed the polls in his recall election last summer has been augmented by the RNC. Obama doesn’t need Wisconsin to win. But losing the state would help Romney tremendously.


The president was in Las Vegas on Thursday while Paul Ryan visited Reno. The Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting that Romney is likely to make one more stop before election day in the state. The precious hours spent on the campaign plane to get to Nevada means that the GOP has hardly given up despite a recent poll showing the president up by 4.

Nevada is another state thought safely in Obama’s column which now has shown a narrowing to where Republicans believe they have a legitimate shot. Obama’s lead in early voting is only half of what it was in 2008, giving Romney hope that the state’s sizable Mormon population and the historic advantage Republicans hold outside of Clark County (Las Vegas) could tip Nevada to the GOP in 2012.

The rest of the scheduling will probably reflect the closeness of the races in Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Virginia. Both candidates, their running mates, their wives, and their surrogates will fan out across these states digging for every last vote, boosting the spirits of volunteers by dropping by campaign offices, participating in interviews with local media, and revving up their respective get-out-the-vote operations. It is likely that additional events will be added to each day’s calendar; rallies will be held far into the night as the candidates push themselves to exhaustion by working 20 hour days.

As for where to get a good idea of both campaign’s schedules, CNN’s Political Ticker publishes a rundown every morning. Politico has a calendar that lists daily campaign stops for the principles as well as major surrogates. And the campaign websites might have updates that will be helpful.



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