The national party conventions and Labor Day are in the rear-view mirror. In the past, this was when the presidential campaigns kicked off. These days, it’s just a continuation, albeit intensified.
Where does the presidential race stand?
Right now Obama is experiencing a post-convention bounce, a short-term increase in his ratings from the three tracking polls. [Update: Three tracking polls released this afternoon show an increasing surge for Obama. Because these include numerous days, poll analyst Nate Silver says it looks like "Obama has been running ~7-9 points ahead of Romney since the Clinton speech to have gained ground so quickly."]
However, it is a bit early to see the extent of this bounce and it is definitely too early to see if that lasts.
When it comes to polling, it’s easy to focus on one or two polls and to look short-term. My advice is to focus on patterns and to use poll compilations.
In the RealClearPolitics poll average, Romney has not been ahead of Obama since October 2011.
Of course, the election is not based on a national poll but the electoral college. 270 electoral votes are needed to win. The RCP electoral college map without toss-ups looks like this:
However, that map allocates a state based on any lead whatsoever, however small. There are a number of states that are very close.
So, here is the RCP electoral college map that includes toss-ups.
With its ten toss-up states, this gives a different picture than the no toss-up map, but it’s worth noting that Romney is currently ahead in only one of those ten. That one is North Carolina.
Among the nine toss-up states where Romney is behind, Michigan and Ohio will be hard for him to win. Romney’s opposition to the auto rescue bailout hurts him there. Those two states together have 34 electoral votes. If Obama won the states marked in the blue in the second map plus Michigan and Ohio, he would have 255 electoral votes, still 15 short for a victory.
This leaves 8 other toss-ups — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Obama won all of them in 2008 and he is leading in 7 right now.
Much can still happen. However, Obama has had a stable national lead over Romney and he leads the electoral college. If the election was held today, the would win re-election. But the election is not today.
Each campaign is set to capitalize on any statements from the opposing candidate which can be put in new ads. (The one below is likely to show up soon, specifically the part where Romney said he didn’t thank the troops in his acceptance speech because, “When you give a speech you don’t go through a laundry list, you talk about the things you think are important.”)
And people will be paying attention to party positions and the debates and, to some extent, the ads.