Both campaigns are good at projecting massive confidence in victory. But lately it's the Romneyites who have been doing so with real energy and bravado. Pumped up by their poll gains since Denver, a revitalised candidate, and their first run of really positive media coverage since the general election began, they're telling everyone who will listen that their candidate is bringing this one home. They've boasted about moving staff out of North Carolina, a battleground state, because they think it's in the bag.
The Romneyite cockiness is not thoughtless. Karl Rove orchestrated similar in 2000 when Bush was just behind or neck-and-neck with Gore. The aim is to create a sense of overwhelming momentum, shifting money, energy and ultimately votes to your candidate in the final weeks.
It's working, at least in part. You'll often hear commentators talk about this as as a neck-and-neck race, with Romney the coming man. Meanwhile, liberals are panicking. Liberals are expert handwringers.
That's why this Jonathan Chait piece is important, I think. He calls Romney on a well-executed bluff and reminds us of the underlying reality: Obama is marginally ahead in the national polls and has bigger leads in the battlegrounds. Chait concludes:
Obama’s lead is narrow — narrow enough that the polling might well be wrong and Romney could win. But he is leading, his lead is not declining, and the widespread perception that Romney is pulling ahead is Romney’s campaign suckering the press corps with a confidence game.
Or see this from (an Obama-supporting) statistical analyst:
The reality in the states – regardless of how close the national polls may make the election seem – is that Obama is in the lead. At the Huffington Post, Simon Jackman notes “Obama’s Electoral College count lies almost entirely to the right of 270.” Sam Wang of thePrinceton Election Consortium recently put the election odds “at about nine to one for Obama.” The DeSart and Holbrook election forecast, which also looks at the current polls, places Obama’s re-election probability at over 85%. Romney would need to move opinion by another 1%-2% to win – but voter preferences have been very stable for the past two weeks. And if 1%-2% doesn’t seem like much, consider that Romney’s huge surge following the first debate was 2%, at most.
That last point is particularly striking. Obama's lead may be small but it will be very hard to shift. Obama's post-convention bounce was just that - a bounce. What happened after the Denver debate was a regression to the mean. Obama is back to where he has been for most of the year: just slightly ahead. Just slightly ahead is still ahead.
This race is starting to remind me of the last months of the Obama-Clinton primary. Every week, every day brought a new earthquake - some event that was bound to shift the momentum decisively in the favour of one or the other candidates.
But in the end it started to become clear that "momentum" didn't matter as much as the press and commentariat liked to pretend it did. Each state voted according almost boringly predictable lines depending on its demographic make-up. The candidates had assembled and consolidated their coalitions already. One of them happened to deliver more delegates than the other. Everything else was sound and fury.