It used to be the case that Obama supporters and operatives could take solace in the fact that though the president and his Republican challenger remained close at the national level, Obama's always had a comfortable lead in the electoral college.
That's no longer the case.
The president and the former governor of Massachusetts’s head into their second debate, this Tuesday at Hofstra University in New York, now nearly tied in the Electoral College math.
According to state polling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics, Obama leads in states with 201 electoral votes while Romney does so in states with 191 electoral votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to be elected president, and there are 146 electoral votes now considered a "toss up."
The president's poor performance during the first debate in Denver is almost universally acknowledged as the cause for this situation. Since Mitt Romney soundly beat Obama at the October 3 forum on domestic policy, the former CEO's standing in swing states polls has improved considerably (especially in Ohio which was comfortably in Obama's column and it's now up for grabs).
Meanwhile, RCP also says Mitt Romney is now ahead of Obama at the national level. The Republican challenger currently averages 47.3% to Obama's 45.9%.
The new numbers add pressure to Obama's performance at the second debate. The president has admitted he had a "bad night" during his 2012 debate debut and has vowed to prepare better for the rematch. Obama also hopes that Joe Biden's feisty performance during the vice presidential debate, as well as an epic Ohio rally he is hosting on Tuesday with former President Bill Clinton and rock star Bruce Springsteen, help him reignite the Democratic base and stop his slip in the polls.
The Romney campaign, on the other hand, feels renewed after the former governor's strong showing during the first debate put the campaign's sense off disarray behind. The Romney/Ryan ticket has come a long way since the infamous 47% gaffe almost knocked the campaign out irreversibly, and now the Republican has recalibrated his domestic policy message while finding new openings in the foreign policy front by criticizing what he sees as the Obama administration's inconsistencies around the September 11 Libya attack.
Tomorrow's debate, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley, should play to Obama's advantage because of its format. The town hall-style rematch could be an opportunity for the president to display what polls have shown for months; that he is a relatable person voters trust to solve the problems of average Americans. A Clinton-esque "I feel your pain" moment could be all Obama needs to regain control of the campaign and the race.