Both the electoral math and Mitt Romney's Election Day travel schedule tell you all you need to know: It all comes down to Ohio. More specifically, however, the election will come down to which campaign's polling assumptions carry the day, and both camps have seasoned, well-respected professionals at the helm. The more traditional view, held by the Obama campaign's Joel Benenson, is that voter turnout will largely mirror the partisan enthusiasm seen in 2008. This view appears to be reflected in many of the public polls that have shown the president leading in both Ohio and suddenly-in-play Pennsylvania.
However, Romney's chief pollster, Neil Newhouse, disagrees, and his internal numbers show a much more competitive race. “Some people want to believe we’re living in a world where the electorate is going to have a partisan composition [like 2008],” he recently remarked. “That’s a stretch.” At the heart of this is a single, underlying premise — in a close, roughly 2-point race, (which is exactly what we have today), undecideds tend to break for the challenger.
It remains to be seen just which vision will prevail, but one thing is clear: long-gone are the heady days of packed coliseums and throngs of supporters chanting "Yes We Can!" This closing of the enthusiasm gap is sure to make tonight a lot more competitive than many have thought.
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11:40 pm: Karl Rove says "not so fast" on Ohio call for Obama. Romney camp is also hesitant to accept the projection.
11:23 pm: FOX NEWS CALLS OHIO FOR BARACK OBAMA. GAME OVER.
11:17 pm: Conversation now shifting to fiscal cliff and larger budget issues with respect to ongoing gridlock [see analysis below].
11:10 pm: Expected, but Romney gets North Carolina. Still needs to run Florida, Ohio, Virigina, and probably Colorado to eek this out. Campaign says path to 270 is "tight." Translation: "We're getting a bit nervous."
11:02 pm: Florida is going to come down to 10,000 votes either way. Looks like Florida, Ohio, and Virginia will all come down to about 1%.
10:50 pm: What are the implications for the fiscal cliff/debt/bargain? Looks like we're going to have more status quo. Barring a Romney come from behind win, there isn't necessarily a mandate for either party to shift from their bargaining positions on taxes. Obama has been vocal all election long re upper income rates, and Boehner was on TV not long ago signaling that the GOP isn't moving either. Of course, the debt ceiling fight next year is the wild card. Gut feeling? Obama and Democrats blink first. They already did in 2009. Of course, the economic picture looks a little different in 2012, but nobody wants a 2013 slowdown, and WH would likely get the blame.
10:46 pm: Ohio is Obama 50%, Romney 48%. Virginia is Romney 50%, Obama 49%. Florida is Obama 50%, Romney 49%. North Carolina is Obama 50%, Romney 49%. Clearly, the Obama path to 270 is easier, but man, close, close, close.
10:39 pm: Rove is clearly a partisan, but he's also a strategist. It's important to remember that they don't bandy about predictions lightly that might tarnish their reputation. See this piece in the WSJ. His numbers look a little optimistic at this point, but it's still thought provoking. As we've said all along, as goes Ohio, so goes the nation.
10:35 pm: Karl Rove on Ohio - With 58.3% of the vote in, Romney down 3.25%. With 58.5% in, Romney down 3.0%. If this trend continues, we're going to see it get very, very close, and there are more red than blue counties to go. Still, you need Florida, Virginia, and something else.
10:32 pm: Karl Rove on Ohio - We don't have Hamilton County in yet, which Obama won in 2008 but is now 64% for Romney.
10:24 pm: Fox still has Obama up 51%-48%. Narrowing, but deck still stacked against Romney.
10:13 pm: At this point, Romney needs Florida, Virginia, OHIO, and something else, probably Colorado or Nevada. Four for four is tough.
10:10 pm: Florida still neck and neck. Still expecting panhandle returns to go GOP, but this is getting closer than I thought.
10:07 pm: Democrat Elizabeth Warren unseats incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
10:04 pm: Senate staying Dem, but they may be losing a seat or two.
10:00 pm: Regarding debt/fiscal cliff implications - Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaking right now. Sure doesn't sound very conciliatory re taxes, spending, and fight to come during lame duck.
9:56 pm: Romney's Ohio campaign manager, Sen. Rob Portman (who was also on the short list of potential VP picks), is citing better than expected early GOP returns in key counties [see below], including coal producing counties. Coal has long been an issue that has played well for Romney, or rather against Barack Obama, given the administration's approach at EPA.
9:52 pm: The Associated Press is reporting that Ohio incumbent Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown has defeated Republican Josh Mandel.
9:49 pm: Alternatively, Florida now looks extremely tight, with major precincts in the panhandle yet to report.
9:42 pm: Fox calling Pennsylvania for Obama. It's all Ohio at this point. I guess the pundits were right for once.
9:39 pm: Getting word that doubts starting to grow with Romney camp re Ohio.
9:33 pm: There was also the question of the recall election the GOP held on to.
9:30 pm: Fox calls Obama win in Wisconsin. It was never really in play, but of course there was some GOP hope given the Ryan VP pick.
9:26 pm: No surprise here: most major news outlets now saying GOP keeps House.
9:19 pm: CNN is also showing Ohio 55-44 for Obama at this point with 25% of precincts reporting. That's about a 100,000 vote difference.
9:17 pm: CNN is calling Florida a 50-50 tie at this point. I suspect that will change a bit once panhandle votes are counted. Again, it's going to be tight, but Florida should be safe for Romney. Not 2000 tight, but tight.
9:14 pm: As of 8pm, Ohio still has less than 1% of precinct results in. A long way to go yet.
9:12 pm: Regardless of where turnout ends up, more than 800 people still waiting on line at Ohio University in pivotal Athens County.
8:57 pm: As of 5pm Ohio time, 20 Democratic precincts in Geauga County [see below], which Obama won with 70% of the vote in 2008, have turnouts of 49.8%. Seven Republican precincts have turnout of 73.8%. It's all going to come down to turnout, and both teams need it. Who mis-estimated? Right now it looks mixed, albeit with a slight edge to Romney.
8:55 pm: Romney Camp Numbers - Athens County, Ohio (home of Ohio University), which leans Democrat [see below] experienced low morning voter turnout. Total levels were about 10% less than the 2008 early vote. Obama won that county last cycle with 67%.
8:50 pm: Romney Camp Numbers - Geauga County, Ohio predicted an 80% voter turnout today. Notably, MCain won Geauga with 57% and Busy got 60% in 2004. Early voting was 125% of the 2008 level.
8:45 pm: Virginia will extend voting hours for those waiting on line in one Republican county; two Democrat counties; and three swing counties.
8:40 pm: Romney Camp Numbers - Overall, early vote turnout in Ohio was up 2.44%. County-by-county: down -4.1% in Obama/Kerry counties; up 14.39% in Bush/McCain.
8:36 pm: With 53% of the vote in for Ohio, Obama is up 50% to 49%. Very, very close.
8:30 pm: This might actually be a case where the youth vote works against Obama. Of course it's going to favor him, but the turnout level might not be at the same record levels we saw in 2008. Given that the Obama camp modeled its internal polling on 2008 numbers and assumed a similar voter coalition, it affected strategy. It remains to be seen how this will play out.
8:27 pm: Exit polls are showing that Obama is getting 60%+ of the latino vote, right in line with what the campaign had hoped for. Romney is getting ~70% of the white vote, again, right in line with what the campaign had hoped.
8:10 pm: Lots of mentions of Hurricane Sandy in exit polling results. Talk about an "October Surprise." I guess just being the President can have its perks. Though anyone want to venture a guess as to why Bush didn't get a bounce after Katrina? Kanye?
8:05 pm: Romney Camp Numbers - There are 34 counties in Ohio that McCain won where absentee and early vote turnout is over 120% of 2008. There are only 9 counties where Obama won where this is the case. It's early, but those are significant numbers. Exit polling though looks much, much closer.
7:58 pm: Romney Camp Numbers - Ohio turnout is higher in counties and media markets that McCain carried in '08 than in those that Obama carried. The Newhouse premise in action.
7:53 pm: Internal Romney numbers earlier today showed that absentee and early vote activity in Ohio is 17% higher than anticipated, with strong turnout in rural areas. According to the campaign: "this is what we need to play ball to win."
7:47 pm: Some anecdotal reports that turnout in Athens, Ohio, a rural but populous district (home of Ohio University) is somewhat less than anticipated. The turnout numbers will be what we want to keep an eye on tonight. If it looks like 2008, Obama's strategy plays out; if it looks like 2004, Romney pollsters start to look like geniuses. If we get some kind of hybrid turnout then we've got a real close contest on our hands.
7:43 pm: Fox says W. Virginia too close to call, but CNN is calling it for Romney. Fox also calls S. Carolina for Romney. Obama has Vermont.
7:37 pm: There seems to be a lot of talk over Florida. Clearly, Romney can't get to 270 without it, but Florida has looked pretty safe for Romney leading up until today.
7:31 pm: There's the real possibility we don't know the results tonight for either the White House or Senate control. Provisional ballots in a close election can be counted for days. Remember 2008? Al Franken wasn't sworn in until July 2009. Any delay could have severe implications for the lame duck session, where we'll need to deal with all the host of issues wrapped up in the fiscal cliff. Even with no electoral delay, there's a good chance we go off on Jan. 1 just due to the sheer volume of items they'll have on their plate over the course of six weeks.
7:19 pm: Fun fact - Since 1952, Vigo County, Indiana has not been wrong in its presidential pick.
7:14 pm: Early Virginia numbers also look a little troubling, 49-49. If he can't win Virginia, Ohio doesn't matter.
7:04 pm: Clearly, no Republican has won without Ohio. In the bizzaro world we might have tonight he could do it with PENNSYLVANIA. Last week, the Romney campaign announced its intention to spend 6x what the Obama team is spending in Ohio in Pennsylvania. That indicates their internals tell them it might be a little more competitive than we're seeing.
6:54 pm: Romney internal polling numbers as of Sunday showed Obama up by 5 points in Ohio, the last day the campaign conducted the poll.