Monthly Archives: October 2012

Live Blogging the Vice Presidential Debate

O.K. we are on live.  Please join in. Alas, I have not updated my wordpress blog as planned (I’m still trying to find out where my add plug tab is located!)  So you are going to have to update the comments section to see yours.

As always, we are watching CNN, and they have the usual suspects on. Already they are speculating on how this debate may change the numbers.

Wolf setting the table by contrasting their ages, almost like this is a prize fight between the young whippersnapper and the grizzled veteran.

Ryan, “Can I call you Joe?”  Please let it be that….

Applause sounds like gunfire…..

Martha starts with Benghazi-gate – this has been trending in the news recently.  (By the way, CNN has their gender-colored focus group lines running.)  Joe – smartly – pivots to the broader war on terror – killing Bin Laden, and winding down the Iraqi war. Ryan will pivot back to Benghazi for sure.

And he does – this is a good issue for the Republicans, and Ryan is going to milk this. Ryan is looking at Martha. Nice opening segment here by Ryan on clarifying the Romney foreign policy differences – nuanced, but clear.

Joe is not going to take this sitting down.  “The Congressman here….”.   So much for cordiality….Ryan is smirking.  Biden:  “These guys bet against America all the time.”

Raddatz is showing her foreign policy street cred here – not letting go of the Benghazi story.  Biden’s response – that we didn’t know – isn’t exactly uplifting.  Raddatz tries a different tack on Ryan – trying to get him to choose between apologizing or defending the soldiers in the Koran burning – and he goes back to Benghazi.  Enough already says Martha!

Topic 2 – Iran.  Can we allow Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb?  Biden is openly laughing at Ryan’s response  – I don’t think he likes the young guy.  Joe now looks into the camera, as if to say, can you believe this sh*t?

CNN showing a bit of a gender gap during Ryan’s answer on how to deal with Iran and nuclear weapons – surprisingly, women responding more favorably.. not sure why. Biden says we have a secret plan, but what’s the bluster about?  Iran is not close to acquiring the weapon, so let’s not overreact.  Ryan – administration has underreacted! Weakness invites aggression.  Women like this response, men do not.  I’m not getting this gender contrast at all.  Maybe it’s nothing.

Joe is on a first-name basis with Bibi.  “What does that mean, a bunch of stuff?”  Ryan: “It’s Irish.”  Joe is raising his voice here to drive home the point that the world is united against Iran.  Joe laughs out loud when Ryan says, in effect, the administration is soft on Iran.  Joe has to be careful here about seeming to scold Martha, and not just Ryan.

Joe is on the verge of appearing a bit to patronizing to Young Ryan here.   He gets in a shot at Romney changing his mind.

PART II – The economy.

Raddatz mentions the latest unemployment numbers, but points out it’s not near where Obama projected it to be.  Joe uses this to remind voters of how bad the economy was when Obama came in, and by the way, Romney opposed the bank bailout.  And he’s off – Joe is at his best when he starts talking about his family, and he gets in the 47% comment not once, but twice. You Go Joe!  He’s scoring here, but Ryan has a response.  You can see it in his smirk.  This should be good.  And Ryan has his own regular guy story.  And he’s ready for this topic too…Both guys are scoring well here….focus group loving both – Northborough Massachusetts, my home town, just got a shout out from Ryan….

I’ve been waiting for the charity number to come in……Ryan ready to pounce on the 47% and he gets a laugh by poking fun at Joe’s “bidenisms”, but Joe has a nice response ready in turn.  These guys aren’t holding back….

I think Joe may have missed the point here – the personal story needs to be about the President, not him.

Joe has used the phrase “take responsibility” several times tonight. Must have focused well.

The focus group does not like it when Joe goes overboard on the sarcastic laugh – thin line between righteous populist anger and mocking sarcasm…

Ryan’s scoring a bit here with the overseas “green jobs”.  Both sides getting testy here.


Potential vulnerability here for Ryan. Expect him to trot out his Mom, remind voters that 55 and older won’t be affected by Romney Medicare reform.  But Biden should score here as well.  Biden should be able to match Ryan here on the Mediscare numbers game.  Ryan’s defense is well-rehearsed – he’s said this a thousand times.  (Ohh – crowd does not like Joe’s Sarah Palin zinger about death panels.)

Joe goes after the Ryan “voucher” plan – this was inevitable, and Ryan will be ready for it.  And privatizing Social Security too. Joe evens looks into the camera to make sure we get his point.  Ryan would prefer to talk about the link between Obamacare and Medicare cuts, but Martha – good for her – wants Ryan to defend the Wyden plan.  Biden is going to get punched if he doesn’t stop interrupting….

Can we vote for Martha?  She’s the most sensible one in the room. Why not follow Ryan suggestion to raise age limit?  Joe completely ignores the suggestion (after saying he agreed to do this for social security).  He’d rather talk vouchers.

(Just took a glance at the Twitter feed.  It’s Bizarro world – same event, two alternative universes when it comes to describing it.)

They are deadlocked and Joe is angry.

TAXES – Who will pay more, and who less, if your guy is elected?  Here comes the middle-class fight – both sides will accuse the other of taxing them. This promises to be supremely tiresome.

I’ve said it before – but why doesn’t anyone defend “big” business?  They employ more people. It always small business.

Ryan employs the Biden trick – looking into the camera to warn “Watch out middle class – they are coming for you!”

Martha wants specific on what tax loopholes will be closed.  Ryan wraps himself in Reagan’s 1986 tax reform plan – start with principles, negotiate details later.  Will people buy this?  It is actually the way to negotiate, but in a campaign it seems like dodging particulars.  (Biden is wrong about Reagan’s particulars during the ’86 tax reform.)  If Ryan doesn’t fill in the particulars, Joe will.  This exchange is predictable and will go nowhere.

Martha needs to step in…..

Joe will have to shut up.  Somewhere he decided that he wasn’t going to let Ryan get a word in.   This is not helping the audience differentiate the two plans.

Martha making some of Ryan’s argument for him against Biden’s argument that JCS supports defense cuts.  It has come to this.

Afghanistan.  Ryan’s response – as soon as he opened his mouth – got a positive response.  I think because Joe is actually silent for the first time in what seems like an eternity.  I have to think Joe’s over-the-top performance tonight is a conscious effort to compensate for the President’s comparatively more sedate performance.  And it is the role of the VP to play attack dog.  But is this too much?  Remember, who wins the debate is not only a function of how the audience reacts – it is also a function of how the media judges the debate.  I’m trying to think of the takeaway points here.

Both sides are being rewarded here for appearing to discuss this issue in a more tranquil fashion, but also because they largely agree on the basic plan to leave Afghanistan.  Not clear to me that Ryan trying to say both that we will leave on schedule, but that we won’t fix the date, really works.

Martha knows her foreign policy chops, and it enables her to push these guys on their responses.  She pushes Joe on the Taliban resurgence…..and also on the timing on some of the troop withdrawals.  Raddatz is not buying Joe’s argument that the military wanted out at that time, in that fashion.

Biden is not going to win by arguing that the Afghan troops are trained – trained in what?  Shooting Americans?  Not a strong point for Joe here.

Syria – I was waiting for this.  Ryan should score.  Bigger issue here, of course, is that Joe has an administration record to defend. Ryan can simply claim Romney would do differently, and better.  Important to remember that foreign policy is not going to be a huge issue in this election – debate over Syria plays well on Fareed Zakaria’s show, but Joe and Jane Sixpack aren’t invested in this issue.  And Joe is talking down to his “friend” again.  Ryan still thinks he came to an old-fashioned debate – Joe realized from the start that this is a political show.

Final Topic – abortion and religion.  Again, abortion is not (despite the controversy it elicits) a very important electoral issue.  But both sides can use it reach out to middle-class Catholics – a key demographic.  This isn’t really about abortion – it’s about Reagan Democrats.

Wait: one more question re: tone of campaign – ironic, given what transpired tonight.  Joe uses it to get in one last 47% reminder, and to chastise those unnamed groups making scurrilous charges…I don’t think he really grasps the irony here…

(Joe is losing his voice here.)  Ryan does the same – and the irony is lost on him as well, evidently.  He uses the question about tone of the campaign to launch one final verbal attack.  In both their defenses, that’s what vice presidents do.  Both sides paint a picture of Armageddon if the other side has their way.

Martha – One more “final” question – the character question, but weirdly asked.  Why ask them what they will bring that “no one else could”?  I thought Ryan had the right response here.

Ryan really is a policy wonk – it makes it hard for him to close on a soaring high note.  More wonkiness.


Joe: “You might have detected my frustration.”  You think?  I think the Ryan shot at Scranton cut deep.

Ryan remembers rule number one at a VP debate: it’s not about you, it’s about the guy at the head of the table.  And always close by asking for your vote.

It’s not over folks – it’s time for the spin room. Let’s see what talking points each side brings out.

My initial take:  No clear winner.  Both sides brought their strengths – Joe with the populist passion, Ryan with the wonky recitation of facts (true and alleged).   I  don’t think this will move the needle much.  But it was very entertaining, but also substantive.  Joe performed well, which I expected.  I wasn’t sure how Ryan would do, but he held his own.

CNN talking heads chiding for Biden for interrupting – loses style points for being patronizing.

The exchange that will be replayed is the Ryan zinger about Joe knowing about saying things they regret, and Joe coming right back by asserting that he says what he means.

Interesting that talking heads can’t agree who won – more evidence that no one did.  Looks like both sides are pleased enough to come right into the spin room. Let’s listen to the talking points.

Cutter: “A Decisive Win for the Obama-Biden team.”  Facts matter.  Joe’s an authentic guy.  Speaks his mind.

Here’s the RNC chair Priebus.  His first talking point is how Joe interrupted Ryan – isn’t this exactly what the Democrats said about Romney’s demeanor last time?

Lots of praise for Martha – I thought she started out well, particularly pushing them on going into more detail on foreign policy issues. But she needed to intervene a bit more later on to stop the cross-talking.

CNN focus group of  undecideds see this as a draw.  So that means it was a draw, right? How are the other station’s playing this?  Vijay says the PBS pundits called it for Biden.   In the twitter verse, the usual suspects are lining up behind their guy, but a few of the “nonpartisan” talking heads are on both sides – which I see as further evidence that this was truly a draw.   The other point to remember:  it’s not who wins the debate – it’s who wins the national polls.

Ok, twits citing two polls – one from CBS showing Biden won – one from CNBC saying Ryan did, and by equal margins.  I can’t vouch for the polls internals, but on the surface more evidence that this is a draw, or at least so close that it won’t have much impact.  Score one for political science!

Tweeters saying the CNBC poll is not a random sample but instead is an online poll.  But keep in mind that all these polls only sample viewers – they are not a random sample of registered (or likely voters).  so, if audience is skewed one way, sample will likely reflect that skew.

Ok, CNN “scientific poll” is released, and it shows a draw.  48% say Ryan won, 44% say Biden did.  I guess it’s settled. No one won decisively.

Bottom line: this is one of those half full/half empty assessments.  Half full for Democrats: Biden showed passion, stopped the bleeding.  Half empty: he didn’t win, and he didn’t beat the younger, less experienced Ryan.  For Ryan, the half full is that he kept the Democrats on the defensive, prevented them from regaining the upper hand. Status quo is a win for the Republicans.  Half -empty – Didn’t keep Romney momentum going, and that means media narrative will suggest that race is tied – not that Romney is pulling ahead.

Great participation tonight!  Next debate is the second presidential match on Monday.  If Anna gets her act together, I’ll have our new live blogging format up and running.

I’ll be on tomorrow with the postmortem.  Meanwhile, I’m getting quoted over at Andrew Sullivan’s site for a portion of my debate analysis.  Let me reiterate that their choice to quote me should not be seen as an endorsement of my political views.

Big winner tonight? CNN – they show video feed of Obama watching the debate – on CNN!

Meanwhile, CNN shows best moment tonight for each candidate based on focus group responses.  Ryan peaks when he discusses not raising taxes on small businesses.  For Biden, it was also on taxes.  As for low points, Biden’s came when he defended the administration’s failure to protect the Benghazi embassy.  For Ryan, it was his abortion response near the end of the debate.

Nothing in the polling response, nor in the taking points from both sides, changes my view of what I saw tonight: this was largely a draw that will not do much to impact the polls.

More tomorrow….thanks again all to who participated.


The V.P. Debate: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This Before….

I know, I know.  I said this before the first presidential debate, and how did that turn out?  At the risk of a repeat performance, I’m here to remind you that tonight’s V.P. debate is not likely to impact the presidential race very much.   Democrats, of course, are hoping a strong performance by Joe Biden will blunt some of the momentum Romney acquired coming out of the first presidential debate.  A quick look at the RealClearPolitics composite poll suggests Romney netted 4% as a result of his strong performance last Wednesday, and that gain has boosted Romney to varying degrees in all the battleground states t as well.

I don’t see tonight’s “winner” gaining nearly as much in the polls.  But then, when it comes to assessing the winners, there’s not much polling data regarding past vice presidential debates.  In 2008, a CBS poll of uncommitted voters indicated that most of them thought Joe Biden had “won” his debate with Sarah Palin, but most of those polled remained uncommitted.  Gallup has this table showing the impact of debates on voters’ party preferences.

As you can see, the VP debates haven’t been very consequential, at least by this measure.

So, I certainly don’t expect Biden to regain all that lost polling territory tonight.  But he may be able to lay down some markers that will serve him and the President well on the stump, and during the next presidential debates. In this sense the debate is probably better viewed as a preview for next Tuesday’s rematch between the President and Mitt.

I won’t bother providing any pre-debates “what to look for” insights since there’s plenty of that elsewhere (see here and here).  You know the drill by now – both sides want to stick to their talking points, hammer home their dominant campaign themes, and paint the opposition into a corner. If you saw Biden debate Palin in 2008, you know he’s good at this format, despite his reputation for dropping Bidenisms into his off-the-cuff remarks.  Ryan has less of a track record that I know of in this format, so I have less to go on.  However, the Onion indicates that he’s been taking his preparation to extremes (hat tip to Jeff Cason)!  The one wrinkle is that foreign policy is on the table, and the moderator is Martha Raddatz, the chief foreign correspondent for ABC.  So I expect some foreign policy discussion, including efforts by Ryan to capitalize on the unfolding Benghazi security story.   It will also be interesting to see how Ryan reacts to the inevitable efforts by Biden to tie Ryan’s budget around Mitt’s neck.  Keep in mind that this debate is not between Ryan and Biden – it’s between surrogates for Romney and Obama.

I’ll be live blogging tonight with a new format that, I am told, will make it easier for you to comment.   So join in the fun – I’ll be back on at about 8:45.

Right Back Where We Started!

I’m posting at the Economist’s Democracy In America website today, discussing the post-debate fallout that has seen President Obama’s lead in national tracking polls completely dissipate.  Today’s Gallup poll of likely voters shows the race tied at 48% a piece.  Rasmussen has Romney up by 1%, 48%-47%, as does the RCP composite poll, which has had Romney ahead the last two days for the first time since early summer.  In my Economist blog post, I argue that we shouldn’t be surprised by this, given that the aggregate forecast from 13 political science forecast models essentially call this race a dead heat.  Three of the forecasts have Obama winning the popular vote, five more have him ahead, but with the race too close to call, and five have Romney winning outright.  The mean prediction of the two-party vote is 50.3% for Obama, and the median is 50.6% – both well within the polls’ margin of error.   So, given the fundamentals, the question was always why Obama had managed to outperform the fundamentals for as long as he did.  I try to provide an answer in the blog post, but the short response is that he was more effective at framing the narrative in a way that negated Mitt’s strengths and masked his own weaknesses.  However, there is some evidence that the race was tightening before the debate, and that Obama’s relatively poor debate performance coupled with Mitt’s strong one served primarily as a focal point that accelerated a process that was already underway.

Note also, consistent with what I have been arguing for some time, that the battleground states also tightened considerably in tandem with the national polls.  This is to be expected and it is a reminder that these states do not operate in a national vacuum, but instead are influenced by broader factors affecting the race.  Put another way, I have never bought into the argument that the President is protected by an Electoral College firewall.

My other point, however, is that this race is far from over; Romney has gained ground, but I think it fair to say that he has not pulled into a lead.  Indeed, I expect the race, now that it has recalibrated to a point much more consistent with our forecast models, to stay quite close for the remaining 28 days.  This is also a good time to remind everyone not to overreact to any single poll.  Looked at in the aggregate, however, they will become an increasingly accurate barometer of the state of the race as we head to Election Day.  In the meantime, strap yourself in – it’s likely to be one helluva finish!

When in Danger, When In Doubt, Run In Circles, Scream and Shout!

I’m home after another long, long day of teaching and then another election talk, but I wanted to comment briefly on today’s Pew poll which has driven many Obama supporters to despair.  That poll has Mitt Romney up by 4%, 49%-45%, over Barack Obama among likely voters, and tied at 46% among registered voters.  This is a sharp turnaround from the last Pew poll in the field Sept. 12-16, which had Romney trailing Obama by 8%, 51%-43%.   The latest poll represents a 12% gain by Romney in less than a month – a turnaround that just rubs salt in the wound for Democrats already reeling from polls suggesting that Romney cleaned Obama’s clock in the most heavily watched first presidential debate since 1980, when incumbent Jimmy Carter squared off against Ronald Reagan in their only debate. (The figures for the Romney-Obama debate do not include those who viewed it on social media.)

Consistent with other polls, Pew found that Romney was viewed as doing a better job in the debate by 72-20%.  This included 78% of independents and even 45% of Democrats who thought Romney bested Obama.* As debate polls go, this is a rather significant drubbing; rarely do we see such a lop-sided verdict, particularly among the “loser’s” own partisan supporters.  If the polls are to be believed, Romney’s debate “victory” has led to a significant tightening of the race, both nationally and in the critical swing states.  For example, Gallup’s pre- and post-debate polls indicate that Romney has moved from a 5% deficit into a tie with Obama among registered voters.

In the RealClearPolitics composite poll, we see a similar result, with Obama’s 3.1% lead on the day before the debate dwindling to .5% tonight.

We see a similar effect in state-level polling in battleground states. In Michigan, the latest poll has Romney within 3% in a state considered out of reach just a week ago.   Colorado, Florida and Virginia are now essentially dead heats, and Romney has moved within 3% of Obama in the critical state of Ohio, a state in which he trailed by nearly 6% before the debate.

All this is a reminder of two points I have made repeatedly: first, national tides raise all of Romney’s state-based boats.  Too often pundits view states as having their own unique constituencies.  But the reality is that both candidates are fighting over the same type of undecided voters across all states, and if one candidate is able to win over these undecideds, it will boost his support across all the battleground states.  We see precisely this effect occurring after the debate.

Second – and in what some may view as a contradiction of my first point – we should not overestimate the impact of the first debate.   I have been arguing for some time now that the state-level battleground polls will gradually align with the national tracking polls.  At the same time, I have claimed that the economic fundamentals indicate that this will be a very close race (the mean prediction of the dozen or so political science forecast models has Obama winning slightly more than 50% of the two-party vote.)  If the mean forecast model is correct, Obama will win by a far smaller margin than what the national tracking polls were saying for most of September.  And if we factor in the uncertainty surrounding those forecasts, many political scientists believe this election is a dead heat. For that reason I was reasonably confident that the September polls indicating that Obama was running away with this race were overstating his support due, in part I believe, to how pollsters were constructing their likely voter screens.  What Wednesday’s debate did, I suspect, is to impact Pew’s likely voter screen in ways that increased the number of Republican respondents they included in their final poll relative to Democrats.  In other words, the debate didn’t switch votes so much as it increased Republicans’ enthusiasm for their candidate enough so that it affected Pew’s likely voter screen.

As evidence, consider the gender gap. One of the more surprising findings from the Pew poll is that Romney has apparently drawn even with Obama among women. Last month, for reasons that I discussed in a recent Economist post, Obama led Romney among women by 18 points, 56%-38%.  If the latest Pew poll is to be believed, Romney has now drawn even with the President with women, at 47%.  Did he really erase Obama’s lead among women in less than a month?  I suspect not.  Instead, I think this is probably a function of how Pew constructed their sample after Wednesday’s debate.

My bottom line is that Wednesday’s debate focused enough attention on the fundamentals to erase Obama’s polling lead which was largely based on his relative advantage in framing this race in a way that played to his strengths.  But we shouldn’t overreact and buy into Pew’s results which indicate that Romney has now established a substantial lead.  Instead, my read of the composite polls indicates that the race, as of today, stands almost exactly where I have been arguing it has stood for the last two months.  Obama is ahead, but by the slimmest of margins.

Game on!

*An earlier version of this post had those numbers slightly off – I’ve corrected them here.

Democrats: Is It Time To Panic?

Those who saw Mitt Romney eviscerate New Gingrich in the debate just prior to the Florida Republican primary likely weren’t surprised by Mitt’s strong performance against President Obama on Wednesday night.  Although Mitt has been justly cited for marring his debate performances with the occasional off-hand – and off-message – line (see: I like firing employees, buying Cadillacs for my wife and killing Big Bird), he has also exhibited an ability to devise and implement a debating game plan based on staying focused, sticking to his message, driving his points home and utilizing opposition research to put his opponents on the defensive.  All these traits were on display Wednesday, and he more than met my expectations that he would do well.

But if Mitt’s performance did not surprise me, Obama’s did.  While perhaps lacking the superior debating skills of a Gingrich, Obama showed in his three debates against John McCain, and against his Democratic rivals during the nomination campaign, that he is more than competent on the debating stage.  Most observers thought Obama won all three of his general election presidential debates in 2008. But even many Democrats conceded that Obama did poorly on Wednesday.

In the debate post-mortem, Obama’s defenders put forth a variety of explanations for the President’s underwhelming performance, beginning with Stephanie Cutters’ effort in the spin room to implicitly blame moderator Jim Lehrer for not putting a stop to Romney’ s bullying tactics. Al Gore – he of the 2000 debating “sigh” – suggested the President had not fully acclimated to Denver’s altitude.  Even less plausible was the argument voiced by many on left-leaning blogs that Obama was engaged in some “deep game” designed to lull Team Romney into complacency.

I suspect the explanation is far more prosaic.  Certainly the President look fatigued, which given the demands of his job is quite understandable.   In 1984 Ronald Reagan submitted a turkey of a first debate performance, and his wife Nancy argued strenuously that her Ronnie had been overworked with debate preparation while simultaneously carrying out his day job.  Reagan cut back on his workload, started the second debate with a memorable joke that addressed the whispering campaign about his age and also cracked his opponent up, and sailed to victory.

Part of Obama’s poor performance, however, may also be attributable to contextual factors that affect all incumbent presidents: the need to defend a record. Romney did not miss many opportunities to point out that the economic recovery has been slower than expected during Obama’s time in office. As I noted in my previous post, two of the three previous incumbents dating back to 1992 running for reelection lost polling ground after their first debate, and in the aggregate the three dropped slightly more than 1% in their polling average (note that I had that figure wrong in my initial midnight post), and about the same amount overall after all three debates.  To be sure, they weren’t each running on equally bad records, but they still had to play defense, at least on some issues.  Similarly, the incumbent party’s candidate has lost a shade less than 1% on average in the pre-to post-debate polls dating back to 1988.  So we shouldn’t be surprised that Obama, as the incumbent, didn’t clean Romney’s clock in the first debate – incumbents rarely do.

Nor should we overreact to Obama’s “loss”.  Going back to the Kennedy-Nixon 1960 debates, Gallup’s polling numbers show that it is rare for a candidate trailing before the first debate, as Romney was, to pull ahead to win the race.  The three exceptions based on the Gallup data are Kennedy in 1960, Reagan in 1980 and George W. Bush in 2000.  So, the next iteration of this pattern shouldn’t take place until 2020!  Of course it is not clear that the debate, by itself, had as much to do with Reagan’s 1980 victory as did the Iranian government’s announcement that they would not release American hostages prior to the Election.  In 2000, of course, Al Gore won the popular vote.  And Kennedy only trailed Nixon by 1% prior to their first televised debate.

So it would be surprising, but not unprecedented, if Romney pulled ahead on the basis of his performances in the three debates this fall.  However, I have been arguing for some time that the economic fundamentals suggest that this race will be quite close come November 6th and that the swing state polls showing Obama with a nearly unbeatable Electoral College edge right now are likely going to tighten, coming into closer alignment with national tracking polls, as more individuals begin focusing on the race. For this reason, I have suggested paying less attention to swing states, and more to national tracking polls.

To be sure, my view is not shared by all (Most?  Any?) of my political science colleagues.  For example, Emory political scientist Drew Linzer, whose election forecast website is a must read for anyone interested in the state of the current race (and whose work is completely transparent!) doesn’t think the presidential race is close at all.  Instead he has Obama ahead by a comfortable margin in the Electoral College.  Based in part on the polls, Drew argues, “If anyone tries to tell you the presidential race is close, don’t believe it. It’s just not true.”  My claim, of course, is that those swing-state polls will begin to tighten in relatively uniform fashion, and in fact there was evidence that they were doing just that prior to Wednesday’s debate.  Moreover, if the debate served to focus voters’ attention on the fundamentals, then one would expect the race to tighten even more – if my interpretation is correct.

If that happens, of course, the general sense of unease that suddenly descended on Obama Nation two nights ago will turn into a full-scale panic, and we will begin seeing exactly the type of carping and finger-pointing that broke out among Republican opinion leaders like Peggy Noonan, Bill Kristol and David Brooks when Obama appeared to open up a big post-convention,  post-“47%” gaffe polling lead.*   My message to Democrats tonight is similar to what I told Republicans then:  Obama did not lose the race Wednesday night, any more than Bain Capital, or the 47% remark, killed Romney’s chances.  Polls ebb and flow in response to media coverage and interpretation of campaign events like debates (although the polls gain predictive power as we get closer to the Election), and forecasting models based on them will respond to those fluctuations in kind.  I persist in believing the race will tighten down the home stretch, so that Obama’s final vote total will come much closer to the median political science forecast than indicated by the swing state polls now.

Could I be wrong?  Sure.  (See 1992 and 2000!)   That’s what makes this so fun!  In the meantime, let the panic begin!

*See tonight’s Saturday Night Live!  Wonderful parody of MSNBC cast in post-debate meltdown here.