In recent days, the vibe emanating from Mitt Romney’s campaign has grown downright giddy. Despite a lack of any evident positive momentum over the last week — indeed, in the face of a slight decline from its post-Denver high — the Romney camp is suddenly bursting with talk that it will not only win but win handily. (“We’re going to win,” said one of the former Massachusetts governor’s closest advisers. “Seriously, 305 electoral votes.”)
This is a bluff. Romney is carefully attempting to project an atmosphere of momentum, in the hopes of winning positive media coverage and, thus, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy…
Karl Rove employed exactly this strategy in 2000. As we now know, the race was excruciatingly close, and Al Gore won the national vote by half a percentage point. But at the time, Bush projected a jaunty air of confidence. Rove publicly predicted Bush would win 320 electoral votes. Bush even spent the final days stumping in California, supposedly because he was so sure of victory he wanted an icing-on-the-cake win in a deep blue state. Campaign reporters generally fell for Bush’s spin, portraying him as riding the winds of momentum and likewise presenting Al Gore as desperate.
The current landscape is slightly different. The race is also very close, but Obama enjoys a clear electoral college lead. He is ahead by at least a couple points in enough states to make him president. Adding to his base of uncontested states, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin would give Obama 271 electoral votes. According to the current polling averages compiled at fivethirtyeight.com, Obama leads Nevada by 3.5 percent, Ohio by 2.9 percent, and Wisconsin by 4 percent. Should any of those fail, Virginia and Colorado are nearly dead even. (Obama leads by 0.7 percent and 1.0 percent, respectively.) If you don’t want to rely on Nate Silver — and you should rely on him! — the polling averages at realclearpolitics, the conservative-leaning site, don’t differ much, either…
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.
Many more details at the link, which you should go read. Chait’s seconded by Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly:
… As a deep skeptic about the importance of “momentum” in sports or in politics, I keep looking for evidence that the belief a candidate is ahead will add to his or her vote. Yes, obviously, a small but significant number of voters may need to think their candidate has a realistic chance to win in order to find the motivation to vote. But do any pick a president based on who they perceive as being ahead in a close race? Nobody but Dick Morris has been predicting a Romney landslide. But nonetheless, a remarkable number of conservative gabbers and a growing number of liberals seem to think media horse-race perceptions are the ball game.
Maybe that’s so, but I wouldn’t be so sure about it. You can make the argument that an achingly close race in which Obama desperately needs a fantastic GOTV effort might be a “self-fulfillling prophecy” as well, which adds to the zeal and effectiveness of that effort. Yes, conservative “enthusiasm” has always depended on the perception that Mitt wasn’t a stone loser; one he crossed that threshold (one set by the polls rather than any perceived “moderation” or “Etch-a-Sketch Moment”), there was no doubt the GOP “base” would turn out impressively, given the hate frenzy they’ve been in towards Obama for four years now. Beyond that, though, it’s not clear all the spin matters—no matter how deeply annoying and dishonest it is for the MSM to buy it.
Karl Rove and the rest of the GOP’s unindicted co-conspirators are busy spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt. Don’t let them trick your facebook friends and low-information relatives. Save the scary stories for the Halloween parties, be like Keith Knight, and treat the GOP’s ever-shifting UNLIMITED CORPORATE VICTORY with the contempt it so richly deserves.