© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As Polls Show Romney Trailing In Swing States, Obama Edges Towards 270 Goal

It's true that Mitt Romney trails President Obama in most key battleground states, but the margins are in single digits
Mark Lennihan
It's true that Mitt Romney trails President Obama in most key battleground states, but the margins are in single digits

The election is not over, we are told time and time again, and it's not. There are still some 40-plus days to go, there are still debates to be had. It's true that Mitt Romney trails President Obama in most key battleground states, but the margins are in single digits. And, lest we forget, it's not that presidential candidates down in the polls haven't come from behind to win in the past.

President Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan were neck and neck for much of September 1980, with Carter even opening a small polling lead at the end of the month and expanding it into October ... until their debate on Oct. 28. And Reagan won in a landslide.

Richard Nixon had a 15-point lead over Hubert Humphrey at the end of September of 1968. A month later it was down to eight. On election eve, Nixon was still up, by about two points. He beat Humphrey by about half a point.

Can Romney win without Ohio?
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
Can Romney win without Ohio?

So there is evidence of voters changing their mind as the finish line approaches.

But this year there doesn't seem to be much movement in the polls, and certainly not towards Romney.

In my July 9 column, my projections had Obama with 247 electoral votes to Romney's 206, with 270 needed to win. Eighty-five electoral votes — from seven states — were still undecided.

Since then, with the possible exception of Wisconsin, Romney has not advanced his cause in any of these states. And he's probably still trailing in the Badger State as well.

Let's look at those seven tossups (and we may be adding North Carolina to that list, after having put it in Romney's totals):

Colorado (9 electoral votes):

Polls as of Aug. 6 column: Obama +1

2008 results: Obama +9 (54-45)

Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-R-R-R-D

Now: A recent Marist poll, conducted for the Wall Street Journal/NBC News, had Obama leading, 50-45 percent. An earlier Quinnipiac poll, for the New York Times/CBS News, had Obama up by one, 48-47 percent. Ryan Witt of the Examiner writes, "Of the seven polls released from Colorado over the last two weeks, Obama led in six of them. The more recent polls from the last week show Obama up by three-to-six points." Romney arrived in the state on Sunday, trying to reverse that trend.

Florida (29 electoral votes):

Polls as of Aug. 6 column: Obama +6

2008 results: Obama +3 (51-48)

Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-R-D-R-R-D

Now: Romney got some good news today, as a Mason-Dixon poll conducted for the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times has the race a dead heat: 48 percent Obama, 47 percent Romney. And for all the concerns about the future of Medicare — and whether the selection of Paul Ryan for V.P. would hurt the GOP cause among seniors — the poll showed Romney holding his own on the issue. Asked who they trust more to keep Medicare financially stable, 49 percent said Obama, 47 percent Romney. Prior to the Mason-Dixon numbers, most polls showed a bigger Obama advantage. Both Marist and Fox News had Obama up 49-44 percent.

Iowa (6 electoral votes):

Polls as of Aug. 6 column: Obama +5

2008 results: Obama +9 (54-45)

Prez vote, 1988-2008: D-D-D-D-R-D

Now: I haven't seen any objective polling since a mid-September WSJ/NBC poll had Obama up by eight. (Rasmussen has Romney up by three.) One person told me that Republicans thought Iowa was slipping away; another said the state was far closer than anyone had expected. I can't get a sense of where things are.

Nevada (6 electoral votes):

Polls as of Aug. 6 column: Obama +5

2008 results: Obama +12 (55-43)

Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-D-R-R-D

Now: Talking Points Memo's Poll Tracker has the president leading on the average of 5.7 percent. Politico's Darren Goode writes that Nevada should be a "ripe pickoff target" for Romney: "The economy has been decimated by the housing crisis; an influx of new and largely politically unaffiliated residents has moved in; and the Republican Party has spent big to organize. The state also has a significant Mormon population." But, he adds, the state "also has a large Hispanic population hostile to his anti-immigration stands, an active union political base of well-organized casino workers and Harry Reid's political machine, all mobilized to help Obama."

New Hampshire (4 electoral votes):

Polls as of Aug. 6 column: Obama +4

2008 results: Obama +9 (54-45)

Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-D-R-D-D

Now: Looks to be a true tossup state, with an ever-so-slight edge to Obama.

North Carolina (15 electoral votes):

Polls as of Aug. 6 column: Romney +5

2008 results: Obama +1 (50-49)

Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-R-R-R-R-D

Now: The Tar Heel State was long thought to be returning to the GOP fold this year. But a new poll by the Civitas Institute has Obama leading, 49-45 percent. That's a bigger lead than a poll from last week, by High Point University, indicated; that one had Obama up 46-43 percent. Whatever the margins, the fact that the two most recent polls in North Carolina have Romney trailing is of great concern to the Republican camp.

Ohio (18 electoral votes):

Polls as of Aug. 6 column: Obama +6

2008 results: Obama +5 (52-47)

Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-D-R-R-D

Now: Not good news for Romney in a state that every Republican carried en route to the White House. A new University of Cincinnati poll for the Cincinnati Enquirer has Obama ahead 51-46 percent. A recent Marist poll had the president up seven. These numbers are not lost on Romney, who is beginning a bus tour of the state this week. Both sides are pouring a ton of money into Ohio.

Virginia (13 electoral votes):

Polls as of Aug. 6 column: Even

2008 results: Obama +7 (53-46)

Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-R-R-R-R-D

Now: This is a state that before 2008 had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. But new polls show they may once again favor Obama. A Fox News poll had the president up 50-43 percent. Marist had it 49-44 percent. It was 52-44 percent in the Washington Post poll, and 50-46 in Quinnipiac/N.Y. Times.

One more thing to consider: As Romney tries to turn the corner and hope that events — and debates — will put him into the lead, there is also the specter of early voting that he must contend with. More than 30 states allow voters to cast their ballots in advance of November 6, starting with Iowa, on Sept. 27. (Ohio begins early voting on Oct. 2, North Carolina on the 18th and Nevada on the 20th.) If the estimates are correct, that close to 40 percent of all voters may commit in advance, the Romney strategy of hoping for a mid-to-late October turnaround could be in jeopardy.

Electoral Vote Contest: Predict how many electoral votes President Obama and Mitt Romney get on Nov. 6, and the person who comes the closest wins a Political Junkie t-shirt! Make sure to include your name and address and mail to: politicaljunkie@npr.org. Deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 2 — the day before the first debate. In case of a tie, the earliest entry wins.

Meet the Challengers:I initiated this feature back in 2006, by which I asked for you to send in campaign buttons for candidates for the Senate, House and governor. My end of the bargain — aside from satisfying my button craze, which is bordering on the unhealthy — would be to feature the candidates in a "meet the challenger" section of the column. I'm resuming it next week. Send your 2012 buttons to me at 635 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20001.

Political Updates.I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Time for some readers' questions:

Q: It strikes me that both members of the 2012 Republican ticket are from traditionally Democratic, or at least progressive, states (Mitt Romney's Massachusetts being solidly blue and Paul Ryan's Wisconsin not having voted red in a presidential election in 24 years). Has there ever been an election where a ticket lost the home states of both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates? — Ryan Holtan-Murphy, London, England

A: The last time it happened was in 1972, when the Democratic presidential ticket of George McGovern and Sargent Shriver lost both McGovern's home state of South Dakota and Shriver's Maryland. Of course, the Democrats lost 49 states that year.

Q: If George Romney — Mitt's father — was born in Mexico, how was he allowed to run for president in 1968? I thought all candidates had to be born in the U.S. in order to run. — Barry Lindenman, Charlotte, N.C.(Similarly, Roy Sorenson of Minneapolis, Minn., and Louis Gudema of Newton, Mass.)

/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection

A: This question has been a popular one in the past year, and so I thought I would address it again. Article II of the Constitution plainly states that "no person except a natural born Citizen... shall be eligible to the Office of President." However, it's never been completely clear what that means. The same issue came up during the first presidential run of Sen. John McCain, who was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Here's how I addressed this question in a July 9, 1998 Political Junkie column, back when it was running at washingtonpost.com:

Some might define the term "natural-born citizen" as one who was born on United States soil. But the First Congress, on March 26, 1790, approved an act that declared, "The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or outside the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural-born citizens of the United States." That would seem to include McCain, whose parents were both citizens and whose father was a Navy officer stationed at the U.S. naval base in Panama at the time of John's birth in 1936. ...

The citizenship question has come up in past presidential campaigns. George Romney, the late Michigan governor and a leading aspirant for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. ... During the period when he was still being touted as the only Republican who could defeat President Lyndon Johnson, Romney's opponents often raised the issue of his eligibility. William Loeb, the late publisher of the Manchester Union Leader who made his conservative views well known to New Hampshire primary voters, simply dismissed Romney as "Chihuahua George." But Romney was eligible. Romney's grandfather emigrated to Mexico in 1886 with his three wives and children after Congress outlawed polygamy. Romney and his parents, who retained their U.S. citizenship, returned to the United States in 1912, the year Mexico erupted into revolution.

This has yet to be tested in the courts.

Q: I liked your trivia question this week [the first time two women squared off in a Senate race]. Do you have a complete list of the times when both candidates were women? — Ann Davis, Scottsdale, Ariz.

They were the first.
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
They were the first.

A: For those who didn't hear the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation on Wednesday, the answer was Maine in 1960, when Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R) defeated Lucia Cormier (D).

This year there are a record three instances where both major party candidates for the Senate are women: in California, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) faces Elizabeth Emken (R); Hawaii, where Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) and former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) face each other in an open contest; and New York, where Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) is being opposed by Wendy Long (R).

Here are the previous times:

2008 (North Carolina): Kay Hagan (D) unseated Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R)

2006 (Maine): Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) defeated Jean Hay Bright (D)

2006 (Texas): Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) defeated Barbara Ann Radnofsky (D)

2002 (Louisiana): Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) defeated Suzanne Terrell (R)

2002 (Maine): Sen. Susan Collins (R) defeated Chellie Pingree (D)

1998 (Washington): Sen. Patty Murray (D) defeated Rep. Linda Smith (R)

1986 (Maryland): Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D) defeated Linda Chavez (R)

1960 (Maine): Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R) defeated Lucia Cormier (D)

Oops.Two mistakes of mine that were caught by attentive readers. During a recent special Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation, where we talked about memorable moments from past conventions, a caller mentioned the time when Jimmy Carter referred to Hubert Humphrey as "Hubert Horatio Hornblower." I misstated the year he did that. Joy Tlou of Park City, Utah, not only reminded me it was at the 1980 convention, but he supplied the video link from YouTube:

And in the Sept. 4 Junkie column, I said that John McCain was, at 72, the oldest non-incumbent nominee in history. Sally Smith of Ashburn, Va., correctly pointed out that Bob Dole, the GOP nominee in 1996, was 73.

Also, Jeff Book of Los Angeles thought it was a mistake for me to list John Nance Garner as simply another member of Congress who was picked in 1932 as the vice-presidential running mate (on a list that included Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, William Miller in 1964, and now Paul Ryan). Jeff wrote:

"Garner was not just another representative. He was speaker of the House, and had already spent two years as second in the line of succession to the presidency. As speaker he had a national constituency, far outside the boundaries of his own House district. Moreover, his speakership was of major symbolic importance, since it personified the resurgence of Democrats in 1930, and presaged the election of FDR in 1932. When he was chosen for vice president, he was the highest-ranking Democrat in the Federal government."

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation.Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's segment had special guest John Harris of Politico talking about the worries inside the Romney campaign, in addition to a breakout on Senate races.

Sept. 19 Junkie segment on TOTN

I also had a chat with Linda Wertheimer on NPR's Weekend Edition on Sunday, talking about women running for the Senate. You can hear that masterpiece here as well.

Women running for the Senate

Podcast.There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me.

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN T-shirt! (T-Shirt update: The prototype came in this week. I love it.)

Most recent winner: Amy Budetti of Montclair, N.J.


Sept. 25 —Deadline for Rep. Todd Akin (R) to withdraw from the Missouri Senate race.

Oct. 3 — First presidential debate, University of Denver. Also: TOTN's Political Junkie segment from St. Louis.

Oct. 10 — TOTN's Political Junkie segment from Columbus, Ohio.

Oct. 11 -- Vice Presidential debate, Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Oct. 16 — Second presidential debate, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Oct. 22 — Third presidential debate, Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Nov. 6 — ELECTION DAY. Also: Louisiana primary.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection

This day in campaign history:Rep. Jimmy Morrison, considered a moderate on race issues, is defeated for renomination by former Judge John Rarick, a hardline segregationist, in Louisiana's 6th Congressional District Democratic primary runoff. Morrison, in the House 24 years, stressed his seniority. But Rarick hit Morrison from the right, calling him the "black power" candidate and linking him with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Chief Justice Earl Warren and President Lyndon Johnson; Rarick often said the congressman was a "rubber stamp" for LBJ ( Sept. 24, 1966). Rarick was re-elected three times before losing in the 1974 primary. In 1980 he was the presidential nominee of the American Independent Party, an offshoot of George Wallace's national organization.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.