Too close to call


A tie is a tie is a tie. We also have an abundance of conflicting data and no idea how the election will turn out. And yes, both campaigns believe they will win on Tuesday. It's easy to argue that in a dead heat, the votes ultimately tip to the challenger. It's also easy to ask why on earth is the challenger not ahead of an unpopular president in a bad economy?

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The intensity belongs to Mitt Romney, both sides agree. Most people voting against President Obama, no matter what they think of Romney, will be eager to get in the car and cast their ballot. Clearly the hurdle for Obama is turning his supporters into voters on Tuesday. But the Obama campaign argues their turn-out operation — five years in the making — will locate and deliver their voters and lead them to victory.

The Romney campaign believes Obama can't win without his 2008 numbers, and he can't match that support this year. Team Obama has prepared for that — they say they have registered new young, African-American and Latino voters and will have more non-white voters than they had in 2008. The electorate has grown less white every election cycle for the last 20 years. Romney's camp is confident enough white voters will push them over the top, while Obama owes his advantage in Ohio to the fact that he managed to cut into the traditional GOP coalition there, earning the support of more non-college white men there than he does nationally because of the auto bailout. 

While all you have heard is that it's all about Ohio, it actually isn't. Romney is close enough to win it, but he can win without it by taking Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia. Romney's campaign is still confident about the Buckeye State. Rick Beeson, Romney's political director, said of Ohio, "there are 35 counties in Ohio that John McCain won where turnout is already over a hundred percent of 2008." No matter what they say, both campaigns are spending advertising dollars or time in Florida and Virginia, two states where Romney is doing better but doesn't have solid leads.

So both sides disagree on the turnout model, and are expecting two different electorates to turn up and vote. The final NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has the same 1-point advantage for the incumbent that it had this close to Election Day in 2004 for George W. Bush — the very election Team Obama believes is a model for this one. Team Romney's hope? That this is 1980 and a last-minute wave will carry Romney to a landslide win not predicted in the polls — just like Ronald Reagan.

Predictions run wild, and I refuse to make one. Some people will be terribly wrong come Wednesday. Team Obama has predicted a big win, and so has the Romney campaign. While many pundits are assuming the swing-state poll leads show an Obama win, Republicans are bullish on the Romney sweep. Karl Rove has the most conservative estimate for a Romney win — he calls it with at least 279 electoral votes. George Will forecasts 321 electoral votes, and Michael Barone says 315 electoral votes.

I think it will be closer, close enough to keep us all up late. And the biggest potential problem of the night? Provisional ballots in Ohio, which are counted until Nov. 17 — if Ohio is too close to call, we are in big trouble.


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