Romney surges ahead in national poll but Obama can still win it
Obama's faltering campaign should not surprise us – he has let down his followers on so many fronts
CAN Barack Obama really lose the presidential election, now just three weeks away, consigning himself to a place on the ignominious list of America's failed "one term" presidents?
To put it another way: do Americans really want Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, in the White House? Not since Richard Nixon has there been a candidate so obviously mendacious, and it is hard to think of any so obviously invested in the exclusive political agenda of the ultra-rich.
Yet the answer to both questions is increasingly "yes". Just yesterday a Gallup poll came out showing that Romney had extended his nationwide lead to six points, 51 per cent to 45 per cent, the clearest margin since the campaign began.
We should not be surprised. The election year opened with Obama looking like a one-term president, and pens were busy scratching political obituaries with many a reference to President Jimmy Carter.
Back then, the reasons he would lose seemed obvious. The thrill of electing the first black American to the highest office had worn off. Global joy at the departure of President Bush, and at what appeared to be a new dawn in US foreign policy, had foundered in the mud of international realities. The mess of the post-banking crisis economy proved immune to the waving of magic wands.
The mantra of "it's not his fault" could work for only so long.
Obama did let down his most dedicated supporters. He failed to close Guantanamo Bay, and his means of winding-down America's wars turned out to be to shift the action to assassination by drone and Navy SEAL.
He did not reign in the banks, who had been among his biggest financial backers. He has done nothing to curtail the post-9/11 "security state", nor the racially-biased penal system of America which locks up a greater proportion of its people, mostly black and Hispanic, than any other country.
These are the big issues for his "base", just as outlawing abortion and enabling gun sales are for Romney's.
Obama promised "hope", as every American presidential candidate must, but his came with a special rainbow hue and proved to be as hollow as any other.
The kids are still out of work and facing futures of declining living standards, ripped-off by predatory college loans. Gays are still fighting for rights to equality in the services and before the marriage registrar. Blacks are still getting poorer than anyone else. Hispanics are still being hounded by the anti-immigrant mobs of Texas and Arizona. Retirement still means stocking supermarket shelves and avoiding the dentist.
Obama could have forced real health care reforms and real checks-and-balances on the laissez-faire, profit-obsessed business culture of America when he first took office. He did not. Most Americans see him as a nice guy with a very nice family, but when they ask themselves the important question of what he has done to make their lives better, the answer is "nothing".
In the cold light of electoral politics, there are plenty of reasons for Obama to lose.
But opinion polls are complicated. What the Gallup poll means is that if the voting had been held yesterday, and if the election was a simple, coast-to-coast, one-man-one-vote plebiscite, Obama would certainly lose and Romney would go to Washington with a handsome majority.
The actual election does not work that way, which is why neither the Democratic Party nor Obama himself appear to be panicking just yet.
Obama was calm enough on the campaign trail yesterday to joke about his debating performances, at the first of which, in Colorado, Romney managed to pull the rug from beneath his feet.
"We're still trying to figure out how to get the hang of it," the President said on the campaign trail in Iowa. "We'll keep on improving as time goes on."
The instant polls made him the narrow victor from this week's second debate in the New York suburbs and that gives him some breathing space. As Charles Blow wrote in the New York Times: "The overall impression left by the debate was of a president once again in control and a challenger out of control. It is too soon to say whether or not this will arrest Romney's rise in the polls. But it definitely re-energised the president's supporters."
While the Gallup poll gives majority support to Romney, spin doctors for both campaigns are looking much more closely at the polls from the 'swing states' in which elections are fought and won.
We know New York and California will go Democrat/Obama, and that Alabama and Texas will go Republican/Romney. It's what happens in the swing states – chief among them Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina – where we don't know how things will go on 6 November that counts.
For Obama, the bad news is that Romney is gaining. But the good news is that he is gaining only fractionally, and that the President is still clearly ahead. Florida looks like going to Romney, but Ohio - without which no Republican wins, and where Bruce Springsteen and Bill Clinton were wheeled out yesterday to help shore up the blue-collar vote - is still solidly Obama.
It is the number of 'votes' held by each state and then passed to the Electoral College that secures victory in a presidential election, and it takes 270 to win.
According to Nate Silver, a statistical whizz at the New York Times who maintains a daily watch on the shifting figures, the Electoral College stood like this close to midnight last night:
Obama: 291.6 votes Romney: 246.4 votes.
The popular vote, distilled from all polls, puts Obama on 50.3 per cent and Romney on 48.8 per cent. (It is possible to win the Electoral College with a minority of the popular vote.)
For a betting man, that leaves the odds at 70.4 per cent in Obama's favour.
So Obama can yet win. But the closeness of the race shows just how many Americans are unimpressed with his record at the White House. And as for the old mantra "Americans will never vote for a Mormon as president", when did we last hear that?