Let's Hold Off on the Champagne, Team Romney

One way to win any close contest is to project an aura of confidence. This is exactly what we’re seeing right now from the Romney campaign. From Politico, you have a campaign advisor declaring that Mitt Romney would win 305 electoral votes on Election Day. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell says that he has a “permanent sustainable” lead, and Romney strategist Stewart Stevens declared that “The majority of Americans don’t want to vote for Barack Obama.”

The spin here is dizzying, and unfortunately, political journalists—and not just at Politico—seem to be buying it. In his debate analysis, for example, ABC’s Rick Klein declared that “Mitt Romney may have done more to actually boost his chances of being elected.” Chris Cilizza maintains that Romney is still rising in the polls, and a whole host of Republicans outside the Romney campaign have declared the race over for Barack Obama.

The polls paint a different picture. A quick glance shows a race that has stabilized, and begun to shift back in Obama’s favor. To wit, here is Nate Silver’s poll of polls, which shows a sharp decline after the first debate, followed by a small recovery:

And Silver isn’t an outlier: Most polling based models of the election suggest a slight lead for Barack Obama, and a quick look at other, comprehensive polling averages—like Real Clear Politics or Pollster—show a dead heat. And of course, since the winner will be determined by the Electoral College, it’s worth looking at where both of the candidates stand. As Charlie Cook explains, Romney is not doing well:

Most private polls show Romney with low single-digit leads in North Carolina and Virginia. For the sake of argument, let’s give Romney both states, adding 28 additional electoral votes to the 191 that Romney already led in, for a total of 219–51 short of a victory.

At the same time, Obama has a lead in Nevada that is wider than any advantage that Romney has in North Carolina and Virginia, so let’s add the Silver State’s six electoral votes to the Obama 237, bringing his total to 243, 27 short of 270.

That leaves six remaining states–Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18), and Wisconsin (10)–with a total of 76; Obama needs 27 of the 76 while Romney needs 51. But the challenge for Romney isn’t just that he needs to win two-thirds of the “true” Toss-Up state electoral votes. It’s that in five of the six (Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Wisconsin) Obama is still leading in most polling, particularly the last two, while in Florida, it seems awfully close to dead even. If Obama carries Ohio and Wisconsin, where he is ahead in most polling, he gets the 270 with one electoral vote to spare, so Romney could sweep Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and New Hampshire and still come up short.

Contrary to the Romney campaign and its boosters, the most you can say about the state of the race is that the candidates are in a dead heat for the popular vote. If Romney gains an advantage—which is still quite possible—he’ll make up ground in the electoral college. But if the status quo holds, and Obama maintains his slight lead, then he’ll be standing for inauguration in January.