This was supposed to be about a six-point race in Obama's favor. That's sure how it looked on the eve of the first debate. But now it's dead even.
First, of course, Romney cleaned Obama's clock in the first debate. Obama came back strong in debate number two, but evidently a lot of swing voters formed their impressions in that deadly first encounter.
But there is a more fundamental problem here. The narrative of the past four years should have revolved around free-market ideology, Wall Street plunder, Republican rule, and the fact that Republicans first crashed the economy and then blocked a recovery.
Obama did not hit any of those themes as forcefully as he needed to. The Tea Partiers, despite their billionaire backers, became agents of populist backlash. Obama was too conciliatory for far too long. The Republican Congress was able to persuade public opinion that the failure to make progress on everything from jobs to the budget was a symmetrical failure rather than their own cynical ploy.
So now Obama is in a dead heat with a stuffed shirt of a candidate not esteemed by his own base. An awful lot will come down to just a single last debate. It should not have been nearly this close. He may yet pull through. But it is going to be a long two weeks.