Three weeks to go until the presidential election and the race has tightened again, following a surge by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after his smashing victory over President Obama in the first presidential debate.
Debate #2 takes place Tuesday in Hempstead, Long Island, and unlike last time, the president appears to be preparing diligently. He’ll have to: the first debate prompted a big shift in momentum to Romney, possibly by as much as four percentage points in the polls.
That’s reflected in my second Electoral College map. The first, which ran on September 27th, gave the president a 290-219 Electoral College win over Romney, with Florida a toss-up. But since this was the president’s peak in many polls, he didn’t need the Sunshine State to win.
But now there have been two big changes. I’ve switched Florida from toss-up to Romney, giving the GOP nominee that state’s huge prize of 29 electoral votes, tied for New York as third highest, behind only California and Texas. And I’ve moved Virginia from the president’s column to a toss-up.
Romney leads by an average of 3.5 points in the four latest major polls of likely voters in Florida, and though that’s within the margin of error, it’s significant enough to give him an advantage there. Nate Silver of The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog now puts the probability of a Romney victory in Florida at 67%.
Virginia is very fluid, because its booming north depends heavily on government contracts, it has a rapidly growing Hispanic population and a very large and influential voter base of suburban women. The debate probably cost the president his edge here, putting Virginia’s 13 electoral votes in play. Silver has the state at 50-50.
So, Romney may well win the three biggest prizes that are still up for grabs in the South–Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina—but it won’t be enough.
The president maintains a narrow lead in all-important Ohio, where early voters—some 20% of the electorate so far—have been breaking to him in big numbers. Though Romney’s crowds have been surging, the president’s reminder of their different stands on the auto bailout in Tuesday’s debate—if he can get his act together—should stanch the bleeding. Silver gives President Obama a 66% probability of winning Ohio
Iowa, too, should remain in the president’s column, and I don’t think Wisconsin or Michigan will slip away, either, giving him a strong firewall in the Upper Midwest, where this election may well be decided. I’m also not changing my call on Nevada for the president or Colorado for Romney. I gave New Hampshire to Romney on a hunch, but the president is narrowly ahead there and we’ll revisit it after the next debate.
So, right now, in my view, the president is still winning, but by a slimmer margin—277-248. He needs to do well in Tuesday’s debate to hold on to that lead.