It’s Dangerous to Dismiss an Incumbent President

Since October 3, President Obama’s campaign has been downhill skiing. On that date, the President was enjoying a 3.1 lead in the RCP poll average. Just a few days prior to the first debate, he was leading Mr. Romney by 4.1 in the RCP average. In several individual polls between the close of the Democratic Convention and the first debate, the President was ahead by 8, 9, even 10 points. In the battleground states, like Ohio, Florida, and Virginia for example, the President led by comfortable margins. In Ohio, where most political junkies believe will be the fulcrum of the election, the President was ahead by 10 points in mid-September. In Florida, the CBS/NY Times poll had him up by 10 during the third week of September. And in Virginia, the President was enjoying an average lead of between 3 and 8 points in September. Cenk Uygur of the Huffington Post declared Obama the winner of the election on September 28. “This thing is over,” Uygur exulted. “The rest is just running out the clock.”

What has happened during the month of October is something that few people–perhaps nobody–expected. Romney won the first debate, according to well, everyone. Obama was viewed as the winner of the last two debates, but Romney held his own and didn’t make an idiot of himself. Which was all he had to do. The VP debates were seen as a narrow victory for Biden, but he was a bull in a china shop, and while it didn’t hurt substantially, it certainly didn’t help. The Benghazi incident of September 11 has undermined the President’s key argument that Al Qaida has been dealt a mortal blow and is on the run. These have all combined to sink Obama’s fortunes considerably.

Romney turned his fortunes around in the first debate. He was being written off by many in his own party. Since then, his campaign has been nursing a continuing lead. Instead of being behind in the majority of nationwide polling, he is ahead, and he has been for a few weeks. The current RCP poll average has Romney ahead by 1 point. The Electoral College data has been fluctuating between assigning Romney 191 and 205 votes (North Carolina is the reason for the fluctuation, but Romney has been consistently ahead there for some weeks). These improvements have given conservatives cause to rejoice. Andrew Ferguson wrote yesterday about how Obama’s late October campaign was a stark reminder of his days advising Bush the Elder in his failed 1992 bid during the same time period. Josh Jordan thinks the Obama campaign “has seen the writing on the wall.” And Peggy Noonan is convinced that the American people have finally weighed the President in the scales and found him wanting.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe the Obama campaign is finished, and that Romney will be elected the 45th president. But it is foolhardy to count the President out in this election.

Incumbent presidents are famously hard to fire. Only a comparative few incumbent presidents have been shown the door in American history, even fewer since World War II. And consider this particular incumbent. How many times has he been counted out, by both his allies and friends, since he declared his candidacy for president in 2007? He has overcome long odds in the past five years on a number of occasions. Team Hillary underestimated him. The Tea Party thought he was through after the mid-term elections in 2010. In the fall of 2011, his approval numbers were at their lowest. And some commentators were doubting his ability to survive this election as early as May of this year. And still, Obama rebounded again, and again, and again, and again.

The election is almost over (God be praised). Barring any hanging chads, we will know all the answers in 10 days. Romney is ahead, but his lead is paper thin and as fragile as mist. The RCP Electoral Map showing the states as they stand today has an Obama victory of 290 to 248. And keep this in mind–in the 2000 election–the closest election in recent times–Gallup had George W. Bush ahead of Al Gore between 2 and 13 points from mid October to election day. We have been consistently seeing spreads this month between Romney and Obama to be much narrower than those Gallup was showing in 2000 during the same time period.

Don’t count Obama out just yet. The ghosts of 1948 may yet grace us with their appearance.

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