Slate's David Weigel quotes an unnamed member of Mitt Romney's staff as saying, "People are holding back until the debates. In 1980 Reagan was trailing Carter in the polls 39% to 47% until their debate."
Weigel points out the staffer's facts were wrong, that the Carter lead wasn't eight points, but rather three, within the margin of error of most polls.
Of course a Romney staffer getting his or her facts wrong isn't surprising, or even news. I mean they're the same ones who would have you and I believe that Obama wants to eliminate work requirements for all welfare recipients. Then there is the odious 47% comment made by their candidate to the fat cats in Boca Raton. Someone fed him that info, he didn't just drag it out of the great blue sky.
Details aside, the essence of that staffer's statement is absolutely true. The first face to face meeting between the president and the republican nominee is coming up in nine days. With things as tight as they are the three debates loom as the key to victory in November.
Mr. Romney's message, or messages, depending on what day of the week it is, has failed to inch him any closer in the polls. In fact in some states like Ohio he is slipping. The last two weeks worth of self inflicted damage have left people talking about everything but the things he wants them talking about. Suddenly, just breaking even with the president during the debates isn't an option. He has to decisively win at least two out of the three and maybe all of them.
Things are nearly as dire for Mr. Obama. He may lead in several swing states, but those leads are slim. In Florida, depending on which poll you read, he is either tied or his lead is well within the margin of error. Even in Ohio, where he seems to be gaining momentum, there are only five points separating him from Mr. Romney.
The president has another worry also. Legislatures in places like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio are busily trying to disenfranchise many of his supporters. The Pennsylvania voter ID act is an over the top effort to hand that state's electoral votes to the Mitt. Hell, republicans there have bragged about it openly. In Ohio there are reports that the state election commission is shortening the hours of heavily democratic precincts. In Florida new restrictions have been put on early voting that will primarily impact black, lower income, and elderly voters. There may be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters nationwide who instead of casting their ballots for the president will be turned away, or unable to reach the polls at all.
The fact is there are probably very few truly undecided voters left. However, there maybe a significant number who are leaning one way or the other so tepidly that they can be swayed by a decisive win in the debates. The aim of both campaigns is to make those people think to themselves, "well you know I was going to vote for so and so, but now I think I'm going the other way."
It is too close to call, despite all the optimism on the left. The debates will probably seal the deal, but we don't know who for. Four years ago I thought Joe Biden would hand Sarah Palin her head during their appearance. Biden seemed afraid to come down on her hard and Palin, as we have since learned, simply rolled out a bunch of nonsense she'd learned by rote and didn't understand at all. The result was at best a draw, although most, including myself thought the edge went to Ms. Palin. Back in 1960 if Dick Nixon hadn't had that sweaty upper lip and the screen presence of someone waiting to be dipped in boiling oil history might have turned in ways we can't even begin to imagine.
In nine days things will start to slide downhill quickly for someone. Just who it will be is a matter of conjecture at this point.
The jury, as they say, is still out.