A reader writes:

We must not be reading the same polls. Today’s swing state polls (from OH, PA, VA, and WI) show that Obama maintains his consistent lead in these critical states. MM_history-unlabeledNotably, the polls from firms that include cell phones are much more favorable to Obama, such as the CBS poll of Ohio, which has him ahead by 5%. Keep reminding yourself: if he wins Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa (or Nevada), he wins.

You are right to say that Mitt has reduced Obama’s lead since the first debate, but my understanding is that lead was never going to last, given the natural tightening of the race as we near Election Day, and the lousy economic fundamentals. It’s going to be close, very close, but if the election were to be held today, Obama would win. That is the best you can hope for.

That chart is from Princeton, showing how the electoral college vote has shifted. Obama’s still ahead – 292 to 246. But look at the implosion from the first debate. Another writes:

My theory on this? We’re seeing the entire election through the wrong prism. For some reason, we keep using 2008 – and even Obama’s “likability” that was diecast long ago – as a reference point of for this year’s electoral possibilities. But 2008 was an outlier for Obama.

This is a guy who lost his first national election when he tried to get to the House. He was practically given a Senate seat because of Jack Ryan bowing out. The economy imploded in 2008 with a Republican in office and a sketchy (to be kind) McCain campaign on the other side. He’s a good politician, but he’s also quite lucky in his adversaries. He’s at his best when he gets out of the way of his adversaries imploding. Otherwise? He walks lightly and ekes out victories.

How did Obama defeat Hillary Clinton? By slowly and methodically gaming out the primary, capturing just enough delegates (even if he didn’t receive as many gross Democratic votes). How was healthcare past? Via reconciliation, with a razor thin 220-211 margin (shortly after 220-207) in the House. DADT? Blocked by a filibuster. Twice. When it finally was rescued from the fire, the Defense Reauthorization bill didn’t just end the policy that very day.

So why is this race a dead heat right now? One, Romney stopped imploding. Two, because when facing tough challenges, this is where Obama usually finds himself. It’s not as much about Americans opinions of him (most rational people long ago decided he was a good guy, one who we might not always agree with, and one who may get tossed out because nice guys don’t always finish first); it’s about the structural factors of this campaign falling as they have. It was bound to be close, so long as Romney put on his moderate mask.

So assume Obama holds the West Coast, the East coast (toss out New Hampshire) and the usually Democratic Great Lakes Midwest. Loses the South completely – Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Keeps New Mexico, but loses Colorado and Nevada out West. Barely – just barely – wins Iowa and Ohio. He’s left with 271 electoral votes. Because that’s how Obama rolls in these situations.