Last week’s presidential debate may not have been a game changer, but it was a momentum shifter — toward Mitt Romney.
That’s the message in polls of five swing states released Thursday.
The polls — one by CBS News, The New York Times and Quinnipiac University, the other by NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and Marist College — show the race tightening in the states that will determine the election, and the Republican presidential candidate is the beneficiary.
The NBC/WSJ poll, for instance, showed Romney pulling ahead of President Obama in Virginia, where he had trailed before the debate. He narrowed the president’s lead in Ohio by two points, but still trails by five there. In Florida, the president remained one point ahead.
The CBS/NYT poll had Romney moving ahead in Colorado and narrowing the gap in Wisconsin, but the president opened up a bigger, five-point lead in Virginia. (Sorry, CBS and New York Times, I’m not buying it.) In many cases, the spreads between the two candidates are well within the margin of error.
Numbers maven Nate Silver of The Times’ Five Thirty Eight blog now estimates that Romney got a 3.5 percentage point bounce from his strong debate performance and President Obama’s weak one. He now gives the president a two-to-one chance of winning the Electoral College, down from 86% before the debate. (Intrade’s electronic prediction market says President Obama has a 63.3% chance of winning, off about 15 percentage points from his peak.)
Some of this is inevitable, of course. Like stocks and financial markets, candidates can get way ahead of themselves. That sentiment was reflected in the polls and the media talking heads in the days before the debate, when many seemed ready to declare the election over.
But it also breeds complacency, as it clearly did for President Obama. And a hungry, prepared Romney ate him for breakfast. The president and his handlers vow it won’t happen the next time around — and Vice-President Joe Biden might give us a little preview of that in his face-off with GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan Thursday night.
There are a couple of silver linings for the president. First, more than 90% of the likely voters polled by NBC/WSJ said they had already made up their minds. Only 6% or 7% claimed to be persuadable, and they swung to Romney after the debate. And nearly one in five Ohio voters has already voted! They’re breaking to Obama by two to one. That could be a huge advantage.
Still, as NBC’s Chuck Todd put it on Morning Joe: “We are at where we were before the conventions…. All the bump has been erased.” Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter acknowledged that. The benefits of the entire Democratic convention, including former President Bill Clinton’s persuasive speech, were wiped out in one night.
This election is now too close to let the president get away with another huge flub like that.
Howard R. Gold is a columnist for MarketWatch and editor at large for MoneyShow.com and. Follow him on Twitter @howardrgold and catch his coverage of the presidential campaign at www.independentagenda.com.
Follow Howard’s live blog of the vice-presidential debate beginning at 9 p.m. ET Thursday night, and look for his new Electoral College map projections Monday at www.independentagenda.com.