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The State of the Race: Delphic, With a Lean to Obama

Nothing is more pointless or more irresistible than to try to predict the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election. It’s pointless both because so many resources and so much energy has been spent on the forecasting effort up until now and because in just a few days the results of the 2012 election will be universally known. But it’s irresistible because human beings are hardwired to try to figure out the future and because the contest is so dramatic and consuming.

For what it’s worth, at Via Meadia we stand pretty much where we’ve stood for the last year: the President has a slight edge in a close race. Governor Romney foiled the President’s effort to marginalize his candidacy and brand him as a radical by solid performances in the debates and overall an impressive fall campaign, but his momentum in the polls never quite gave him both the national and swing state edge he needed to become the frontrunner.

This morning the RCP poll average gives the President an insignificant lead of 0.1 percent in the national polls, and swing state polls continue to favor the White House in key battlegrounds like Ohio. The Sandy-induced silence of the Gallup tracking poll and possible distortions in other polls as a result of the storm gives us some pause — and of course the vote doesn’t come until Tuesday. Still, if anything the movement in the state polls has favored the President in recent days. A week ago it looked as if Governor Romney’s climb in the national polls was starting to be reflected in swing state polling data; since then, his momentum in the national polls stalled and even went into reverse and the swing state polls have favored the incumbent.

The only thing holding us back from predicting an Obama win Tuesday is this prediction of a Romney win by Michael Barone. Barone is without a doubt one of the deepest students alive of American electoral politics and his encyclopedic knowledge of local politics in major states plus his level headed judgment are particularly valuable when, as now, the polls are so close. Barone is a conservative thinker but he isn’t a cheerleader. He wouldn’t make this call if he didn’t believe it.

So: the polls and especially the battleground state polls point to an Obama win, but there are still a few days left and Michael Barone thinks Romney has it in the bag. Prediction, it appears, remains an inexact science and the future remains stubbornly veiled.

On election night, I’ll be looking closely at the three southern states that Obama carried in 2008. If Obama carries either Virginia, North Carolina or Florida, the night should be over and we can all go to bed. On the other hand, a Romney win in New Hampshire would be an early sign that the Barone view might prevail.

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