Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Was Obama's comet a one-time thing?

By Alex Castellanos, CNN Contributor
updated 9:31 AM EST, Mon November 5, 2012
CNN's Alex Castellanos crunches the stats and comes up with this prediction: Barack Obama will not be re-elected.
CNN's Alex Castellanos crunches the stats and comes up with this prediction: Barack Obama will not be re-elected.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alex Castellanos says it takes some guesswork to predict outcome of such a close election
  • He says several factors make Mitt Romney more likely to win
  • Romney has made progress in reducing gender gap and may have an edge with independents
  • Castellanos: Obama hasn't cracked 50% barrier, and his 2008 win looks unlikely to repeat

Editor's note: Alex Castellanos, a CNN contributor, is a Republican consultant and the co-founder of Purple Strategies. Follow him on Twitter: @alexcast

(CNN) -- So it comes down to this: On Tuesday, the president who can't possibly win re-election confronts the challenger who can't possibly beat him.

Licensed, as I am, to pump gas and commit punditry in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, I am obligated to make a prediction.

Or, in other words: It's time to guess.

Three weeks ago, on NBC's "Meet the Press," I ventured that something happened at that Denver debate beyond President Barack Obama not showing up for work.

The president, I noted, had never run a campaign to get re-elected, just a campaign to stop the other guy, Mitt Romney, from getting elected. When the Romney who arrived to debate was not the sulfur-breathing demon the president had led us to expect, Obama was left with no campaign at all.  "This is a man with two empty holsters," I noted. "His campaign could collapse."

Courting the women's vote
Worldwide response to the U.S. election
Boehner very confident on Romney
Calculating who will win

I think it did.

Romney: My vision for America

Then an unexpected voter named Sandy resuscitated Obama's campaign.

What factors must we understand in these final hours to identify the winner of this election?

First, we'd have to understand who is going to win independents.

Four years ago, Obama won independents by 8 points over John McCain. After the Denver debate, that advantage reversed itself. In recent Washington Post/ABC News tracking polls, Obama has trailed Romney among independent voters by 16 to 20 percentage points.  Recent CBS polls also reported that Romney has led Obama among independents by 5% in Ohio, 6% in Florida and a massive 21% in Virginia. 

If this lead among independents held through Election Day, Romney would win these states. Post-Sandy survey data, however, indicates the storm may have blown away Romney's advantage with independents, at least temporarily.

The Politico/GW Battleground Poll has the president pulling within 1 point among independent voters, 43% to 44%. Our own PurplePoll of swing states has the president taking a one point lead among purple state independents, 45% to 44%. However, the final NBC/WSJ national poll reports that Romney is winning independents by 7 points. And the new CNN/ORC poll gives Romney a 22% lead with independents.

Who wins independents might depend upon whether Obama's "Sandy bounce" was a real change or a temporary bump in the president's fortunes. If voters believe the president's energetic response indicates he has learned a lesson and will be more responsive to them in a second term, this election could break Obama's way.

Obama: My vision for America

Second, to identify the winner, we'd have to see whether Romney has closed the gender gap. 

The latest Associated Press poll has Romney erasing a 16-point gender gap in the past month. Pew Research tells us Romney's and Obama's favorability ratings among women voters are now nearly equal.  Pew analyst Michael Dimock expects the gender gap "to look very similar to the last few election cycles, with women somewhere between 6 and 8 points to favor Obama, and fairly consistent with where we've been since 1980." Our own post-Sandy PurplePoll has Romney closing the gender gap to 7 points, enough for him to win.

Third, to call the election for Obama, I'd have to believe he doesn't hit his head on the ceiling every time he stands, but he does.  The president's percentage number is stuck some 2% or 3% short of the 50% mark.

The Real Clear Politics national average has Obama stuck at 47.8% with Romney tight on his heels at 47.3%. Our last two PurplePolls of likely voters in swing states have Obama at 47% to 48%.

Surveys that show a higher percentage for the president, cracking the 50% line, such as the overcooked Marist poll in Ohio, are preposterously overweighted with Democrats. 

Marist unexplainably paints Ohio 9% more Democrat than Republican, with the Republican share of the electorate lower today than in 2008, when Republicans were swallowing razor blades and Obama mania was cresting.  Other surveys, which perhaps have spent less time in the crock pot, show a different Ohio:  A CBS/NYT poll reports Republican enthusiasm outstripping Democrat enthusiasm in Ohio by 14 points.

Politics: If Obama wins...

My experience is that polarizing incumbents running against acceptable challengers can count on getting just about exactly what they are getting in the last poll, heading into the election -- and no more. The electoral ceiling over Obama's head is hard. In my view, it is a couple of points too low for him to win re-election.

What else would we have to understand to identify the likely winner?

Fourth, we'd have to see who has captured the powerful remnants of the 2010 surge that renewed the "silent majority's" voice and secured GOP control of the House of Representatives.

Anecdotal evidence and survey data tell us that Romney has momentum with white, working-class men in swing states and nationally. 

A new poll from the conservative American Future Fund has Romney within a point in blue-collar Minnesota. Obama's campaign is suddenly running ads in a working-class state such as Pennsylvania that he had previously put in his pocket.  New data has Romney tied with Obama in Pennsylvania, 47% to 47%, within 2 points in Ohio, and tied with the president in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Romney is drawing the largest crowds of his campaign, packed with those Reagan-Democratic men, in, of all places, Ohio.  Early on Election Night, if Romney starts winning blue-collar, working class counties in western Pennsylvania, he will win them everywhere, including Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota.  At this point, it is almost impossible for Romney to win the presidency small. He either loses or puts around 300 electoral votes in the bank.

Fifth, to identify our next president, we would have to understand who has the edge, compared with '08, in early and absentee voting.

GOP sources tell me that in Ohio, for example, Republicans have increased their early turnout by more than 100,000 from 2008 while Democrat turnout is down 150,000. That is a 250,000-vote swing in a state Obama only won by 260,000 votes at the apogee of his popularity. This pattern, I'm informed, holds in other swing states.

Sixth, we have to examine whether the Obama campaign can compensate for dimming passion among its supporters with a more energetic turn-out-the-vote machine on Election Day.

It's fair to admit that Team Obama has had a four-year head start, nearly endless resources and a brilliant team of social media wizards to build an unmatched get-out-the-vote operation. But Obama has disappointed even his own supporters. The thrill of his historic political accomplishment is gone. Without passion to fuel the machine, a turnout engine is just a collection of bolts.

Politics: If Romney wins...

My experience is that the Beatles were right:  Money can't buy you love, or turnout. 

Seventh, to identify our next president, we have to understand how publicly embarrassing it is to be a Republican these days.  

Hollywood, the music industry, the news media, the fashion industry, the intellectual elite and the news media all fawn over Obama. To identify yourself as a Republican Romney voter, however, is to admit that you are culturally backward. In effect, survey questioners are asking Obama voters if they self-identify as cool.  They are asking Romney voters if they would publicly admit to wearing socks with sandals.

Too often, Republicans dare not speak their name, because they know the cool kids won't invite them to play.

This phenomenon, the reticent Republican factor, like the shy Tory factor found in British polls in the '90s, could easily account for a 4% to 5% unexpected pro-Romney bump on Election Day.

Late polls in 1980 gave Ronald Reagan only a 2% to 3% lead over Jimmy Carter.  Reagan ended up winning by nearly 10%.  For the same reason, I would expect this campaign's final public opinion polls and exit polls this Tuesday to underreport the Republican vote by a handful of points.

Add it all up, and this is a close call. Perhaps it is best made both with my heart and my head.

Four years ago, Obama's campaign claimed a unique energy.  Electing the first black president of the United States was a singular moment of national pride. Now the Obama campaign pretends the opposite: They tell us that history-making event was ordinary.  Team Obama and many others model their turnout predictions and surveys upon 2008, overloading them with Democrats. They would have us think that the electoral cosmos has been realigned in a stable and permanent way.

In the end, I cannot embrace as common the rarest of political astronomies. I do not believe Obama's comet comes around every day.

That leaves Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States.

Opinion: What's really at stake in election 2012

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alex Castellanos.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT