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 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT