Yes, I am extremely nervous about the election. With less than two weeks to go we are in a virtual tie in the poll of polls in an election where there are massive ideological differences between the candidates. What’s on the line is the future of health care, a woman’s right to choose, tax fairness, the social safety net, who gets credit for the economic recovery that seems to be around the corner, whether or not we go to war with Iran and the makeup of the Supreme Court for the next generation.
The specter of race hangs over all of this: will the first black president be wrongly deemed a failure, as the majority of one-term presidents are? I already find myself being told he’s accomplished nothing despite preventing a depression, passing historic health care legislation, concluding the war in Iraq, ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and leading the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. I do not want him to live on as conservative shorthand for a bad presidency with blackness as the unspoken asterisk somehow proving the point. And more, Romney’s trailing so badly with blacks and Latinos that for him to win would require an historic showing among whites, and what would be the future for black and brown people under a president who owes them nothing? Fortunately there are many factors that allow me to sleep at night, because they lead me to think Obama will win on November 6.
The national snapshot derived from that avalanche of polls has, I and others think, outgrown their usefulness in assessing the campaign because Romney’s big lead in the South (16 points in a recent Washington Post/ABC poll) pumps up his national numbers more than it helps his electoral college showing. He has what many are calling a “map problem.” Obama has an advantage in every other region and his lead in Ohio, the ultimate bellwether, has remained, as has his lead in Wisconsin, which has gone democratic in the last six elections. If the president wins Ohio and Wisconsin, the race is over. Iowa is also leaning toward Obama and has gone democratic in four of the last five elections.
But Ohio is the ultimate prize — the state that has gone with the winner in every election since 1964. The state has an unemployment rate below the national average, as do Wisconsin and Iowa. On Saturday the largest newspaper in Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which has endorsed the winner in all but two elections since 1964, endorsed Obama. (They endorsed Ford in 1976 and endorsed no one in 2004.) The endorsement was not enthusiastic, and they admitted they were “sorely tempted to endorse Romney” and it’s not hard to see that air of a reluctant rehire in many voters. Many feel he has not done a great job and they want change, but they like him and feel he deserves another chance. I see it as a “take back the husband you’ve had doubts about” election. Women in particular are apt to hang on to a president. Nate Silver notes that historically women “seem more inclined than men to give the incumbent party another chance.” This is encouraging given Obama’s lead among women voters who make up 54% of the electorate.
No serious watcher expects anything but a close election where maybe as little as two points separate the popular vote totals. Some think we may be headed for the popular vote and the electoral college to disagree. Even if that doesn’t happen, I fear that in a polarized environment following an election filled with rancor conducted at a fever pitch and ending in bitterness, that we could be headed for a nation that’s even more divided, no matter who wins. A nation where half of the country feels free to challenge the legitimacy of the president. Obama won by six points in 2008 — a massive win — and has still been dogged by birtherism, GOP obstruction and a widespread lack of respect which stems from the deeply partisan polarization of America today. A close election could deepen the bitterness felt by the losing side, leaving us more divided than ever.