What It Always Was

Despite the excitement of Republicans (and horse-race-frenzied pundits of every variety) over the first presidential debate, anyone looking at the race seriously knew we’d have a wait a few days before there was evidence about whether and how much the event had affected the contest, and longer than that to see if was ultimately going to matter at all.

There was a lot of excitement among conservatives on Saturday when, as Sam Wang of Princeton Election Consortium put it, “a remarkably sharp and large downtick for President Obama” was shown via “a massive polling release from three Republican-leaning pollsters: Rasmussen, Gravis, and We Ask America.” The Gallup tracking poll was showing a sizable shift towards Romney as well, though not enough to wipe out Obama’s lead.

With the benefit of another day’s perspective and a bit more tracking poll data, Nate Silver reached the conclusion last night that (a) there was indeed a Romney “debate bounce;” but (b) it seems to have already subsided. Nate figures (with a lot of qualifications) that Romney got about a 3-point bounce, leaving him just south of 2 points behind Obama nationally, with reversion-to-mean tendencies perhaps eroding Romney’s bounce a bit unless something new happens to give it staying power.

Another way of putting it all is that we may be back to about where we were before the conventions, with the added phenomena of (a) renewed enthusiasm on both sides and (b) another month of economic data and experience.

I’m about to throw up my hands and stop boring readers with too many objections to the extraordinary level of belief among conservatives this year that spinning Romney as ahead is itself a vastly important political asset. They do seem to believe it, maybe because of the impact on marginal voters of “being on the winning team,” perhaps because of the need to keep donors on board and focused on the top of the ticket, and almost certainly, in most cases, for deep psychological reasons of their own. At the elite, chattering-class level, conservatives are, after all, in the habit of thinking of themselves as “winners” in life, and of Democrats as a vast coalition of “losers.” This is why so many of them are bullies by nature, and can’t really accept defeat in any legitimately framed competition. They are The Elect, and Elections should reflect that fact, right?

So it will be difficult some days to cut through the din of perpetually renewed lusty conservative cries that the Black Devil-Man in Washington is on the run, and to avoid the temptation to spin right back just to annoy the wingnuts. But I am going to try, and best I can tell, the presidential race is what it always was–a close contest that could go either way–but with the fundamentals now favoring Obama to the point where it will take more than endless and interminable and often silly hype (I’m going to scream if I hear one more reference to “energy levels”) over one debate to change the outcome.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.