By John Barron
One short month ago, Barack Obama was almost 5 per cent ahead in the average of national polls, looking like he might win a second presidential term in a canter.
Since then, the US unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in almost four years, the Dow Jones Industrial average has hit its highest level in five years, and Barack Obama has won two of the three presidential debates.
So why is Mitt Romney now in front?
The short answer is, of course, that other debate — the first one in Denver, Colorado, on the night of October 3rd.
But what we don’t really know is what was it about Obama’s listless, lifeless performance that caused his supporters to rush for the exits?
Or was it really Romney’s performance, not Obama’s that mattered most?
I suspect it’s the latter.
After months of being pummeled by unrelentingly negative advertisements, in that debate, watched by 67 million Americans, Mitt Romney appeared confident, controlled, a whole lot less scary, and more moderate than the caricature that had been drawn of him.
The Republican effectively refuted tens of millions of dollars worth of attacks in the space of ninety minutes.
According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls this week, Mr. Romney is less than one percentage point in front, yet some polls from Gallup in the past week have put the Republican nominee 6 per cent clear nationally.
Nevertheless, bookmakers suggest Mr Romney has only about a 40 per cent chance of being elected President on November 6th. Why is that?
In part it's because the election has already started, with early voting underway in more than half of the 50 states, and early counting giving Obama a lead.
That early voting advantage also reflects the Democrats’ superior “ground game” — the campaign workers, contact lists, and campaign store-fronts that can get out the vote and make a real difference.
Worryingly for Democrats, however, is the sharp drop-off in enthusiasm their supporters have showed since their president displayed such a lack of enthusiasm in Denver.
President Obama’s failure to present a positive plan for the future instead of just attacking the alternative might prove fatal politically.
But this race isn’t over yet; every day between now and election day will be more like a week — and we can expect more gaffes like that from Indiana senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who effectively said if a woman falls pregnant after a rape, it's God’s will.
Ultimately, with under a fortnight to go, the best measure of where the race is up to isn’t the national polls, it’s the polls coming out of Ohio, which typically have Obama leading by around 3 per cent.
History shows no Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, and Romney’s path to 270 electoral college votes is almost impossible without it.
That’s why punters are still narrowly supporting an Obama win.
In 2004, the presidential election swung on Ohio and it wasn’t until the following day that Democrat John Kerry conceded he’d lost the state and the White House. It’s starting to look like a long night…
25 October 2012