Reading Between the Lines | Washington Week

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Reading Between the Lines

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama
Both presidential candidates have been campaigning hard with under a week to go until Nov. 6 (Photo: CNN)

Both presidential candidates have been campaigning hard with under a week to go until Nov. 6 (Photo: CNN)

The days tick down to a precious few, and partisans on both sides of the political divide are asking the same essential question: What’s gonna happen?

This question is posed to me at gas stations, in the supermarket, in airports and anywhere else I have ventured these last few weeks. Even the parents of trick-or-treaters asked for my crystal ball analysis when I opened the door – fun-size chocolates in hand – on Halloween.

Sadly, my crystal ball remains permanently unreadable. But you can join me as I look for signs of things to come between now and Election Day.

Follow the candidates’ schedules.
Up until now, I have resisted reading too much into the horse race numbers. But that’s over now. This race is a true dead heat. There are enough polls out there that the trends are clear. And make no mistake about it, the candidates are watching those trends too. So it matters that, in the last 30 days, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have spent so much time in Ohio (28 visits), Florida (19 visits), Colorado (9 visits), Virginia (19 visits) and Wisconsin (7 visits). And it matters that President Obama and his running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, are doubling down on Ohio (16 visits) and Florida (14 visits) and Nevada (8 visits) with frequent stops in Wisconsin, Virginia and Colorado as well.

And in a bit of endless election karma, Romney’s final pre-election rally will be in New Hampshire; the President’s in Iowa.

Discount the storm.
As big a deal as Sandy was along the Eastern seaboard, in the end, it is unlikely to change minds that weren’t already made up. At best, it dealt a glancing blow to toss up states like Virginia, while clobbering deep blue states like New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The President won over independent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and mollified Republican Chris Christie in New Jersey, but it’s unclear that what elected officials do at this stage will tip the balance.

Barack Obama and Chris Christie
President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie walk round the damage in New Jersey, the state worst hit by Hurricane Sandy (Photo: CNN)

President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie walk round the damage in New Jersey, the state worst hit by Hurricane Sandy (Photo: CNN)

Ignore the claims and counterclaims.
I am paid to listen to both campaigns lay out the maps that will take them to victory. The Romney campaign boasts of closing polling gaps in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, but almost no one believes they will overcome the Obama campaign’s advantage there.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, is singing the praises of their ground game, boasting of long lines of early voters at polling places in the states they need to win. But a new study by the Pew Research Center shows that the President does not enjoy the same edge among those voters as he did four years ago.

Watch for the head fakes.
Mitt Romney heads for Pennsylvania this weekend. Joe Biden was there this week. Does that mean Pennsylvania is actually in play? The campaigns are suddenly spending money in Minnesota. Does that mean a state the President won by 10 percentage points four years ago is slipping away? Probably not. But in a race this close, both candidates are counting on the “what if” factor in the campaign’s closing days. No one wants to have missed the brass ring because they never got on the carousel.

Stock up on the caffeine and chocolate.
No matter how the presidential race swings, we are likely to be up late Tuesday and early Wednesday trying to discern the composition of the U.S. Senate.

Watch how tight races in central and western time zones play out, including in Montana, Nebraska, Arizona and North Dakota.

Swear off predicting.
Join me in the “I Dunno” caucus. Every day between now and election day, another tracking poll will pop into my in box showing the race tied, roughly, at 49 percent.

Know what that means? It’s finally time for the voters to decide.

Vote.