The Zombie Election: Four ways the campaign may be undead on November 7.
n Tuesday, October 23, precisely two weeks out from Election Day, ABC News and the Washington Post reported the second set of results from their homestretch tracking poll of 1,382 likely voters nationwide. The survey had Mitt Romney ahead of President Obama by 49 to 48 percent, a fashion-model-slender lead that, in fact, was even slimmer than those numbers suggested. (Pushing out two decimal places, the poll found Romney at 48.51 percent and Obama at 48.44.) And the ABC-WaPo tracker was no outlier. To the contrary. At this writing, on October 25, the RealClearPolitics national polling average gave Romney a 47.7 to 47.1 lead, and in all but one of the nine battleground states, the margin separating the two nominees was less than 3 percent.
Drilling down on the numbers at this late stage, a few conclusions are unavoidable. First, despite claims to the contrary by the Romney campaign, there is no massive wave of momentum carrying Mittens either nationally or in the battleground states—but the bump he received after the first debate elevated him sufficiently that he stands a plausible chance of winning this thing. Second, buoyed by his strong performances in the second and third debates, Obama’s position has stabilized and he holds a small but significant advantage in terms of the electoral map—but his sub-50 percent support levels in all of the battleground states is a cause for real concern among Democrats. All of which is to say, third and finally, that next Tuesday night is likely gonna be the emotional equivalent of riding the Cyclone at Coney Island: a nerve-jangling, empty-out-the-liquor-cabinet-and-stash-box sort of affair.
But here’s the thing: It could be even worse than that. At a moment when the bitter polarization that has poisoned our politics for so long has reached a new height (or depth) of vehemence and venom, there is a small but nontrivial possibility that come November 7, we will find ourselves facing an outcome that would trigger a national political meltdown, in which a large portion of each side decries the election result as illegitimate. Indeed, your columnist can imagine four such Armageddon scenarios. I present them in order, from the most to the least likely—and least to most horrific…