Obama advisers contend that the president's criticism of Romney's record at Hofstra stopped his momentum cold and that the economy will remain a threat to Obama. But they added that Romney's own weaknesses--contestable job-creation numbers linked to his 5-point jobs plan, lack of specifics on tax policy, and checkered jobs record in Massachusetts--will keep Obama narrowly ahead. "Romney just makes things up, and over time he's just not believable," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "I mean, I've never seen anything like it, and people won't stick with someone like that."
What also became clear after the dust began to settle from the rumble on Long Island was the electoral map has narrowed and Obama's team, while conceding nothing publicly, is circling the wagons around Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Plouffe said that Obama remains strong in all four states, but he would not discuss the specifics of internal polling or voter-contact analytics, saying only that Obama has "significant leads" in all four places.
It is uncharacteristic of Team Obama to concede any terrain, but Plouffe offered no such assurances about Obama's position in North Carolina, Virginia, or Florida. Romney advisers have seen big gains in all three states and now consider wins likely, although not guaranteed, in all three. They are similarly upbeat about prospects in Colorado but not confident enough to predict victory. That Plouffe left Colorado off his list of states where Obama's leading and can withstand a Romney surge might be telling.
According to RealClearPolitics, Obama currently has 201 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. But that doesn't give Obama electoral votes from Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), or Wisconsin (10). Of these three, Romney advisers believe that only one, Wisconsin, is even theoretically winnable. Obama advisers believe they will win all three. That would put Obama at 247 electoral votes. If Obama wins Ohio (18), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), and New Hampshire (4) he would claim 281 electoral votes. That means he could afford to lose New Hampshire and Nevada and still eke out a razor-thin victory of 271 electoral votes.
Romney, according to RCP, has 191 electoral votes. If you add Florida (29), North Carolina (15), and Virginia (13), that brings his total to 248 electoral votes. Add Colorado (9) --which neither campaign is prepared to claim or concede--and Romney's total rises to 257 electoral votes. If Romney wins Ohio (18) in addition to these states, he would have 275 electoral votes. If Romney loses Ohio, he would need to win Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire to reach 273 electoral votes. There is a scenario where Romney could lose Ohio and New Hampshire but win Iowa and Nevada and one electoral vote from the 2nd Congressional District in Maine (the state allocates electoral votes by district vote) and capture the bare minimum of 270 electoral votes.
"I really don't see a path for Romney without Ohio," Plouffe said. "And we feel very good about where we are in Ohio with voter contacts, messaging, and early voting. Our early voting is ahead of where we were in 2008."
"God bless them in the Obama campaign," said RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer. "We are gaining in Ohio, and they can say all they want about early vote. We are way, way ahead in early voting in Ohio compared to 2008, and what matters are residual voters after the early vote. We believe we will have enough to win."
The three debates so far have given partisans in both parties plenty of ammunition, but Obama's Hofstra rebound was more important. Top Democrats feared another listless performance would have doomed his campaign. Those fears were decisively erased. "The really important part of the debate was, and will be, getting those who were already going to support Obama to actually get out and vote. The debate helped because the Democratic base is reenergized."
With both sides seeing and smelling victory, it's clear after the verbally contentious and physically confrontational debate at Hofstra University the electoral map has narrowed and the issue matrix is being sifted. From now on, the four Ls are likely to dominate, and Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire will see the lion's share of candidate visits, door-to-door voter contacts and still more media saturation.
CORRECTED: An earlier version of this story did not include an additional electoral vote scenario for Romney.