In many of these states, both campaigns insist they are turning out so-called low-propensity voters, ones who commonly skip elections and represent juicy targets because reliable voters can be saved for Tuesday. Team Obama contends that in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, and Nevada, 1.4 million non-midterm voters have cast ballots, versus 840,000 Republican non-midterm voters. If you skip midterm elections, you are a lower-propensity voter.
Republicans say just the opposite, but even if Obama's data are more accurate, Romney advisers see an advantage in independent early-vote trends. According to GOP data, 3.2 million independents in the key battleground states have voted or have early ballots ready to be submitted. National and state polls have shown Romney winning among independents. The question is did these independents vote when that Romney surge was building or before?
In essence, the preening and eye-rolling, the chest-thumping and sarcasm across the tense terrain of this presidential election reflects the difficulty of understanding the dimensions of the 2012 political universe.
It can be said that Obama remade the known political universe in 2008 when he boosted turnout in Iowa and most other caucus states and held on to capture the Democratic nomination over Hillary Rodham Clinton. He similarly expanded the universe by boosting his 2008 vote total by nearly 10 million over Sen. John Kerry in 2004 (McCain managed to shrink GOP turnout to 59.9 million from Bush the younger's 2004 total of 62 million).
But even since Obama's 2008 victory, the universe he created has shrunk. It did so in 2009 in the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia where Obama campaigned but Republicans Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won. It shrank conspicuously in 2010 when Republicans reversed many of the Democratic congressional gains achieved in 2006 and 2008.
What, then, will be the size of the universe on Tuesday? Can Obama prevail in a less-hospitable partisan climate? Can he reverse the GOP backlash of 2010 or even the recall muscle the GOP deployed to protect Walker in Wisconsin earlier this year?
Obama's team believes it knows the political terrain better than Romney, that its voter contacts, outreach, registration, and mobilization can withstand any partisan tide. This is the core of its preening confidence and certainty. Romney has some data but also—and more importantly—an intuitive sense that American attitudes and temperament are primed for change.
In this, Obama bets on hard-bitten pragmatism and Romney the emotive punch of possibility. Obama the spreadsheet, Romney the romantic. Irony, thy name is Campaign 2012.