Campaigns are driven by events, and the first presidential debate last week was definitely an event, one that has dramatically changed the trajectory of the presidential campaign and may have given Republicans up and down the ticket a boost.
Prior to Mitt Romney’s shockingly one-sided debate victory over President Barack Obama last Wednesday the polls were showing a widening lead for the president, and a growing advantage for Democrats in generic ballot polling where voters are asked their party preference. Now that trend has been at least halted, and perhaps reversed.
Unlike other races, pollsters are tracking the presidential campaign daily. Before the debate, Rasmussen showed Obama ahead by 2 percent, while Gallup had the president ahead by 5 percent. By the weekend, Rasmussen showed Romney ahead by 2 percent. By Monday, Gallup had the race even, and Pew released a poll showing Romney ahead by 4 percent among likely voters. By Tuesday, Gallup showed Romney ahead by 2 percent, and Romney had his first lead ever in the Real Clear Politics aggregate of recent polls.
At the same time, polls in every battleground state have shown the same shift toward Romney. Even Pennsylvania is now in play, and the crucial state of Ohio appears to be dead even.
I have been checking with Republican strategists and pollsters working in Washington state. All are absolutely confident that their candidates have received a major boost in the last week. For instance, Republicans now believe they have a real shot at picking up the net gain of three seats they need to take a 25-24 majority in the Washington Senate. Unless this pro-GOP trend is changed by some other event, I would expect that the next round of public polls we see in Washington will show a significant bounce for all GOP candidates.
Since the Democratic convention, polls were showing Democratic advantages in party identification as wide as we saw in the 2008 election. This has led to a big Internet debate about the accuracy of polling, with Republicans claiming media polls were skewed toward Democrats. (A claim I don’t agree with, by the way). Now I expect to see a closing of that partisan gap, which would be vital to Republicans in close races in Washington state, most notably, Rob McKenna.
Romney didn’t win the election last week, but he did stop losing it. Obama was threatening to turn the 2012 election into a rout for himself and his party. Now the Presidential race is back to dead even, and the partisan tide McKenna and other R’s were swimming against has eased. Less than one month to go.