Towards the end of the Republican Convention this summer the experienced campaign consultant Trygve Olsen advised us how to read the presidential race in the closing weeks. You could tell a lot from where the candidates spent their time, but also what they said: if either side says it is confident, it is too close to call; if one side claims to be enjoying a surge, it means they are going to lose.
I cannot help but remember this as I read Republican claims that Mitt Romney has the momentum in the closing days of the campaign, though the national polls are as tight as could be imagined. The RealClearPolitics average has the two candidates within one tenth of one per cent of each other, with Romney’s favourability ratings now ahead of President Obama’s.
I would like to think the Romney team’s optimism is well-founded, despite the President’s edge in the key states of Ohio, New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada (not to mention Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan). Of the battleground states, Romney currently leads in only Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. But if Republican optimism does turn out by Wednesday morning to have been sound, it will come as a terrible shock to the bookmakers.
With very small variations between bookies, the odds of Romney taking the White House are 3/1; Obama is odds on for re-election at 1/4. In terms of electoral college votes, of which a candidate needs 270 to win, the shortest odds are for Obama to take between 290 and 309 (9/4); it is 10/1 that Romney will achieve this result. It is perfectly possible for the result to be a tie at 269 electoral votes each, though the odds of this are 50/1. More likely – or less unlikely at 4/1 – is that the candidate who wins the popular vote will lose the electoral college vote and therefore the election.
Although most polls give Obama the advantage in Ohio, the Romney campaign makes a spirited case to the contrary. Again, though, the bookies are with the President. The shortest odds you can get on Romney to win Ohio are 2/1; the longest you can get on Obama to take the state are 4/11. It is 1/50 that the winner there takes the White House – unless you fancy a flutter at 12/1 that the candidate who wins in Ohio will lose the election.
I would be pleased to see Romney defy the odds on Tuesday. But I’m not betting on it.