Is Mitt Romney catching up?

Mitt Romney's campaign argues in a new memo that the Republican presidential candidate is catching up in his race with Barack Obama.  The analysis varies depending on what polls are included in the assessment, but most experts say the race remains very close. 

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    In this June 19 photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks about the vetting of a vice presidential running mate in Holland, Mich.
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Mitt Romney has had a tough time on the campaign trail in recent weeks. He’s had to insist over and over again that he left Bain Capital in 1999, despite Securities and Exchange Commission documents which imply that he didn’t. He’s been forced to defend himself against charges that he was involved in Bain investments in outsourcing firms from that post-1999 period. Plus, lots of folks on cable news – some of them Republicans – keep shouting at him to release more years of personal tax returns.

You’d think that all this controversy might cause him to slip in the polls. But that doesn’t appear to be happening. In fact, according to the Romney campaign, the presumptive GOP nominee is actually catching up.

A new memo out today from Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse notes that in April the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls put President Obama ahead by 5.3 percentage points. As of July 15, the same RCP measurement had Mr. Obama ahead by only 2.4 percentage points.

Three national polls released since Friday – Rasmussen, Gallup daily tracking, and McClatchy/Marist – show the race to be a dead heat, writes Mr. Newhouse. And this is so, says the Romney official, despite the fact that the Obama campaign has outspent its counterpart two to one on national advertising during the period.

“What has that bought the Democrats? A closer race – Obama has slipped and support for Gov. Romney has increased,” writes Newhouse.

Well, we have a couple of things to say about this assertion. The first is that it’s true that the presidential horse race so far has been remarkably stable. As we’ve written before, there is little evidence that the daily stuff seems to matter. The Supreme Court decision upholding Obama’s health-care reforms, bad jobs reports, Bain attacks, tax return controversies – at this point none of that seems to be seeping through to large numbers of voters.

The second is that you have to cherry-pick polls a little bit to say that Romney is actually catching up and we’re seeing a “closer race.”

At least one of the recent polls the Romney camp points to – the Gallup daily tracking numbers – has consistently shown the Republican doing a bit better than its counterparts. And the Romney memo leaves off a Pew Research poll released last Thursday that gave Obama a seven-point advantage.

Look at the RealClearPolitics line graph of its rolling average and you’ll see that there is a good deal of noise inherent in the measurement – daily numbers moving up and down around a fairly steady overall trend line. That’s what pollsters mean when they talk about margin of error. You expect day-to-day, and poll-to-poll, variations.

A recent analysis from Huffington Post polling director Mark Blumenthal says the race remains what it’s been for months: very close, with Obama retaining the slightest of leads.

“The narrow Obama advantage in the national polls translates, as expected, into a modest Electoral College advantage for the president in the individual state polls,” writes Mr. Blumenthal.

Blumenthal adds that as the election nears and more pollsters began screening their results to reflect the preferences of likely voters (as opposed to all registered voters) Romney might catch up. That’s because historically a higher percentage of Republicans actually vote.

“Buckle up, polling junkies, it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” he writes.

On the Campaign Trail with Mitt Romney


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