Obama vs. Romney: What do their schedules say about presidential race?

At this point, the candidates are going only to the places they’re most needed. President Obama will be in Ohio at least four times, while Mitt Romney is spending all Thursday in Virginia.

Tom Lynn/AP
President Obama waves to supporters upon his arrival in Green Bay, Wis., Thursday, Nov. 1, for a quick campaign stop before heading to Las Vegas.
David Goldman/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves as he takes the stage for a campaign event at a window and door factory, Thursday, Nov. 1, in Roanoke, Va.

Where will President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney attend rallies during the frantic final days of the 2012 campaign? That could be a crucial indication of what each side really believes about the state of the race as it nears the end.

Yes, in this electronic day and age, the candidate’s corporeal presence isn’t as important as it used to be. Yes, first lady Michelle Obama will be out on the stump, too, as will Ann Romney, Vice President Joe Biden, and VP nominee Rep. Paul Ryan. But the top person on the ticket is still the big gun. At this point, they’re going only to the places they’re most needed. No amount of spin will be able to cover up that fact.

So let’s look at what we know about their itineraries. On Thursday, Mr. Obama will be in Wisconsin, Nevada, and Colorado. Friday, he’s campaigning in Ohio. Saturday is Ohio, Wisconsin again, then Iowa and Virginia. Sunday is New Hampshire, Florida, a return to Ohio, and another stop in Colorado. Monday is (whew!) Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa.

Mr. Romney’s schedule isn’t quite as crammed, at least not yet. On Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor is supposed to spend all day in Virginia. Friday is Wisconsin and Ohio. Saturday, he’s hitting New Hampshire, Colorado, and Iowa. His Sunday destinations have yet to be announced, but on Monday, he’s planning to be in Manchester, N.H.

In case the above paragraphs flew by like a blur – which is how that travel will seem to the candidates, believe us – we’ll tell you what patterns we detect.

First, Obama will be spending a lot of time defending his Midwestern firewall. He’ll be in Ohio for at least part of four of the remaining five days of the campaign. He’s hitting Wisconsin three times and Iowa twice. Are Obama campaign officials in Chicago getting nervous about these states, most of which the president must win if he’s going to get a second term?

They say they aren’t, and they point to individual state polls as confirmation. “The president leads or is tied in every battleground state across the country,” said Jim Messina, Obama campaign manager, during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

But those state polls have tightened in recent weeks, and political analysts are taking note. The Washington Post’s The Fix political blog just moved Ohio from “lean Obama” to “tossup,” for instance. It’s true that state poll averages still show Obama up in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa. But the Romney camp insists that early-voting numbers are running against the president and that the top-line poll numbers no longer reflect the true state of the race.

“Right now their firewall is burning,” said Rich Beeson, Romney political director, during a Wednesday conference call.

Second, Romney appears to be playing a lot of defense, too. He’s spending all day in Virginia on Thursday, for instance. It’s true that’s a crucial swing state, but if Romney could pick off one of the Midwestern biggies, it would be much easier for him to put together a winning total of 270 electoral votes. Yet at the moment, he’s got only one scheduled partial-day trip to Ohio. He’s hitting Wisconsin and Iowa once each.

His campaign has talked a lot about expanding the map, and they've noted they’re putting up ads in states Obama once thought safe, such as Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. But Romney isn't going to Minnesota or Pennsylvania, unless he’s got a Sunday surprise up his sleeve. His itinerary would indicate that the expansion talk is a feint.

Mr. Beeson on Wednesday said, “Pennsylvania is a place that we decided to wade into as a path to 300 electoral votes.” To us, that was an optimistic way of saying they’re not going to spend any more time there than they already have.

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