After the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, the two campaigns head into the final stretch of what could be one of the closest presidential elections in American history. The instapolls and pundits appear to have resolved that the president was a modest victor in last night's debate on foreign policy, a peripheral issue in a campaign dominated by domestic affairs. But although there’s still plenty of reason to be skeptical that the polls will lurch decidedly toward either candidate, any movement would be significant in such a close race. In the 13 national polls released yesterday, Obama led by a miniscule 47.38 to 47.31 margin—it’s hard to imagine the national polls have ever been tighter with two weeks to go.
The state polls, however, suggest that Obama retains a modest lead in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada—three states sufficient to provide Obama with a second term. Yesterday’s polls hinted at the possibility that Ohio was closer than prior polls had suggested, with Suffolk showing a tied race, POS showing Romney ahead by one point, and CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac showing Obama up by 5 points, down from an unsustainable 11 point lead in September. Nonetheless, the balance of evidence continues to show Obama with a discernible edge in the Buckeye State, and Obama will remain a slight favorite to win the election so long as that remains, at least if the election were held today.
If the polls are right and Obama holds the advantage in the critical battleground states into the final stretch, then a modest victory for the president was helpful to his chances, even if it doesn’t move the polls in his direction. Romney only has two weeks left to move the needle two points in Ohio, Nevada and Iowa, or Wisconsin and any other tilt-Obama state, and relitigating the facts and memes from last night’s debate are assured to take up at least a couple of critical days. If Romney's deficit in Ohio is larger than one or two points, then that's a real lost opportunity. Of course, if the Romney campaign believes they have already brought the race back to a dead-heat in Ohio, losing three days worth of lost comeback isn’t terrible—so long as the president doesn’t outright make gains as a result of the debate.