With 30 days before the election, Mitt Romney has breathed new life into his campaign as a result of last week’s debate.
President Obama has had a small edge over Romney in most national polls, though the impact of the president’s weak debate performance has yet to play out in polling. But barring a huge post-debate bounce for the former Massachusetts governor, Obama has an easier path to get to 270 electoral votes, while Romney needs to all but run the table in the swing states to pull off a win.
Republicans had begun to privately write off Romney’s chances before last Wednesday’s debate, but his strong performance and Obama’s listless response drew cries of joy from the right, including from some most of Romney’s harshest conservative critics.
Yet, Friday’s jobs report showed the unemployment rate declining to 7.8 percent, the lowest figure since Obama’s first month in office. The number undercuts one of Romney’s core campaign arguments: That the economy has worsened during Obama’s presidency.
It will take days — and fresh polling — to sort out how these countervailing events will play out. But the debate did accomplish one thing: It got Romney’s now-famous “47 percent” comments out of the headlines for the first time since they surfaced nearly three weeks ago.
Barring an October surprise or a major gaffe from either side, the biggest events that remain that could change the direction of the race are the final two presidential debates, scheduled for Oct. 16 in New York and Oct. 22 in Florida, and the vice presidential debate on Thursday in Kentucky.
Battle for the Senate
Senate Democrats have had more to celebrate than Senate Republicans in recent weeks, and while control of the upper chamber remains up for grabs, Democrats have the edge.
Republicans need to pick up four seats if Obama is reelected. Democrats are defending more than twice as many seats as the GOP.
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) continued to give Republicans fits by staying in his Senate race past the late September deadline to drop out, turning what was once a likely GOP pickup into a seat Democrats are likely to retain. After the deadline passed, the National Republican Senatorial Committee opened the door a crack to reconsidering their abandonment of the race — but slammed it firmly shut again after he said that Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) did not act “ladylike” during their first debate.
Polls show Akin within striking distance but McCaskill has a huge cash edge and Akin hasn’t stopped with his missteps, most recently defending comments he made in a 2005 video that abortion providers trick women who aren’t pregnant into getting abortions to reap the profits.
Other races have moved toward the Democrats as well. Both sides have started pouring money into Arizona and have increased their spending in Indiana, two open seats Republicans once felt confident they would hold onto.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) has vaulted ahead of former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) in the polls after a month in which she had the airwaves largely to herself, and Thompson has looked rusty. Nevada also looks increasingly close, though Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) still has the edge there.
Virginia has also shifted toward the Democrats: Former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) has led former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in eight of the last 10 polls of the race, including a poll from the conservative Rasmussen Reports released Friday that had him up by seven percentage points even as it had Romney holding a narrow lead over Obama in the state.
There are some bright spots for the GOP. Linda McMahon (R) is putting up a surprisingly strong fight in Connecticut, and Democrats have been forced to start spending in Maine to prop up former Gov. Angus King (I), who polls show is in an increasingly tough race against the Republican candidate. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has also continued to narrowly lead Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in recent polls, though that race is likely to stay close through Election Day.
But a lot of things will need to break Republicans’ way if they’re going to capture Senate control.
Battle for the House
While there has been a ton of recent movement in House races, at the macro level very little has changed: Democrats could pick up as many as a dozen seats, but are almost certain to fall short of the net of 25 seats they need to win back control of the lower chamber.
The two sides are playing on very different maps, however, with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) targeting some Democratic incumbents that Democrats have shown no concerns about and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee going after a few GOP-held seats the NRCC isn’t bothering to defend.
To have any hope of winning the House, Democrats must do well in the blue states of California, Illinois and New York.