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Obama and Romney camps see the race the same

The Obama and Romney campaigns spend all day beating the pulp out of each other over policy differences, big and small. But when it comes to the political landscape and the dynamics of who prevails, the two sides agree on an awful lot.

Both sides predict the race will remain tied in the national polls and in the 10 states that matter most until three weeks before Election Day, if not longer.

Both think the race will finish 51-49, or closer. But both believe that if one candidate could win bigger and reach a tipping point that provides a real cushion it would be Romney, pulling away at the very end because he crossed the plausibility threshold after the third and final debate.

And both are in basic agreement that the election will come down to a variation of one simple question: Do voters think Romney understands the struggles of ordinary Americans? If Romney can prove he does or at least convince voters he is a plausibly, even marginally, safer bet to ease their economic struggles, he will win. If not, it's four more years for Obama.

How much the two sides see the race the same is striking, but it comes through in interviews with the top strategists for Romney and Obama ahead of the parties' nominating conventions. And it shows that both sides realize they have only a few chances to shake up a campaign that's been remarkably static since Romney sealed the nomination earlier this year.

Both agree on a handful of make-or-break points: the conventions and the three presidential debates, particularly the first one; and both believe Romney, more likely than not, will meet the media's expectations for his performance.

Obama aides anticipate Romney will be more than prepared for each showdown and express grudging respect for his ability to deliver staged attacks in debate settings. Romney is leaving nothing to chance: He is already deep in debate preparation.

And both campaigns are of one mind that Romney and his Republican allies will outspend Obama and his side perhaps by a few hundred million dollars, when all is said and done. Both agree Obama made a colossal mistake in dogging big donors and super PACs early in the cycle, a mistake that will ultimately help explain the big gap.

But they also agree that it will be increasingly hard to break through with effective ads in these final 10 weeks and that Obama's edge in organizing in key states and in social media could largely offset the GOP cash cushion.

The campaigns also speak in very similar terms about the cold, if ugly, reality that they need to go negative on most days and seem delighted that they won't go wobbly, even as the press and pundits bemoan the tone and half-truths. Both privately scoff at the media's obsession with fact-checking, arguing that reporters and voters can't pay attention long enough to penalize a candidate for being full of it.

Both admire the discipline of the other campaign and see a worthy and ruthless adversary on the other side. This was not the case in 2008, when the Obama camp was dismissive of the John McCain high command.

Neither campaign will ever admit this publicly, but they concede in private that the other side is right about their boss' greatest weakness. Romney aides know their boss will never be loved, or perhaps even liked; Obama aides know voters feel their boss let them down on the economy, and have at best tepid faith he would do much better in the next term.

Both see Obama's likability number as his greatest advantage and strength.

They agree that short of war in the Middle East, foreign policy will be largely irrelevant to the outcome. Both anticipate some October surprise: The Romney camp fears a Mormon scandal that will pull his religion into a harsh spotlight; the Obama campaign is braced for another "Rev. Wright" moment or something else that raises doubts about his faith or love of country.

Heading into the conventions, both believe the states that are authentically in play favor Obama and that Ohio is looking better for Democrats than originally thought. Some Romney advisers think Wisconsin is more winnable than Ohio, which is good for Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, but bad for electoral votes.

But both sides anticipate Romney will overperform in the Mountain West, in part because of Mormons.

Both say they hate "process" stories like this and would offer this caveat: Any or all of these assumptions could prove wrong if something wildly unexpected happens.

Obama and Romney camps see the race the same 08/26/12 [Last modified: Sunday, August 26, 2012 12:01am]
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