WASHINGTON -- The Obama campaign insisted on Tuesday that on the tangible metrics of the race, President Obama is winning. Campaign manager Jim Messina stressed on the morning conference call that Obama's advantage in early voting numbers gives him an important leg-up on Mitt Romney heading into the election's final weeks.
But does it matter? By and large, the president is winning the early voting numbers in critical swing states and is improving on his strong showing from 2008. But Romney and the RNC have gained ground as well, even closing the margins in places like Ohio.
To the broader point: what actual difference does it make if Romney or Obama turn out their voters early? So long as a significant number of voters don't decide -- unexpectedly -- to just not vote at all, the final tallies shouldn't be too unpredictable. A 51 percent to 49 percent-point race doesn't change because one side's supporters cast their votes two weeks in advance.
That holds true unless, of course, a campaign is using the early voting period to turn out voters that weren't likely to cast ballots to begin with. And in his presentation to reporters, Messina insisted that this is exactly what the Obama team is doing.
"Early vote is not taking a final universe of voters and only changing the day they vote," he explained. "If that’s what we were doing that would be concerning. What early vote does is help us get out low-propensity voters, voters called sporadic voters, which broadens our universe and frees up more Get Out The Vote resources later and especially on Election Day. And let's be very clear, more sporadic Obama voters are voting than sporadic Republicans in the battleground states. And that is both a sign of enthusiasm but also organization strength."
"Sporadic voters" is not a technical term. It refers to that group of people who don't vote every two years or even every four. But these voters have been politically engaged in the past and have the potential to be drawn in to the process again. Since the president in most opinion polls has an advantage over Romney in the number of registered voters, but a deficit in the number of likely voters, finding sporadic voters to fill that gap is critical.
"Sporadic voters matter here," Messina said later in the call. "And it can't just be about getting your traditional Democrat to vote early. If that were the case than we will be wasting our time and money. This is about increasing the overall share of people who may be drop-off voters, and our numbers and public numbers show more sporadic voters are Obama voters than Romney voters."
Considering the time and effort that the Obama campaign has put into its voter identification efforts, its field operations and its Get Out The Vote machine, it would be crippling for them to not get sporadic voters out in strong numbers. It is the antidote to the momentum that the Romney campaign has ridden in the polls. But it's quite difficult, if not impossible, to check Messina's claims.
The Huffington Post asked another Obama campaign official, not authorized to speak publicly on the numbers, to substantiate. He emailed back the following.
"This relies on field data. We are winning midterm and non-midterm voters and are winning them by large margins," he said, noting that non-midterm voters tend to be those who aren't politically engaged. "Their sporadics are not turning out, and we have a lot more of them on our side."
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<a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/10/culture-of-fraud/">The Nobel Prize-winning economist wrote</a> in a New York Times blog post in August: "Romney’s tax plan is now a demonstrated fraud — big tax cuts for the rich that he claims would be offset by closing loopholes, but the Tax Policy Center has demonstrated that the arithmetic can’t possibly work."
Matt Taibbi, contributing editor to Rolling Stone, <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/the-vice-presidential-debate-joe-biden-was-right-to-laugh-20121012">wrote in a recent blog post </a>: "If you're going to offer an across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without explaining how it's getting paid for, hell, why stop there? Why not just offer everyone over 18 a 1965 Mustang? Why not promise every child a Zagnut and an Xbox, or compatible mates for every lonely single person?"
Harvard economist Larry Summers, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/11/larry-summers-romney-tax-plan_n_1958982.html">recently compared Mitt Romney's tax plan</a> to a hamburger and ice cream diet. He said: "It’s easy to say that 'My plan is to eat ice cream sundaes and chocolate cake and hamburgers as much as I want, my plan is to lose 60 pounds, and my plan is to avoid painful exercise, and those are all my objectives and I'm committed to every one of them.'"
The Tax Policy Center
<a href="http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/publications/url.cfm?ID=1001628">The Tax Policy Center</a>, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/11/romney-tax-plan-middle-class_n_1874113.html">recently concluded</a> that Mitt Romney's tax plan is mathematically impossible without raising taxes on the middle class.
<a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-12/the-final-word-on-mitt-romney-s-tax-plan.html">Bloomberg View columnist Josh Barro wrote</a> in a recent column that the six studies that the Romney campaign uses to claim the candidate's tax plan is mathematically possible "individually and collectively...fail the task."
<a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/10/12/1004921/zandi-romney-tax-plan/">Mark Zandi</a>, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, recently said on CNN that when it comes to Romney's tax plan, "the arithmetic doesn't work as it is right now."
<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/04/romney-tax-plan-on-table-debt-collapses-table/">Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein wrote in August</a> that "the Tax Policy Center’s analysis has removed all doubt" that Romney's tax plan is mathematically impossible.
<a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/10/11/vice-presidential-debate-live-blog.html">David Frum</a>, contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast, recently wrote: "Romney's tax cut plan doesn't work. I'm a Republican, I support Romney, etc. But you can't cut that much in such a stagnant economy and expect to break even. Even with a deductions cap, it just won't happen."
Catherine Rampell, economics reporter at The New York Times, wrote of the <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/01/the-math-on-the-romney-ryan-tax-plan/">the Romney campaign's tax promises</a> in a recent blog post: "Not <em>all</em> of those principles can coexist so long as basic arithmetic survives."