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 Mitt 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 only have 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 for chance: He is already deep in debate prep, including policy homework and big seminars with advisers on Korea and other topics.
And both campaigns are of one mind that Romney and his Republican allies will outspend Barack 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.