Before Mitt Romney set foot in Ohio for a two-day bus tour this week, his campaign was spinning the state of the presidential contest there. On a flight between Newark and Dayton on Tuesday, Romney political director Rich Beeson argued that publicly available polling, most notably a Washington Post survey that showed President Obama ahead by 8 points in the state, had the race all wrong. “The public polls are what the public polls are,” he said. “I kind of hope the Obama campaign is basing their campaign on what the public polls say. We don’t. We have confidence in our data.”
Beeson didn’t share any of the campaign’s internal polling–nor did he explicitly say that it shows a radically different race than the public surveys. But like many Republicans at the moment, he was adamant that polling samples based on exit polls from the 2008 election overstate Democratic support. (Some are taking that theory to extremes.) Romney is “inside the margin of error in Ohio,” Beeson said, a statement that suggested a close race without really putting a number on it. True, the Post poll could easily be an outlier, and a New York Times/CBS News poll released Wednesday is almost certainly one: it found Obama up by 10 points in Ohio, a margin larger than any other major firm has reported. But even if the number strains credulity, it’s bad news for Romney.
Both candidates will sweep through Ohio on Wednesday, the unofficial start of the final mad scrum for swing-state votes. Romney rallied with Paul Ryan, Rand Paul and Rob Portman on Tuesday in Dayton, and he’ll hit three more cities Wednesday, while Obama visits Bowling Green State and Kent State universities. Those efforts make sense regardless of the latest polls.
Beeson claimed the map is “wide open,” that Romney does not need to win Ohio to carry the election. While it’s true that there are scenarios in which Romney would not need Ohio to win, losing it would seriously handicap his chances. If you add Ohio to the category of states that Obama is almost certain to win, that group adds up to 255 electoral college votes, just 15 shy of the total needed to carry the race. In other words, Romney can’t afford to withdraw from Ohio. Taken in this light, Beeson’s comments can be interpreted a little differently. He said repeatedly that the Romney campaign is “basing our decisions off” trusted internal data, not darkening public polls. If this week is any indication, that decision is to fight for Ohio, no matter what the numbers say