I will not be able to view tomorrow's Presidential debate--prior, overriding engagement; however, the event does deserve comment and a decent preview.
The first debate is Mitt Romney's last, best chance to turn around the momentum, which, since the conventions, has been spectacularly bad for him. He was even presented with a significant September Surprise opportunity, in the form of a fairly significant foreign affairs setback (see my post on "The Benghazi Affair"), and he botched it.
Still, debating is suggested to be Romney's strong suit, and it is not particularly President Obama's. Romney has had a great deal more time to prepare--Obama's daily work as President is only somewhat relevant to the task of standing before cameras and improvising brilliant statesmanship.
Not that something like that is really required of Obama. A sufficient formula will be the usual unruffled, matter-of-fact, logical exposition that he produces in most public contexts (apart from his specialty, the political pep rally). The main thing is not to let Romney get to him; I would not be surprised to see Mitt do something like what he did with Rick Perry--crowd his space, put his hand on him, something like that, or the verbal equivalent of it. Obama must not let his distaste for Romney show as anger--something more like incredulity at Romney's awkwardness would be appropriate.
As for issues, I'm sure there will be the duel of competing tax reform/entitlement reform packages. There will be more similarity than difference in the plans, but the differences will be emphasized. Neither is likely to be able to get his plan through Congress. As for jobs, there will be competing claims through their respective plans of investment/infrastructure (Obama) and tax rate cuts/laissez faire (Romney); also neither likely to get approved, or to make a significant difference in the employment picture if it were.
I am curious as to whether two issues will come up: gun violence (the debate will be in Denver, and the massacre at the cinema in nearby Aurora might suggest a question on the topic) and the obscene level of campaign spending--both by the campaigns and by their officially non-affiliated PAC's.
As for the race, the Electoral College tally is moving slowly but definitely toward Obama. Michigan and Pennsylvania seem definitively in Obama's column, Nevada and New Hampshire are beyond the margin of error for him, and--most important of all--Ohio is close to or at that point. Romney's position in North Carolina has held--even, or with a small lead---so, if we put that state down for Romney, he projects to 206 electoral votes. With NV, NH, and OH, Obama reaches 265, with the following states still not assigned:
Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Virginia (13), and Florida (29). Florida remains a definite toss-up; the others are all polling in Obama's favor, but by such small margins that they could reverse. Winning all five is definitely likely, which would (once again) get him to 332 EV. The over-under is in the 315-320 range, but with a wide margin of error due to the uncertain nature of Florida's votes, in particular.
Obama would only need one of the five: if they were 50-50 and the results were independent, he would have a 31-in-32 chance of winning. Neither of those statements are true, though; his chances are better than 50-50, but they are not at all independent of one another. So we're back where we started, with Romney needing a breakthrough in the first debate to reverse the momentum.
Senate Race Shift
The odds on intrade.com and 538.com* shifted dramatically in the last half of September to the level (80% chance of Democrats' holding control; technically, the intrade odds are lower, but they should include the 20% for "neither" having control, because they exclude the independents--Bernie Sanders, and the likely new Maine Senator Angus King--from the calculation) that I had suggested in late August.
I had responded specifically to the Todd Akin "legitimate rape" blunder which shifted the Missouri race against the Republicans, but also generally to trends favorable to the Democrats in several races. This has continued, or accelerated, with the races in Nevada and Indiana both looking to be great possibilities for Democratic pick-ups, but the most dramatic move has been in Wisconsin--a state I didn't even mention in late August--in which Tammy Duckworth has moved right by former Gov. Tommy Thompson into a substantial polling lead. Massachusetts and Virginia remain high-profile, impossible-to-call races, but it is now quite likely that control of the Senate may not depend on those two outcomes.
*I highly recommend taking a look at 538.com's Senate forecast map, which is a lot more interesting--great variety of colors, full of variation--than the Presidential map!