Those 270 Electoral College votes loom large

The way it’s shaping up, the presidential election this time around could have us more Electoral College conscious than we’ve been in a while. In 2008 the dramatic, historic emergence of Barack Obama, coupled with his facing a Republican opponent who rapidly sank to “also ran” level, led to Obama prevailing in unlikely states like North Carolina and running up an impressive Electoral College vote number. This year, at least following the first presidential debate, opinion surveys have been making the race out to be a tight one in which a road map to victory through numbers earned in the Electoral College looms ever more critical.

Truth be told, no way should there be any tight race. The 2012 Republican contender isn’t that much different, as a package, from four years ago. Mitt Romney has shown himself to be a vacillating blowhard, absolutely lacking in conviction, ever since this second presidential quest of his began with that bewildering schedule of Republican primaries. It’s good that the president has gotten to where he can poke fun at himself about the first debate. Some Obama partisans/sympathizers have had difficulty facing up to and acknowledging a sub-par performance (to put it charitably) by the president. Some, in a bit of a reach, have even suggested it may have been planned strategy. Get a grip, guys! We should all be able to take a cue from the president’s admission that he had a bad night.

Of course, starting with Vice President Joe Biden’s deft handling of Paul Ryan in their encounter, followed by Obama’s powerful comeback in his second go-round with Romney, the Democratic ticket has righted the ship from the heavy listing of the first debate aftermath. But going a long way toward re-charting the course of the election will be the extent to which Democrats can reconnect the electorate to those components of what’s been sold as the Romney persona that have repeatedly belied the advertising. On the debate stage, the bunch of contradictions that had come to represent the Romney package just disappeared without a trace, as one more time, he rolled out his alter ego bit.

The Democrats’ challenge is not an easy one after a reported 60 million plus people watched the first debate, with Romney’s sales pitch of: “This is the genuine article; forget the other stuff.” The other stuff, however, isn’t all that easy to forget. And there’s the odd chance he might even aid the process, so hard is it sometimes to shake what’s embedded. As he did, for instance, in the second debate in recounting his Massachusetts experience championing women’s right to equal employment opportunity. Immediately, there came word from sources in Massachusetts that Romney’s spiel about initiating an effort to find qualified women was all mush – that the names of credentialed women had earlier been independently assembled to be presented to whoever won the gubernatorial election.

Romney can’t help it, one gathers – always reaching for over-the-top utterances guaranteed to be worrisome. During one Republican primary debate he famously invited one of his fellow contenders for the nomination to a $10,000 wager. So what if this helped to magnify the perception that the world of ordinary folk is one very distant from him?

Still, though, the pollsters tell us the presidential contest is in “toss-up” territory again. And how the voting goes in a few key battleground states could be the whole ball game. Expect nothing but a full-court press in states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida. In all three of those states momentum was with Obama going into the first debate. Now they seem to have transitioned to tight races, the plurality either man holds in polls not sufficient to warrant removal of the “toss-up” label. Conventional wisdom among the political cognoscenti has been for years that winning Ohio is essential to any Republican’s chances of getting into the White House. If that holds true, the president would do well to make sure the small lead he still supposedly enjoys in Ohio remains intact and even gets ramped up to numbers that engender greater confidence among his supporters.

Wisconsin and Iowa are two swing states that seem to have bucked the trend of a troubling slide in the president’s numbers following the first debate. Unless things get shaken up pretty radically, Obama appears to have juice enough in Wisconsin and Iowa to put those electoral votes in his column.

On the other side, puppet masters, who not too long ago were into a serious doomsday drill, now pull out all the stops to turn the Romney first-debate boost into presidential pay dirt. Romney still isn’t the puppet masters’ guy, mark you, they being the usual hard-line conservative suspects. Not very enamored for sure of the reconditioned model Romney has unveiled at the debates. What endears Romney to the puppet masters is one thing: he isn’t Obama.

The Romney-Ryan tandem has been under fire for offering a plan for putting the country back on sound economic footing, whose math just doesn’t add up. We can be fairly certain that the camp’s Electoral College math is letter perfect, though. How best to get to 270, that magical winning number of electoral votes, must be consuming the camp big time. Not that the Obama team doesn’t have as much, if not more, of a 270 fixation.