I know that it's already Thursday night and the election post-mortem period is all but over. But my wonky side is still eating up the numbers and inside analysis. (Mere punditry lost its appeal days ago.) Los Angeles bureau chief Adam Nagourney has the lead byline on an impressive New York Times reconstruction of the Obama victory that is the most entertaining read I've found yet. It starts seven minutes into the president's awful performance at the first debate, when Obama aides could see right away what the Romney insiders were seeing too. Miraculously, Obama was letting Romney off the ropes and back in the race.
Just as some in the Obama suites had feared he would.
When the president closed by declaring, “This was a terrific debate,” his re-election team grimaced. There was the obligatory huddle to discuss how to explain his performance to the nation, and then a moment of paralysis: No one wanted to go to the spin room and speak with reporters.
Mr. Romney’s advisers monitored the debate up the hall from the Obama team, as well as at campaign headquarters in Boston. Giddy smiles flashed across their faces as their focus groups showed the same results.
“Boy, the president is off tonight,” said Stuart Stevens, the senior Romney strategist, sounding mystified, according to aides in the room. Russ Schriefer, a senior adviser, immediately began planning television spots based entirely on clips from the debate. As it drew to a close, Gail Gitcho, Mr. Romney’s communications director in Boston, warned surrogates heading out to television studios: “No chest thumping.”
The Oct. 3 debate sharply exposed Mr. Obama’s vulnerabilities and forced the president and his advisers to work to reclaim the campaign over a grueling 30 days, ending with his triumph on Tuesday. After a summer of growing confidence, Mr. Obama suddenly confronted the possibility of a loss that would diminish his legacy and threaten his signature achievement, the health care law. He emerged newly combative, newly contrite and newly willing to recognize how his disdain for Mr. Romney had blinded him to his opponent’s strengths and ability to inflict damage.
Mr. Obama recognized that to a certain extent, he had walked into a trap that Mr. Romney’s advisers had anticipated: His antipathy toward Mr. Romney — which advisers described as deeper than what Mr. Obama had felt for John McCain in 2008 — led the incumbent to underestimate his opponent as he began moving to the center before the debate audience of millions of television viewers.
But as concerned as the White House was during the last 30 days of the campaign, its polls never showed Mr. Obama slipping behind Mr. Romney, aides said.
The story led the special election section in the printed NYT on Thursday.
Incidentally, here is Nate Silver's closing takeaway for FiveThirtyEight:
Two more presidential elections, 2016 and 2020, will be contested under the current Electoral College configuration, which gave Barack Obama a second term on Tuesday. This year’s results suggest that this could put Republicans at a structural disadvantage.
Based on a preliminary analysis of the returns, Mitt Romney may have had to win the national popular vote by three percentage points on Tuesday to be assured of winning the Electoral College. The last Republican to accomplish that was George H.W. Bush, in 1988.
And finally, Jon Stewart exposes the structural dishonesty of the approach taken by Fox News Channel toward its audience. How can you feel anything but mal-informed if you are a Fox viewer.