Add two more veteran political observers to the voices expressing skepticism about the notion that Mitt Romney is riding a surge of momentum to the White House.
Speaking at the Aspen Institute this afternoon, Amy Walter, ABC News's political director, and Charlie Cook, who publishes the Cook Political Report both threw cold water on the idea, which has been carefully cultivated by the Romney campaign. Walter and Cook are two of the smartest nonpartisan people in D.C. when it comes to reading the lay of the political land.
Asked who is winning, Walter answered that if "you look at the news coverage and you look at the data and you get two different answers." The news narrative involves Mitt-mentum: the October surge fueled by the first debate. The data tell a different story. "People don't elect the president, the Electoral College elects the president," Walter said. "And when you look at [state] polls, the underneath numbers suggest that it's still Obama's race right now, that fundamentally he has got the edge in the Electoral College map with some of those big states like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada especially."
Cook concurred, saying that while the popular vote "is about even right now … the electoral college situation looks a little different and it is a little bit more uphill for Romney." The reason, he said, was that "there's a lot of scar tissue" in the six or seven key swing states from the summer's massive negative ad blitz against Romney. "The Obama campaign … went into swing states with a baseball bat and beat Romney's brains in. So there's still a lot of scar tissue."
This data-driven view of the race flies in the face of the bluff which the Romney campaign has been running, trying to use bravado to project an air of inevitability around his campaign in the race's close. New York's Jonathan Chait was among the first to puncture this meme, with others hitting similar notes here, here, here, and here.
And there's evidence that this pushback is getting some traction. Whereas Politico's Mike Allen opened his "Playbook" yesterday noting that "for the first time in six years, Romney folks emailed, 'We're going to win,'" he opened this morning's with "an antidote to the (perhaps) irrational Republican exuberance," noting Mitt's electoral map problem.
And there are also indications that the Obama campaign has launched its own narrative for the press to chew on, whether as a reaction to the Mitt-mentum narrative or as their own inevitability-setting effort, starting with a press call yesterday aimed at touting Obama's ground game advantage and a must read from The Atlantic's Molly Ball about the vaunted Obama grassroots machine (which is not to suggest that she wrote at their behest but simply to observe how eager they are to spread the word about it). The Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal also had a similar piece today on the Obama operation. I'd bet we'll see a flurry more in the coming days. As if that's enough, the Obama campaign inaugurated a series of blog posts from Jeremy Bird, its national field director, detailing their early vote advantage. And for confidence-exuding there's Mark Halperin's piece on his visit this week to Obama headquarters in Chicago. (Would it stun you to lose? Halperin asks an Obama official who replies: "The honest answer is yes, it would stun me.")
We'll know for sure in 13 days.
Update: One other data point I neglected to mention in the projection of Team Obama confidence: Senior White House adviser David Plouffe told reporters today that, "We win this election if it were held today."
Second update: On the question of the coming flurry of ground game focused articles, here's Politico: "Obama Counting on Ground Game." Can the Times and the Post be far behind?
Third update: And here comes the flood: The Times's Nate Silver (who thinks Obama has a 71 percent chance of winning) weighs in with the conclusion that Mitt's post-debate momentum has "stopped," an assertion which his colleague Paul Krugman seconds; the Posts's Ezra Klein says Mitt-mentum is "difficult to find in the polls," while his colleagues Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake defend the momentum meme but say that "the question of whether Romney still has the momentum in the race or whether the momentum he enjoyed is a tough(er) one."
Meanwhile Politico's Steve Friess moves the story forward, from the grassroots to the cyber-roots with a story comparing Romney's digital effort with Obama's. It looks like Obama's cyber-advantage is even bigger than the grassroots gap in his favor.