Where candidates choose to spend their final days is always a tell-tale indicator of the state of a presidential race.
Barack Obama is concentrating on Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, adding an extra coating of asbestos to his 'Midwest Firewall'. For all the Republican claims about that firewall 'burning down', Romney's itinerary, which on Sunday took in Pennsylvania, hints that the GOP is sounding the alarm. The Keystone state has gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1988. John McCain, who also visited the state on the final Sunday of the 2008 campaign claiming it was unexpectedly in play, lost it by double digits.
As has long been the case, Obama finishes the campaign with an Electoral College advantage. He could lose four of the big battleground states (Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia) and still win re-election. Romney, on the other hand, has little margin for error. He needs to take back Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Indiana, which voted for Obama in 2008, and then win one other. At no stage, however, has he pulled ahead in the conservative-leaning industrial state of Ohio. No Republican has ever reached the White House without winning Ohio.
It partly explains why New York Times statistical wizard Nate Silver has been so bullish about the President's chances. Over the weekend, he summed up his argument in four words. 'Obama's ahead in Ohio.' You don't have to be a mathematical genius to work out the electoral implications of that. Silver, the unlikely new celebrity of the campaign commentariat, has become a hate figure for Republicans (his defenders call their attacks 'a war on math'). But he has been cautious compared to the Princeton Election Consortium, which has given Obama a 99% probability of winning.
Romney's brightest moment obviously came in the first televised debate, when he presented himself to the American people as 'Moderate Mitt'. It suggests that the GOP would be wise to move back towards the pragmatic centre rather than continuing its lurch to the right. Indeed, if he wins, his move to the centre will be cited as the main reason why.
If he loses, however, party ideologues will take a wholly different view, and argue he was insufficiently conservative. Exhibit A will be his handling of Paul Ryan, the vice-presidential nominee. The choice implied that Romney would run as an unabashed conservative. Then he distanced himself from Ryan's signature policies, most notably his plans to privatise Social Security and to introduce Medicare vouchers.
For all the talk from Karl Rove during the Bush Administration of creating a 'permanent Republican majority', the GOP is on the wrong side of demography. Its hard line on immigration has obviously alienated Hispanics. Its tough stance on abortion has put off many women. As Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian reminds us, if Romney loses, it would be the third out of four presidential elections where the GOP has failed to win the popular vote. The party is in danger of suffering the same slump in presidential politics as the Democrats experienced in the late-1960s and early 1970s following their lurch to the left. The GOP won five out of six presidential elections between 1968 and 1988.
In the short term, a return to more centrist policies is unlikely. On Capitol Hill, the GOP will suffer a further depletion of its dwindling ranks. Some leading moderates, like Olympia Snowe of Maine, have retired. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana was ousted in a Tea Party challenge. Another GOP moderate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has also damaged his chances of one day becoming the party's presidential nominee by being so fulsome in his praise of Obama's post-Hurricane Sandy response.
In an otherwise negative and uninspiring campaign, the sight of this self-styled Republican attack dog embracing the President provided one of its most arresting moments. But it also spoke of the problem that besets America's increasingly dysfunctional politics. It took a storm with the destructive power of Sandy to deliver this fleeting moment of bipartisanship.
Photo by Flickr user edebell.