It is humbling to consider how little control we have over the mundane events of the human experience. When one considers the ability of an act of Mother Nature to derail and re-focus the nation’s attention away from one of the closest elections in years, even in those parts of the country not affected by the actual storm. People call relatives and friends around the country to check on their well-being. Maybe at some point they speak a sentence or two about politics, but the focus of conversation is about Sandy. Obama returns to the White House to focus on being presidential and Romney halts campaigning as well, while the pundits and pollsters have the stage to themselves.
In this regard one is struck by the consistency of polls in the swing states, at least since the first debate. It remains remarkable how close the margins are and how little have been the shifts. (Nat Silver and his extraordinary blog fivethirtyeight give more than enough collaborative date even for those who have not been consumed by the numbers for weeks.)
Leaving aside the national polls and the national tracking polls, the election night scenario grows clearer as it grows tighter. Of the agreed upon 8-10 swing states, President Obama continues to have the statistically most likely path to 270 electoral votes. For Romney to win he needs to virtually sweep the battleground states, which, although doable, is a far greater challenge than Obama faces who needs probably to win three of the states including Ohio or Florida or four or five of the states, if he does not win either of those. (All these assumptions are predicated on the notion that neither candidate makes a major mistake; something not guaranteed. It also assumes that after Sandy, there are no other October surprises.)
There are two additional probably variables which need to be considered. First, there is probably at least a 30-50 percent possibility (depending on the pollster) that Romney will win the popular vote, which mean that this will have happened twice in 12 years or four elections. Second, the tightness of this year’s race in so many states makes it quite possible that there will be extensive legal challenges which will carry the election long into the night and conceivably into the courts for several weeks in November.
If you want to contemplate the potential for further chaos, consider what might have occurred if hurricane Sandy had hit one week later!