For those following the polls, the evidence of the last few weeks has been pretty obvious. Following the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney began to eat into the lead that President Obama had amassed. In the last week, he has caught and passed the president in most national polls, especially those without samples that are not overestimating the number of Democrats who will turn out to vote. The race remains very close, and the president is still ahead or tied in a number of the important swing states. Evidence that the Obama campaign thinks it is trailing is everywhere, as the president swings away at his rival as if he were the challenger not the incumbent. Even more telling is, as I wrote yesterday, the first evidence that some influential people within the president’s re-election team are starting to plant stories in the media alleging that an impending defeat isn’t their fault.
And yet despite all these signs of trouble for the president, the most popular story line for liberal pundits and analysts today seems to be an attempt to deny that Romney has momentum or to brand it a media creation. That was the conceit of a much talked about piece in the New Republic by Alec MacGillis. His thesis is that the media — including publications and broadcast outlets that tend to favor the Democrats — are trying to foist a misleading story line about Romney moving ahead in order to make the election a better story. Even most liberals aren’t buying that idea but other voices, including polling analysts like the New York Times Nate Silver and Mark Blumenthal at the Huffington Post, are on slightly firmer ground when they claim that their reading of the polls tells them that Romney’s momentum is over. In a race this close, one has to admit the possibility that they might turn out to be right. But these frantic denials of a Romney surge not only contradict the clear trend of the polls. They smack of the sort of desperation that is often in evidence as candidates who were once thought in a commanding position start slipping. After months of liberals telling themselves that Romney was a fake or a fraud that no one could possibly take seriously, they are having a hard time coming to grips with the possibility that he might be elected president in 10 days. If denial is the first of five stages of grief, liberal mourning about the possible end of the Obama presidency can be said to have begun.