In its final stretch, the presidential race is coming down to only a few states—and a handful of key dynamics. Romney is running largely the same campaign everywhere, with a message centered on arguments both ideological (government is too big and expensive) and pragmatic (the results of Obama’s past four years do not justify another term).
Obama’s closing argument is more bifurcated. In the Rust Belt, he’s banking primarily on a message of economic populism, centered on the portrayal of Romney as a soulless corporate raider, that is aimed at holding the working-class white voters who are supporting Obama in much larger numbers in Iowa than nationally. (That elevated blue-collar support in these three critical states may be Obama’s last line of defense against Romney’s October surge.) In Sun Belt battlegrounds such as Colorado, Obama is stressing a message of cultural liberalism that targets white-collar women, centering on such issues as pay equity, abortion, and federal funding for Planned Parenthood. “The women’s health argument gets us more voters here than in Ohio,” said one senior Democratic strategist in Colorado, “and the anti-Bain argument gets us more votes in Ohio than here. The messaging is the same—it just has a different impact.”
But for each candidate, across both the Rust Belt and Sun Belt battlegrounds, the common thread is a get-out-the-vote effort of unprecedented extent and sophistication. While the incessant polls show momentary advantages for one or the other contender, they all point to the same conclusion: The election is close enough that the result will rest largely with people like Burke and Lopez, the activists each side is mobilizing to turn out their voters.