Via National Journal:
At this stage of a tight presidential race, a refreshing transparency reveals itself to even the casual observer. How campaigns actually view the state of the race emerges in plain sight from the long-cloaked inner sanctum of polling, focus groups, and micro-targeting of voter preferences.
When President Obama suddenly rolls out a 20-page pamphlet summarizing his second-term agenda, voters know it was because the campaign discovered a hole in its data dug by GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s monthlong criticism. Presidents don’t dance to a challenger’s tune unless the polling data dictate they must. The same can be said for Obama’s aggressive, zinger-filled performance in the third debate. He needed to challenge Romney on facts and energize the slackers in his base.
Similarly during the last debate, Romney ran away from previous confrontations with Obama over the terrorist attack in Libya that killed four Americans—the reddest of red meat for conservatives right now. Instead, he spoke plaintively of “peace” and of war with Iran being the absolute “last resort,” because he knew he needed votes from nonaligned suburbanites—especially women. Romney also ignored Obama’s taunts because one-on-one jousting cost him in the second debate.
In short, Obama is acting like a slightly irked incumbent who needs to make up ground on a challenger he thought he had put away last summer. Romney is acting like a challenger who can’t afford to risk losing what he gained in the first debate, trying to siphon off voters still loosely attached to Obama. [...]
In the closing weeks, Romney and Obama will shift operatives to Ohio. Obama has already begun to quietly suggest to field organizers in Florida that their time would be better spent in the Buckeye State. Republicans are doing the same with field staff in Nevada.