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Obama speaking in front of flag superimposed over map of Ohio.
Mitt Romney is fond of saying that his goal is to win 50.1 percent of the vote, but his real goal should be 270—the number of electoral votes he would need to win in order to claim the presidency. That's not news to anyone who reads Daily Kos—Markos has been pointing this out for months now—but Romney's rapid gains in national polling after the first debate led to a sort of Romnesia in the beltway that resulted in too many pundits forgetting the basic electoral math. Yesterday, Charlie Cook offered a reminder that it doesn't look as good for Mitt Romney as it does for President Obama:
But if the national polls are looking even, that doesn’t mean that the election is an even-money contest. Although this race is very close, the road to 270 electoral votes is considerably more difficult for Romney than it is for Obama. The president starts off with undisputed leads in 16 states and the District of Columbia with 237 electoral votes, 33 short of the 270 needed to win. Romney begins with equally clear leads in 23 states with 191 electoral votes, 79 short of a victory. Nine states with 110 electoral votes are in the admittedly broad Toss-Up column (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin). Obama needs to win 30 percent of those Toss-Up electoral votes; Romney needs 72 percent of those votes.
As Greg Sargent and Steve Benen note, the conventional wisdom among beltway pundits seems to be remembering the reality of the electoral math. Two perfect examples of this: Politico's Mike Allen and ABC's Rick Klein.

Bottom line: Yes, this is a close race. Yes, the first debate appears to have given Romney a boost, but it wasn't a big enough boost to put him ahead in the electoral math and there's no evidence to suggest that he continues to have any forward momentum. Even if the national popular vote were a tossup, Obama has a real edge in the states that matter. The race is by no means over, but for Romney to win, he needs to shift the electoral map in his favor. So far, he hasn't been able to do it.

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