Many respected public opinion firms, with the notable exception of Gallup, currently are calling this year's presidential election a dead heat. Depending on who you believe -- and whether or not you trust polling data as an accurate indicator -- either President Obama or Gov. Mitt Romney is ahead or behind by a couple of percentage points. Meanwhile, the Electoral College count is shaping up to be one of the closest in U.S. election history.
With the numbers so tight at this point, political analysts are trying to identify results in certain states as potential "winner-take-all" scenarios. The conventional wisdom has been that Ohio and Florida will decide the presidency yet again. But smaller wild-card states such as New Hampshire, Nevada and Colorado could be the key to victory.
In a tight election, every vote -- and elector -- counts. If Mr. Romney wins Ohio and Florida, he would win the overall popular vote in all likelihood. However, if he loses virtually all the other battleground states to Mr. Obama, the cumulative total could enable the president to narrowly win a second term.
There have been only four presidential elections in which the winner of the popular vote was not the winner of the all-important Electoral College. Here's the short list: 1824 (John Quincy Adams-Andrew Jackson), 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes-Samuel J. Tilden), 1888 (Benjamin Harrison-Grover Cleveland), and 2000 (George W. Bush-Al Gore). If Mr. Romney wants to avoid adding his name to a future trivia question, he needs to focus on winning these smaller wild-card states.
A three-pronged strategy could help Mr. Romney accomplish this goal.
First, Mr. Romney needs to promote libertarian principles on things such as small government, lower personal and corporate income taxes, and proper management of the taxpayers' money. Mr. Obama's weak economic record, which includes disgraceful government bailouts of the auto and financial industries, staggering unemployment numbers and a costly health care plan, is an easy target for the Republican presidential candidate. By standing up for Americans and respecting fiscal conservatism, Mr. Romney can easily counter this tax-and-spend, liberal president. More importantly, he would win over most of the wild-card states by appealing to their libertarian economic streaks.
Second, Mr. Romney needs to support moderate social issues such as family values and faith. While some battleground states aren't socially conservative by nature, few of their residents would flat-out reject proposals that support the rights of families and religious freedom. These inherent values are the cornerstone of American democracy, and many voters don't believe that Mr. Obama has properly represented them in office. This gives Mr. Romney a golden opportunity to take control of these issues. At the same time, it hopefully would end any remaining doubts in the wild-card states that a Mormon can be the standard-bearer for Judeo-Christian values. They can, and he will.
Third, Mr. Romney needs to emphasize that his White House would defend democracy, promote liberty and keep the peace. In particular, the latter point was a regular theme in the third presidential debate, and it seemed to curry favor with undecided voters. Some of the wild-card states are fiercely independent and would prefer to balance U.S. military objectives with peacekeeping efforts. One of Mr. Romney's strengths is the ability to discern the needs of Americans and ensure that they are properly met. He and his senior officials understand the current political climate and made the necessary shift in political messaging. Hence, a Romney administration would fight the war on terrorism as well as support peace and good government throughout the world.
The final week of this year's presidential election campaign is a tumultuous one. Besides the critical task of putting volunteers on the ground to get out the vote, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama also have to deal with the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. The final days of a political campaign are never easy for either presidential candidate or for their hard-working staffers.
Still, if Mr. Romney wants to win, he has to change the hearts and minds of the wild-card states in the next week. He has the work ethic and ability to get the job done. For America's sake, he needs to do it -- and fast.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.