When it comes to the 2012 presidential race conventional wisdom now holds two truths.
First, as I have been arguing for some time, that the consensus Republican front runner is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And given his strong performance in the most recent debate on Saturday night, there is every reason to believe that the ex-Georgia Congressman will, if anything, solidify his position in the run up to the Iowa caucuses, where he holds a double digit lead.
But the other part of the conventional wisdom, is that President Obama could potentially lose to Mitt Romney, but would win an easy victory over Newt Gingrich. This part of the conventional wisdom bears further analysis.
To be sure, based on the Real Clear Politics averages, Obama holds a very narrow 1.5% lead over Mitt Romney, and a larger 7 point lead over Newt Gingrich.
Still, a look at the data suggests a profound set of problems for the president. Polls released last week by Quinnipiac in swing states shows that Gingrich is actually ahead in Ohio by a narrow 1% lead, with the president's vote at 42%. In Pennsylvania, Gingrich trails by 8%, with the President at 48%, and in Florida, the Quinnipiac numbers showed Gingrich trailing the President by only 2 points.
To be sure, the recent Marist numbers were more encouraging than Quinnipiac for the president, but there is still no instance where the president is getting 51% or thereabout in a swing state.
Elections tend to be referenda on incumbents, and it is likely that few, if any, now undecideds would swing in the direction of the incumbent. And if the Quinnipiac numbers are correct, and Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida are in play, given their electoral weight, there are many reasons to believe that this could well be a much closer election than most observers currently believe.
Put another way, with Florida having 29 electoral votes, Ohio 18, and Pennsylvania 20, the loss of those three states would reduce the president's electoral tally from the 365 electoral votes he got last time, down to 298.
Further, he is almost certainly going to lose Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina, notwithstanding the White House's commitment to try to win two of these three, which add up to an additional 39 votes.
If you combine possible loss of the electoral votes in North Carolina, Virginia and Indiana, with those in Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, the president could theoretically lose 106 electoral votes, reducing his margin from 365 down to 259, or to put it clearly, give the election to Newt Gingrich.
Still I recognize that there are a lot of assumptions behind this analysis, but the fact that the president's approval rating is now close to 30% with swing voters and with independents, makes him extremely vulnerable.
To be sure, I still rate the president a favorite, should Gingrich be the GOP nominee.
The former Speaker has too much baggage, is too divisive, and has yet to articulate a compelling theme, other than the urgency in replacing President Obama.
But given the nature of the electoral map, and given the electorate's feelings about Obama, (with 43% approving of his job performance, close to 75% believing the country is off on the wrong track), there is now substantial reason to believe that this election could well be much more competitive than the incumbent and his supporters are now saying.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Douglas E. Schoen has served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton and is currently working with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has more than 30 years experience as a pollster and political consultant. He is also a Fox News contributor and co-host of "Fox News Insiders" Sundays on Fox News Channel and Mondays at 10:30 am ET on FoxNews.com Live. He is the author of ten books including,“Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What it Means for 2012 and Beyond” (Rowman and Littlefield 2012). Follow Doug on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.