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Obama Left The Back Door Open

“I’ve been screaming at [the Obama campaign] for months that this race was going to be close. They didn’t listen to me.”

-- A Michigan Democratic strategist talking to Power Play about the presidential race in the Great Lakes state.

Democrats have a level of confidence that doesn’t match the closing polls in this longest, nastiest and most expensive presidential race in American history.

The reason, they say, is that not only will President Obama hold on to the Democratic bastions of the north, but that he will also snatch a traditionally red state or two in the process.

The danger for Obama is that in spending so much time and energy on raiding Romney’s turf, he neglected his own firewall.

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Even in private, they’re not talking about eking out the narrow victory that the polls suggest. They believe that the president will do what Democrats seldom do and outperform pre-elections polls to win at least two of the three Southeastern swing states: Virginia, North Carolina and Florida

This reflects how deeply Team Obama invested itself in the region, even taking the risk of holding their convention in Charlotte. The idea being that the best way to block Mitt Romney would be to stay on offense and deny him some core Republican electoral votes.

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If Obama could deny Romney any of two of those three states – especially Florida – it would be next to impossible for the Republican to win.

And if Obama does win Florida and Virginia tonight, his campaign team will look masterful. Much like the decision to make the campaign so negative and so personal – a referendum on Mitt Romney’s character – the Southeastern strategy will look smart in a win, but dumb and dangerous in a loss.

The danger for Obama is that in spending so much time and energy on raiding Romney’s turf, he neglected his own firewall.

Sure, he has forced Romney to shore up Florida and Virginia with late visits, but the president found himself closing the campaign on defense, not offense. His final day on the trail included stops in what should be reliably blue bastions of Iowa and Wisconsin. Team Obama also deployed its best surrogate, former President Bill Clinton, to Pennsylvania on Monday.

Republicans have exactly one victory in those three states in the past 20 years: a 2004 Iowa victory by George W. Bush. This should be safe territory.

Obama has consistently underestimated Romney as a candidate, never more notably than the October 3 debate, when the president wouldn’t even look at his challenger. There is contempt for Romney but somehow not the sense that he is a serious threat or worthy adversary.

Had they seen Romney more clearly, Obama and his staff might have taken appropriate precautions. The Republican nominee is a moderate former Governor of a northern state who scores very well to the suburban voters who are key to winning in the Rust Belt. And despite efforts to paint him as a radical, he looks very much like the Republican Party that used to do well in the upper Midwest in the past.

Consider Michigan. It’s Romney’s native state and one that his father governed. It also has the right mix of bright-red, small-town Republicans and moderate, persuadable suburbanites to be a possible pickup for Romney. But the Obama campaign never sent help to state Democrats.

And so, a state that Obama won by 16 points is now up for grabs. The final poll conducted for the Detroit FOX affiliate shows Obama actually down a point. It’s been a similar story in Pennsylvania and, of all places, Walter Mondale’s own Minnesota.

Republicans typically outperform pre-election polls when it comes to the real vote. In 2008, for example, John McCain closed the election with a Real Clear Politics Average score of 44.5 percent but ended up with 45.6 percent of the popular vote.

If Romney does that or better, he could slide into some surprising victories in the north and a surprisingly comfortable electoral vote victory.

And if the Republican does pull off an upset today, it will be Obama’s own fault for failing to take his opponent seriously.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30am ET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.

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