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Fasten seatbelt for wild ride to November election KEVIN BLAUM IN THE ARENA


February 16. 2013 9:36PM


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NINE SUNDAYS remain, 65 days, a Democratic convention, hundreds of polls, thousands of ads, three presidential debates, setting a course for Nov. 6 and one American election.


Like 2000 and '04, this might be the third close call rendered by 120 million voters in four attempts this century.


Despite Vice President Al Gore's 50,999,897 votes in 2000 – a half million more than Gov. George W. Bush of Texas – it was all for naught when the U.S. Supreme Court awarded Florida, its 25 electoral votes and the presidency to Bush by 567 of the 6 million votes cast in the Sunshine State.


Had Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry received support from another 1 percent of Ohio voters, he would have captured its 20 electoral votes and the 2004 election despite having 2 million fewer popular votes than President Bush.


One year ago, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll had President Barack Obama leading Gov. Mitt Romney, 46 to 45 percent. After 12 months and a half billion dollars spent, last week's poll by CBS News showed Romney trailing Obama 46-45.


Fasten your seatbelt.


In addition to the hundreds of statewide candidates in the 50 states hoping to be heard amid the noise, the world's greatest democracy is choosing its president – the most significant leader on Earth – and we will do it all freely and peacefully.


In the nine weeks remaining, hundreds of millions -- if not a billion -- dollars more will be spent by presidential candidate committees and the "super PACs" raking in unlimited sums from anonymous suitors supporting their candidacies.


Romney can expect a bounce in the polls from his underwhelming convention speech only to see Obama even the score following the Democratic convention later this week in Charlotte, N.C.


However, as both men awake next Sunday morning, post-conventions and post-Labor Day, they will have but three weeks to prepare for their high stakes debate on Oct. 3. Such is the warp speed by which their calendars now travel.


The debates of October offer Obama and Romney a final opportunity to move the dwindling number of undecided voters quickly curing in electoral concrete.


The hardening poll numbers unmoved by events and nearly a billion dollars of sophisticated advertising fashioned by imaginative consultants suggest time is running out.


Neither the consultants nor I believe 9 percent of the electorate remains undecided about the race for president. Barring a debate debacle, less than 5 percent of Americans remain perplexed. And the nationwide polls measuring their numbers matter little when the outcome in 41 states is virtually assured (the campaigns are not spending money to woo Texas or New York); their electoral votes already are in the bank.


The torrent of money about to be unleashed in the final nine weeks will target undecided voters (and electoral votes) in the nine yet-to-be-decided states of Colorado (nine), Florida (29), Iowa (six), Nevada (six), New Hampshire (four), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), Virginia (13) and Wisconsin (10).


Romney needs 79 of those electoral votes still up for grabs, Obama 33.


The candidates and their array of supportive PACs already have spent $20 million in eight of those states and more than $15 million to coax New Hampshire.


From now until Nov. 6 the campaigns are expected to match those huge sums in a blizzard of negative ads reaching for 270 electoral votes.


As those states drift finally to one camp or the other over the next 65 days, campaign dollars typically get reallocated until, I suspect, only Colorado, Iowa, Virginia and Florida hang in the balance.


As the smattering of ads running in Pennsylvania (20) is reduced further, statewide candidates for Pennsylvania auditor general, state treasurer and attorney general will break through the noise and "In the Arena."



Kevin Blaum's column on government, life and politics appears every Sunday. Contact him at kblaum@timesleader.com.




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