In 1992 we Democrats on the eve of the election did not know what the frack was going on and knew we did not know. In 1996 we knew we were ahead in the week before the election. In 2000 and 2004 we knew we were behind and needed to get lucky. In 2008 we knew we were way ahead, and in 2012 we knew we were ahead.
But apparently all the Republicans had bought and drunk their own snake oil. The defining moment, perhaps, was Karl Rove's end-of-Trading-Places "turn the machines back on" moment as he lectured Fox News on how they could not call Ohio for Obama. It was followed by Megyn Kelly, Pat Caddell, Michael Barone, and company speculating about how Romney might well win the popular vote because he was still ahead by 100K before the Left Coast had come in.
A few hours earlier, across the street at the Convention Center, the campaign’s supporters and volunteers fully expected Romney to be the nation’s next president. Indeed, what was striking after Fox News called the race for Obama, at about 11:15 p.m., was how stunned so many of Romney’s supporters were. Many said they were influenced by the prominent conservatives who predicted a big Romney win, and they fully expected Tuesday night to be a victory celebration.
“I am shocked, I am blown away,” said Joe Sweeney, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “I thought I had a pretty good pulse on this stuff. I thought there was a trend that was going on underground.” “We were so convinced that the people of this country had more common sense than that,” said Nan Strauch, of Hilton Head, South Carolina. “It was just a very big surprise. We felt so confident.” “It makes me wonder who my fellow citizens are,” said Marianne Doherty of Boston. “I’ve got to be honest, I feel like I’ve lost touch with what the identity of America is right now. I really do.”
Some Romney aides were surprised too, especially since they had put an enormous amount of effort into tracking the hour-by-hour whims of the electorate. In recent weeks the campaign came up with a super-secret, super-duper vote monitoring system that was dubbed Project Orca. The name “Orca,” after the whale, was apparently chosen to suggest that the project was bigger than anything any other campaign, including Barack Obama’s in 2008, had ever imagined. For the project, Romney aides gathered about 34,000 volunteers spread across the swing states to send in information about what was happening at the polls. “The project operates via a web-based app volunteers use to relay the most up-to-date poll information to a ‘national dashboard’ at the Boston headquarters,” said a campaign email on election eve. “From there, data will be interpreted and utilized to plan voter turnout tactics on Election Day.”
Orca, which was headquartered in a giant war room spread across the floor of the Boston Garden, turned out to be problematic at best. Early in the evening, one aide said that, as of 4 p.m., Orca still projected a Romney victory of somewhere between 290 and 300 electoral votes. Obviously that didn’t happen. Later, another aide said Orca had pretty much crashed in the heat of the action. “Somebody said Orca is lying on the beach with a harpoon in it,” said the aide.