A wave election is something you can generally see coming, rising above the surface, crushing everything in its path. But an undertow election isn’t something you can see. It pulls underneath the surface with sudden strength, sucking away a base of support thought to be reliable, the ground evaporating underneath you as you claw to stay afloat. It’s maddening for campaigns when voters you had counted as baked in to your models decide they have something better to do on Tuesday. …

This is a question few journalists have really dug into this cycle: how dedicated is Obama’s base of support? How shaky is the backing which is elevating him above a tie in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and elsewhere? After a billion dollars of spending, are they fired up and ready to go? Or has Obama lost his winning aura among them, perhaps for good? They may not like Mitt Romney enough to vote for him. But if you believe the polls, even the ones where Obama is ahead, they no longer dislike Romney as much as they once did – and they may even like him more than they do the president.

…But as much as I question their strategic minds, it’s been clear from day one that Romney’s operational prowess is second to none, and getting out the vote isn’t a question of strategy but operation. Even given that the state Republican parties are shouldering much of this effort, and even given all the advantages Team Obama was likely to have in that arena, if Team Romney could end up close to matching them in this respect, we could be looking at an undertow election like none we’ve seen before. This would reflect not so much a groundswell as a cave-in, one where independents did not shift to Romney but away from Obama, where the bottom truly drops out of the Obama effort, and the story the left focuses on for the next year is why in the world those people stayed home.