On November 6 next year - 52 weeks from tomorrow - those of us who haven't availed ourselves of early voting, absentee voting, mail-in voting or some other form of not standing in line on election day will, in fact, be stepping into a voting booth to vote for President and Congress and for about a third of the population, for U.S. Senator.
For those of us who do this for a living, we will spend the next 12 months trying to tease out who is ahead, who's behind and why.
This process is easier when we are into the finals; when we know who the Republican candidate will be to run against President Obama.
While the popular press thinks the muddled GOP results are good for Obama, I think they are wrong. We'll get back to that later.
The most recent poll was the ABC News/Washington Post poll which shows Romney about two percentage points ahead of Cain (25-23). That poll was, as we say, "in the field" from last Monday through last Wednesday meaning the Cain story had broken and was on everyone's lips in between sips of coffee.
Whether the Tea Party wing of the GOP will continue to believe that was a plot by the Left and their allies in the media remains to be seen but don't look for the Perrys to invite the Cains over for a friendly dinner anytime soon.
Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich are as close to each other in the race for third (14-12 respectively) with Ron Paul (nine percent) heading the rest of the field. If Perry is going to get back up to speed after stalling out over the past month, he will have to do it Saturday night at the CBS/National Journal debate at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC.
Now, back to that business about this doe-see-doe among GOP candidates not being helpful to Obama.
In a major piece in yesterday's Washington Post, the dean of Washington political writers, Dan Balz led with this: "One year out from the 2012 election, President Obama faces the most difficult reelection environment of any White House incumbent in two decades, with economic woes at the center of the public's concerns, an electorate that is deeply pessimistic and sharply polarized, and growing questions about the president's capacity to lead.
Based on the data in that Washington Post/ABC News poll, Balz, along with his two co-writers Jon Cohen and Chris Cillizza, concluded that it "paints a stark portrait of an agitated electorate that is almost inflexibly divided, with voters awaiting the showdown between Obama and his eventual challenger. About three-quarters see the country as seriously off-track and nearly everyone sees the economy in bad shape."
The problem for the President (this is me, not the Washington Post folks) is there are a lot of people saying a lot of things on the GOP side of the equation: The Presidential candidates, Republicans in the House single point of reference is the President. In this case it happens to be Barack Obama, but if it were John McCain or Hillary Clinton the focus would be the same.
The Administration speaks with one voice - or at least it sings one tune. It is the tune called by the President of the United States and this one can blame his predecessor, the European Union, the Republicans on The Hill, or a rogue asteroid.
He's the president and the blame for lack of bucks in people's pockets stops with him.
The most damning line in the Washington Post analysis might well be "growing questions about the president's capacity to lead."
There's a reason the office carries the unofficial title of "Leader of the Free World." If voters don't think he's up to it, they will find someone who they think will be.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the RealClearPolitics.com summary of polls, the actual poll data, to the SC GOP page about the debate on November 12, and to the Dan Balz analysis of the state of play. Also a pretty good Mullfoto from a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, VA; and a Catchy Caption of the Day.