CBS News reports that Mitt Romney was genuinely shocked that he lost Tuesday night:
“We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory,” said one senior adviser. “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”
They just couldn’t believe they had been so wrong. And maybe they weren’t: There was Karl Rove on Fox saying Ohio wasn’t settled, so campaign aides decided to wait. They didn’t want to have to withdraw their concession, like Al Gore did in 2000, and they thought maybe the suburbs of Columbus and Cincinnati, which hadn’t been reported, could make a difference.
. . .
“There’s nothing worse than when you think you’re going to win, and you don’t,” said another adviser. “It was like a sucker punch.”
. . .
“He was shellshocked,” one adviser said of Romney.
And apparently top Republicans were also taken by surprise. From the Washington Post:
Party leaders said they already had planned to poll voters in battleground states starting Tuesday night in anticipation of a Mitt Romney victory — to immediately begin laying the groundwork for midterm congressional elections and a Romney 2016 reelection bid.
But as they watched one state after another go to President Obama and Senate seats fall away, party leaders quickly expanded and retooled their efforts. . . .
The review is a recognition that party leaders were confounded by the electorate that showed up on Tuesday. Republican officials said that they met all of their turnout goals but that they underestimated who would turn out for the other side.
Why were they all so surprised?
Yes, the national polls were tight. But in almost all the battleground states, polls showed Obama ahead. Of course, it was possible that the polls had lousy samples, and weren’t predicting correctly who would turn out and vote. But Romney had a narrow path, and polls showed that, far from closing the deal in states like Ohio and Virginia, he was entering Election Day as the underdog.
I thought Obama would win Tuesday, but I also thought it was possible that Romney could eke out a win, particularly if turnout ended up being more like 2004 or 2000 than 2008. But it never occurred to me that the Romney campaign — and other Republicans — genuinely thought it would be more surprising than not if Obama won.
A winning campaign isn’t blindly optimistic. It’s also candid about potential flaws, problems, and undesired outcomes. If the Romney campaign truly thought Romney would almost certainly win Tuesday, that suggests a serious lack of honest self-examination.