With the two biggest daily tracking polls -- Gallup and Rasmussen -- showing a tie between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the last six weeks of the campaign will turn on paid and earned media.
Of course the debates will shift momentum, perhaps as much as four different times, but the presence of Romney and Paul Ryan on the airwaves will matter a great deal as well.
Both have been regular guests on the big platforms of talk radio and the Fox News Channel as well as the Sunday shows, but each day is a new opportunity for the GOP ticket to energize their base and to reach the large audience of independents who also listen to or watch the talkers and FNC.
Only a handful of shows reach all the swing states every single day, and the earned media these programs represent is an enormous addition to the Romney-Ryan campaign budget. Campaign professionals are leery of the dozen shows that reach out to tens of millions in the key contests -- Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Bennett, Ingraham, Gallagher, Huckabee, Prager, Miller, Medved, Levin and yours truly -- but both candidates have to direct their staffs to start making sure the calendar puts them in front of at least one of these audiences every day.
Ryan has done a lot of radio -- by some estimates more than 100 appearances -- but most have been single market shows which, while crucial in a primary season, don't deliver the numbers to move the polling needle. When he appears on say Michael Medved's show, as he did this past week, Ryan doesn't only talk to the large audience but to everyone those listeners in turn talk to throughout the next 24 hours. A day without messaging into that information grid is a day that cannot be gotten back. Romney's appearance on Neil Cavuto's program last week was well timed and effective, and Cavuto's fair but pointed questions allowed the former Massachusetts governor to move past the latest ginned up controversy and back to the message of the campaign.
The paid commercials will also hopefully pivot soon, to harder messages and more direct appeals for support and to consider the urgent choice presented to the country. Criticism of the campaign and especially of the ads are a bit like the daily flow of emails to a talk show from the millions of producers and hosts around the country who have never produced or hosted a radio show.
Everyone knows how the program should be run and how better to ask questions.
Advice-givers rarely if ever have a full view of the facts or the choices confronting decision-makers, and nowhere is the information gap greater than in a presidential campaign in the last six weeks.
Still, the desire for a hard-hitting message, not about a particular program or promise, but about the stakes, is nearly universal among Romney-Ryan supporters.
The race will certainly shift Romney's way as the polls paid for by the MSM work to screen the voter turnout models, to protect themselves against the charge of malpractice that could arise. It is hard to imagine more pro-Obama turn-out being devised by either Marist or Quinnipiac, for example, and the scrutiny on these models is at a level never before seen. Persistence in using 2008 turnout models will send such outfits to the burial ground of forgotten pollsters known as Zogby Land.
As the MSM runs through its predictable "tightening race" narrative, however, the temptation will be to keep the candidates indoors and away from media and to keep the ad campaign vanilla.
Mitt Romney has spent his whole life preparing for the presidency, and Paul Ryan has spent much of the last decade getting the GOP to take reform seriously. Both men have six weeks before them in which to make closing arguments as often and as clearly as they can. They both have the ability to do so, and they ought to push past anyone who urges them to play it safe.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.