As near as I can tell, it's nearly unanimous conventional wisdom that this is going to be a very close race despite the fact that the Republican field is weak. Hell, Intrade has only intermittently put Obama's chances over 60% for the past year, and he's barely been better than an even bet for the past six months...So Obama is hardly a dead duck. But he's not a shoo-in either, and I really don't think anyone over the past year or so has ever suggested he is.Is it going to be a very close race? I have no idea! Nate Silver has made this point several times, but the track record of economic predictions is, well, lousy. It's really very plausible to imagine that the recent stretch of good news about the economy continues, solidifies, and turns into a very robust recovery. It's also very plausible to imagine the trouble in Europe or an oil shock derailing the economy and leading to a new recession...or just the current marginal good news fizzling out again, as has happened repeatedly during Obama's presidency. It's also possible to imagine any number of other events that could help, or more likely hurt, Obama. That is, this isn't economic determinism; it's events (close to) determinism, with the economy as the most likely event to influence voters.
What I think we should be saying is that based on what we know right now, the chances of Obama winning reelection appear relatively close to 50/50. In other words, I think the second two sentences I quoted from Drum are correct. It's just that saying the chances are 50/50 now isn't at all the same thing as saying that it will therefore be a close race in November. From the point of view of observers, that means that we really don't know yet whether the election will be close enough that electioneering (including the strengths and weaknesses of the out-party nominee) will be important to the outcome. From the point of view of the parties, of course, it makes sense to attempt to maximize vote share regardless of the chances that it will matter, so for them it doesn't really matter how likely it is that the election will be close.