Where we were eight years ago: The last time two non-incumbants battled for the Presidency, Bush had a lead similar to the margin now enjoyed by Obama. Of course, Gore not only closed the gap, he won the popular vote, and only through some legal machinations in the Supreme Court was Bush able to hoist the Presidency.
A couple of points should be made from reviewing those numbers. Bush had a much larger lead throughout the summer than Obama had, but like Obama, lost all of it and then some after the other party's convention. Without a market crash or a boneheaded Veep pick, Gore maintained the lead through early October, when a series of poor debate performances allowed Bush to surge into the lead.
Second, the perception that Bush was headed into a decisive victory seems to have been shaped by two really awful tracking polls, by USA Today-Gallup and by an outfit called Voter.com. Both gave the Texas Governor sizeable, double-digit leads, while other polling outfits showed a much closer race. Voter.com doesn't seem to have done much more damage to the Republic since 2000, but USA Today-Gallup has been the consistent outlier showing a dead-even race this time. [link via Volokh]