Romney’s Narrow Path to the White House
Now we’re getting to crunch time and the presidential election is all about Electoral votes and which candidate wins which states. Remember that in America’s presidential election system, you can win the national popular vote and still lose the presidency. If you don’t believe, that just ask Al Gore the next time you see him in the airport on his way to yet another speech on global warming.
It is a victory in the Electoral College that wins the White House. Think of it as 50 separate state elections for president, and add in three electoral votes for the District of Columbia.
Each state is assigned a number of electoral votes based on population with the exact number corresponding to the number of senators and House members who represent a given state in Congress. Each state has two senators and at least one representative, so the range is from three electoral votes for a small state like Wyoming, to 55 electoral votes for the state with the largest population, California.
With two exceptions, the candidate who wins the popular vote in a given state receives all of that state’s electoral votes. The two exceptions, Maine and Nebraska, divide up their electoral votes according to the percentage of the state’s popular vote total won by each candidate. There are a total of 538 electoral votes and it takes a majority of 270 to win the presidency.
Most States Already Decided
Sure it’s a national election on November 6th, but the fact is that most experts believe that 40 or so of the 50 states already lean strongly toward one candidate or the other. This year, that leaves nine true “swing” or “battleground” or “competitive” states where both campaigns have focused most of their resources. That includes candidate visits, money spent on TV ads and grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts.
So for all intents and purposes, the 2012 presidential election will be decided in these states: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
According to the respected web site Real Clear Politics.com, President Obama begins with an electoral vote base of 201, assuming he wins all the states that lean Democratic. The Obama base includes most of New England and large swaths of the northeast down through Maryland and Washington, DC, plus parts of the upper Midwest and the West Coast from California up to Washington. Mitt Romney begins with a base of 191 electoral votes, with his strongest support coming from the South, the Great Plains and some of the smaller population states of the West.
That means each candidate must try and cobble together a winning electoral vote combination by adding as many of the nine swing states to their column as possible to get to 270 or more electoral votes.
Ohio First Among Equals
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning the state of Ohio. Ohio has also voted for the winner in 27 of the past 29 presidential elections, making it one of the most reliable of state predictors over the past century. If there is a shadow over this election for the Romney campaign, it is the persistent lead President Obama has established in Ohio.
Without Ohio and its 18 electoral votes, Mr. Romney’s routes to get to 270 electoral votes are much more limited. He would have to win Florida (29 electoral votes), Virginia (13), North Carolina (15), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Nevada (6) and New Hampshire (4) if he loses Ohio. The latest opinion polls in those states suggest winning them all would be an uphill battle.
If you add Ohio to President Obama’s electoral vote column, he would only have to win Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire to give him a total of 281 electoral votes — 11 more than he needs. The kicker is that right now the president has leads in Ohio, Iowa and Nevada that look fairly strong, though by no means certain. He also has a slight lead in New Hampshire.
Romney’s Debate Bump
Mitt Romney’s winning performance in the first presidential debate made this a much closer election. President Obama was vastly improved in the second debate and that probably slowed or stopped the Romney momentum, at least for now. It looks as though Mr. Romney’s strong showing in the first debate helped him close the gap in some key states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. The Romney camp appears to have an edge in North Carolina now, and a more narrow advantage in Florida and Virginia. Colorado and Virginia appear to be too close to call at the moment and probably will remain so until Election Day.
So for the moment, the state by state breakdown favors Mr. Obama, though only slightly. His leads in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin would seem to give him a Midwest firewall that Mr. Romney will have to find a way to break through. Mr. Romney can take encouragement from the polling trends in Florida, North Carolina and, to a lesser extent, Virginia that would add to his southern base. Mr. Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, have been spending a lot of time of late in Ohio trying to close the gap.
It will be interesting to see if, as we get closer to Election Day November 6th, Ohio looks unwinnable for the Romney team, and whether his campaign shifts its efforts to other states like Colorado, Virginia and New Hampshire to try and find some other way to get to the magic 270 number.
Are all Polls Created Equal?
Obviously not, which is why so many political junkies prefer sites like Real Clear Politics that average out the latest polls or look for a trend in several polls, not just one. The Gallup daily tracking poll of late has shown Mr. Romney moving into a six or seven point lead nationally, a result that doesn’t seem to jive with so many state polls that show either a very close race or various leads within some of those states for President Obama. The Gallup poll is one of many national polls that insiders take into account on any given day, but it’s by no means considered the last word.
If you average together the latest nation-wide polls, as Real Clear Politics does, it shows a very close race with perhaps a razor-thin advantage for Mr. Romney at the moment. Gallup and other national polls did show a basic trend over the past two weeks, though, that shows Mr. Romney cutting into what had been a modest Obama lead before the first debate.
So from now on, feel free to take all the polls into account. Just don’t put too much stock into any one poll, whether it’s from a national sample or from some of the key contested states.