Fair. Balanced. American.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The road to 270

There are three states that the Obama and Romney campaigns are bombarding with ads: Iowa, Virginia and Ohio. A look at our latest electoral map explains why:

The 2012 electoral map has become exceedingly defined very early in the process. Yes, the map has been pretty tight since 2000, the 2008 landslide being an anomaly. Obama was also the ideal candidate to take advantage of long term shifts in a few states (NC, VA, CO); that, too, makes the map look slightly different from how it looked 12 or more years ago. But otherwise, we are more or less in the same place: a Confederacy united against a president who doesn't oppose African American voting rights (that goes back to 1968, after all), a Northeast, West, and upper Midwest that's pretty solidly Democratic, and just a handful of purples.

In a Romney landslide, it is possible to envision some shifts in the lean Obama states (light blue). An Obama landslide could see, for example, Florida tip over to Obama. But right now, that appears unlikely. Only one poll (PPP in April) showed Obama at 50 in the state at a time Obama held a temporary but strong lead nationwide. Most recent Florida polls show him struggling to get past 45%, even when he is slightly ahead of Romney. Given the polarization of the electorate and the tendency of undecideds to go with the challenger, Democrats cannot afford to assume they can carry a state where the President is below 47%. It isn't impossible, but it's a tough slog. I am moving Florida from Tossup to Lean Republican.

When gay activists pushed Obama into announcing his support six months too early, they may well have jeopardized his re-election, which, given the uncertainties around Justice Ginsburg's health, could also mean a Supreme Court that is against equality well into the 2040's. There are at least four battleground states where the decision will cost the President.

One of them is North Carolina, which I am moving from tossup to Lean Republican. Yes, it will be close. Yes, it will be a three point contest. That is because the state is nearly a quarter black and has a base of moderate whites that guarantee him a floor of 46%. But that won't be enough this time, and certainly not in a close race. Any of the three true battlegrounds would have been a better convention hosting choice, though one can understand the optimism behind the decision to go with NC a year ago.

The map I have created shows the President with a 266 electoral votes and Romney with 235. There are only three tossups: Ohio, Virginia, and Iowa.  The good news for the President is that he only needs to carry one.  The bad news for the President is that this is a wholly attainable goal for Romney. Gay marriage will matter a lot in Iowa and Ohio. Don't believe me? Remember this piece from the New York Times after the 2004 election:
In Ohio, for instance, political analysts credit the ballot measure with increasing turnout in Republican bastions in the south and west, while also pushing swing voters in the Appalachian region of the southeast toward Mr. Bush. The president's extra-strong showing in those areas compensated for an extraordinarily large Democratic turnout in Cleveland and in Columbus, propelling him to a 136,000-vote victory.

"I'd be naïve if I didn't say it helped," said Robert T. Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. "And it helped most in what we refer to as the Bible Belt area of southeastern and southwestern Ohio, where we had the largest percentage increase in support for the president. [...]

"If you look around rural, Appalachian Ohio, you'll see there were many counties that Bush won by better than 60 percent of the vote," Professor Green said. "Those are the areas where you'd see increased turnout because of this issue. And I think that increase was large."

Gay marriage was courageous, but it was a defensive move caused by diminishing support for the most pro-gay president in US history by gay activists who don't care that people can be fired for being gay and have chosen to push for marriage rights instead. Forcing Obama to prepone his support of the most polemical issue on the gay rights agenda could put not only more attainable goals of gay equality but the entire progressive movement at risk.

For what's at stake in 2012 is not just the Presidency but a return to unitary government, with the Republicans in charge of all three branches of government. They already have the Supreme Court and the House, with the Senate on the razor's edge. Democrats may well lose the Senate even with an Obama victory.

So yes, the stakes are high. The battlegrounds are exceedingly few. The 2012 election, right now, looks like a nailbiter. The good news is that the President's prospects continue to look far better than they did 6 months ago.

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