Gruber: Theo, are we on schedule?
Theo: One more to go, then it’s up to you. And you’d better be right, because this one’s going to take a miracle.
Gruber: It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles!
—Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, and Clarence Gilyard, Jr. as Theo in Die Hard
OK, kids, take a deep breath and sit down. While I hate to be the one to have to bring it up, as adults it’s time for us to face the unpleasant facts.
Like many of you, I’ve looked hopefully at the Gallup Polls showing Romney in a virtual dead heat with Obama. I’ve been optimistic over job approval surveys continuing to show Obama netting below 50%, even as I’ve marveled that as many as 47% of this country still just doesn’t get it. And last post I even suggested the possibility that Obama’s announcement of his support for gay marriage might decisively tip the scales in swing states where voters have repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected it. “Surely,” I’ve thought to myself, “between these things we’ll be in good shape by November to get rid of Obama.”
The problem with all of this is most of it has been premised on voter polling, which examines the nationwide popular vote. Unfortunately, it’s not the popular vote that matters, but the electoral college count, and—as promised—here’s the sobering reality of the electoral math:
It’s not gonna happen.
Despite the polls and approval rating, I’ve been worried for some time that the GOP had managed to squander away what should have been an un-loseable election. Working on the last post forced me to focus on the electoral map for the first time, and that only confirmed my fears. The electoral math simply isn’t going to work. Let me show you why.
We’ll start with the states that are absolute locks both ways. I measured this in the very scientific fashion of looking for those states that went Republican or Democrat in each of the last five elections (Clinton vs. Bush41 & Dole in 1992 and 1996, Bush43 vs. Gore & Kerry in 2000 and 2004, and Obama vs. McCain in 2008). That map looks like this.
This has Romney starting out taking Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, for a total of 97 electoral votes. But it also gives Obama California, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, for a total of 242. That’s only 28 electoral votes shy of the 270 needed to win.
Notice, this historical view already takes supposed battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (and their 46 electoral votes) off the table. Although all three states have some history of going Republican if you take it back to the 1970s, those votes consist almost entirely of getting swept up in the Nixon and Reagan landslides. Recent history says they’re consistently Democrat, and I see little to suggest that they’ll buck that trend this time. Wisconsin will have a massive union drive as part of the effort to oust Governor Scott Walker, and Michigan is all UAW. I suppose Obama’s anti-coal stance gives a glimmer of hope in Pennsylvania—but I doubt it. As for the others, if you have an argument that there is any realistic possibility of Romney taking them, I’d love to hear it. I couldn’t come up with one.
From that starting point, it’s already clear that Romney has to win just about everything else. I’ll indulge in the assumption that Obama won’t win any state this year that he lost last time, and that Nebraska won’t split its vote as it did in 2008. With that assumption—and remember, that’s giving Romney the benefit of a reasonable doubt in states like Missouri and Tennessee—Romney picks up Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and West Virginia, boosting his total to 180. He still needs 90 to Obama’s 28.
That leaves Colorado (9), Florida (29), Indiana (11), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), New Mexico (4), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), and Virginia (13), and a total of 116 electoral votes. Obama could win by taking Florida alone, which is a distinct possibility; he carried the state in 2008, Clinton won it in 1996, and we all remember the debacle of 2000. But let’s assume he doesn’t (and the absolute necessity of that assumption is a huge reason for Romney to consider putting Senator Marco Rubio or Colonel Allen West on the ticket). Accepting the verrry shaky assumption that Romney wins Florida raises his electoral total to 209, leaving him still 61 votes short with only 87 left in play. I don’t see him winning Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, or New Mexico, which puts 25 more electoral votes on Obama’s side of the ledger, yielding this map.
Obama 266, Romney 209, meaning Romney must win all of Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. That’s on top of having to win in Florida to even make this scenario possible. A Romney win in any one of those states is certainly conceivable, and indeed he may well win most of them.
But the problem is he has to run the table. And I’m sorry, but we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that he’s not going to do that. Just as a matter of numbers, too many things have to break his way in too many places. I think he’s likely to take Indiana and North Carolina, and unlikely to take Iowa. Ohio and Virginia are tossups, and I’ll call it a split between the two. Here's how I see the likely final map.
That’s Obama 290, Romney 248, and we get four more years of hope and change. Hoo-rah.
Could it break a little differently? Sure. Romney could squeeze out a win in New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, or maybe even all three. Won’t be enough to make a difference. Even winning Ohio—which he could do—won’t do it. No, he needs a shocking big-ticket upset somewhere like Pennsylvania, or in both Wisconsin and Michigan, and even then he still has to win Florida and at least three of four in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. That hasn’t happened since Bush won in 1988, and this time around, it’s simply asking too much; Obama isn’t Michael Dukakis (although one could argue that that would be an improvement), and Romney doesn’t have Reagan’s coattails to ride.
I’m not sure this is really the GOP’s fault, nor do I think there’s much Romney can do about it. This is just the way the electoral map plays out.
Let’s just hope Christmas comes early.