Electoral Map Big Picture: If We Win This One, the GOP Fever Might Break
There are a lot of interesting aspects to John Helleman's big piece on the Obama campaign. I want to focus on one of them. Let me throw out a blockquote to get us started.
Back in December, [Obama Campaign Manager, Jim] Messina laid out publicly the ways that advantage gives Obama an upper hand when it comes to the Electoral College: four mathematical scenarios by which he could get to 270 while underperforming 2008. (A fifth scenario involved him expanding the playing field, about which more in a moment.) The safe presumption underlying each is that Obama holds the nineteen states plus the District of Columbia that John Kerry won in 2004—which, recall, did not include Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, or Virginia, all of which Obama carried in 2008, giving the president a base of 246 electoral votes. There’s the western path: Obama holds Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa for a total of 272. There’s the midwestern path: Obama holds Ohio and Iowa (270). There’s the southern path: Obama holds North Carolina and Virginia (274). And there’s the Florida path, in which Obama simply again takes the Sunshine State (275).
I ask Messina if all four avenues are still open. “Absolutely,” he replies.
I apologize if that just made your eyes glaze over…I didn't write it. What I want to do here is to kind of step back from the current election season and take more of a bird's-eye view of national politics. We are all familiar with the story of the 2000 election, where Al Gore won the popular vote and was stymied by a variety of factors in Florida (e.g., voter roll purges, bad ballot design in Palm Beach County, and the intervention of the Supreme Court to halt a recount). The 2004 election reprised some of these same problems, notably in Ohio. What people probably don't focus on enough is how close Kerry came to winning the election even while losing the popular vote by a far larger margin than Bush had lost it four years earlier. Bush won (or stole) two national elections but he did it with the bare minimum of Electoral College votes (271 votes in 2000, 286 votes in 2004). If Kerry had won Ohio, he would have been president.
Mitt Romney is looking at a similar map. There's a path to victory for him, to be sure, but it's a path that can do no more than just barely get him over the hump. The Republicans are on the cusp of losing viability as a national party. To be more specific, they cannot afford much more slippage or they may not have a plausible case to make that they can win the presidency. There are signs, yet to be confirmed, that a few former swing states are moving out of their reach. Michigan and Pennsylvania look that way.
Almost all of Romney’s 270 scenarios revolve around a strategy outlined by Karl Rove and dubbed “3-2-1,” in which the GOP reclaims three of the traditionally red states snatched away by Obama (Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia), wins the two perennial mega swing states (Florida and Ohio), and then snags one more from among those up for grabs.
A senior Obama campaign official scoffs at the notion that Romney could pull off such a feat. “To get there,” he says, “they’ve got to take away either Pennsylvania or Michigan, and they can’t do either one of them. Michigan is a motherfucking joke, to think they can do that, because of what he’s done on the auto stuff. And in Pennsylvania, we have a 900,000-person registration advantage. John Kerry had 250,000; we had 900,000 more Democrats than Republicans on the first day.”
The Republicans' weakness with Latino voters is pushing New Mexico out of the swing state category and is threatening to do the same in Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia. Personally, I think Obama's mixed-race heritage is giving the Republicans a false sense of confidence. If Obama were white, I don't think any of the 2008 swing-statees other than Indiana would be in play. And his national numbers would look much better. We can see this in the Obama campaign's disdain for national polling.
[Jim Messina] earned a reputation as a very nice guy who would merrily club you with a truncheon if you crossed him. In addition to not caring about Romney’s candidate skills, he doesn’t give a whit about national polling, in which Obama’s numbers are dragged down by his horrific performance in the Deep South and Appalachia—but is obsessed with the president’s standing in the battleground states, where Obama has “a distinct advantage,” he says, “and everybody, including Mitt Romney, knows it.”
Another thing 'everyone knows' is that the president is more unpopular in Appalachia and the Deep South because of his complexion. This keeps his overall approval numbers down. But it masks Republican weakness. Put a white Democrat like, say, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia on the top of the ticket, and suddenly the Democrats' numbers in Appalachia and the Deep South go up quite a bit, causing their national numbers to go up, and putting more swing states out of play.
Any president who had to run for reelection in a period of high unemployment would face a serious challenge. But no one is suggesting that Obama could possibly fare worse than John Kerry, barring unforeseen events. The Democrats seem to have consolidated a steady bloc of support that is just shy of what is needed to win the presidency. I think this is precisely why the Republicans are acting so aggressively to suppress the vote. You should think of them as like a person who is clinging to a demographic ledge by their fingernails. I think this will be the last presidential election they could potentially win for a little while.
Indeed, if you factor in New Mexico, which the president nabbed in 2008 and is considered safe this time, and Virginia, which has a sizable Latino population, a relatively strong economy, and polls consistently showing Obama ahead, he can hit 270 without winning Iowa, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, or North Carolina.
This is an amazing fact—and one that throws into stark relief the converse difficulties Romney will have in reaching the magic number.
We need to win this election. If we do, we'll win the next one and the next one after that. We'll roll back this insanity that has infected our body politic. The GOP will have to moderate or be consigned to the kind of permanent minority they suffered on a congressional level for most of the 20th-Century.