|Barack Obama will be staying on in the White House according to Larry|
Writing a column like this with more than ten days to go is inherently risky. But based on the polling data I’ve been examining, the Electoral College math I’ve been doing and the political instincts I’ve always relied upon, I have a theory of how this year’s extremely close fight for the presidency between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney might unfold when the votes are tallied into the wee hours on election night.
The truth is that I never envisaged that the election would be this close. The president’s disastrous performance in the first televised debate, and Governor’s Romney’s strong showing that night, put paid to my ideas about how things would play out. On that night, Governor Romney appeared to be presidential and a centrist. He undoubtedly appealed to those Americans who were only then tuning in to the campaign.
I had written and said in a number of different fora that I believed Florida would be pivotal to the outcome this year. Specifically, my view was that, if the president were to win Florida, he would prevail in an Electoral College landslide. On the other hand, if Governor Romneywere to pull off a victory there, then I believed thatPresident Obama’s path to the 270 Electoral College votes he would need to be re-elected would become less straightforward, yet nearly as certain.
Needless to say, the first debate and the consequential movement in the polls in key battleground states forced me to readjust my calculus. Some commentators, particularly those who favour Governor Romney’selection, have incorrectly relied on national polls in support of their view that both the first debate and the fuller attention being paid to the candidates and the issues by the electorate wholly changed the dynamics of the race.
The first debate and the broader electorate’s heightened focus unquestionably made things tighter. National polls, however, are inherently misleading in US presidential elections and the wild divergences in these polls reflect this reality. Making predictions as to a result based on national polls verges on the nonsensical.
So where does this lead me? And why do I think that Republican-leaning commentators, many of whom now believe that Mitt Romney is likely to be the next president, are wrong?
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My fundamental starting point is that the following states – in roughly counter-clockwise order from the northeast and followed by their number of Electoral College votes – can still be regarded as “in play”: New Hampshire (4), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (16), Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Florida (29), North Carolina (15) and Virginia (13). The dye is fairly well cast in the other 39 states, and barring something completely unforeseen, will leave President Obama with a 10 vote lead, 201-191, over Governor Romney.
The aforementioned mix of data, math and instinct tells me the following.
Obama will win Pennsylvania and Romneywill win North Carolina. I suspect somewhat less strongly that Obamawill take Michigan and Wisconsin. I have a similarly formed suspicion that Romneywill take Virginia and New Hampshire. That would leave things at 247 votes for the incumbent and 223 votes for the challenger.
And here is where hunches come in. My hunch is that Nevada and Iowa will break for Obama. On the other side, my hunch is that Colorado and, yes, Florida will break for Romney. My Obama hunches are shaped by my sense of Nevada’s demographics and by Iowa’s still strong populist streak. My Romney hunches are a product, especially in Florida, of polling data and numbers I find very surprising, but which are difficult to refute, notwithstanding my contrary instincts. Governor Romney and his campaign deserve a lot of credit if this is borne out on November 6th.
They recognized, from the earliest days of the campaign, that they would need to win Florida to win the presidency. To this end, and despite tacking hard-right on just about everything else in the Republican primary, Governor Romney steadfastly defended Social Security. The comments of his primary opponent, Texas Governor Rick Perry, likening the government programme on which so many Florida-based retirees depend to a “Ponzi scheme,” were a gift in this regard. Moreover, the repeated statements of fidelity to Israel and oft-touted friendship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were meant to be heard by Florida’s large Jewish community. They lean Democratic, but have never trusted the president on Israel.
IfRomney does indeed win Florida – it is far from certain that he will – it will be by a very narrow margin. And it will be due in no small part to this shrewd posturing on issues that matter to Floridians whose votes were identified at an early stage as being “in play.”
A Romney victory in Florida, coupled with my other hunches being on the money, would put him in the lead by two votes, 261-259. In my analysis, Ohio would then remain to determine who will be the next president.
While polls show the two candidates in a virtual dead heat, I just can’t see Governor Romney winning Ohio for two reasons. First is the extraordinary ground game and get out the vote operation that the Obama re-election team have put together there. Some elements never really went away after 2008, and media reports are that absolutely everything possible has been done to ensure that their voters, particularly African-Americans, exercise their right to vote. Early voting, which is now in full swing, will be crucial.
Second is Governor Romney’spast as a venture capitalist with Bain Capital. Hard-hitting and evidently relentless ads in Ohio highlight his complicity in the demise of companies and the concomitant loss of livelihoods of thousands of working men and women. This makes garnering the votes of blue collar workers and ethnic Catholics, whose support Romney will need to win the state, a far more difficult task.
Accordingly, as of now, my prediction is that President Obama will win 275 Electoral College votes and secure a second term. I may well be wrong. I believe, however, that my error could just as likely lie in underestimating the scale of the president’s triumph as in picking the wrong winner. We shall soon see.
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