Thursday, October 25, 2012

State Of The Race, Two Weeks Out

We're less than two weeks away from the elections, and it may be of interest (not to mention fun) to take a snapshot of where I see things at right now.

It's pretty obvious to me that President Obama has lost most if not all of the traditionally Red states he picked up in 2008 due to his novelty value as the first black president, the weakness of the candidate he was facing and the unpopularity of his predecessor.

In addition to the above, there are three factors that have changed since then...enthusiasm for him among Democrats is not what it was in 2008, he now has a record to run on (or away from) and Republicans are a lot more enthusiastic about voting for Mitt Romney than they were for John McCain.

Also, Governor Romney has erased the gender gap according to most polls, with women now split more or less evenly between the two candidates. At one time, Barack Obama led in that category by 18 points.

I mention the above poll, from AP/GfK only because comes from a news source whose polls and news coverage have been fairly skewed toward the Democrats and President Obama.

But I'll repeat the obvious. Remember, this is fifty individual elections, not one so head to head polls are meaningless.It all comes down to the electoral college, and getting the magic number of 270 to win.

President Obama started out with a huge advantage here. He was always certain to take the Blue states of California, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, The District of Columbia, Delaware, New Jersey,New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont. That gave him a starting total of 186 electoral votes, more than half of what he needs to win.

Governor Romney was able to count on the traditional Red states in the South, the prairie states like Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, Texas, Utah and Arizona in the West and the border states of West Virginia and Kentucky. He started out with 170 electoral votes and had the task of not only reclaiming the traditional Red states Obama won in 2008 but picking up some of the battleground states Obama won in that election.

At this point, President Obama has added only one state for sure to his column, New Mexico with 5 electoral votes, giving him 191 votes. He also may have added Minnesota, a traditionally Blue state to his tally, although some sources say that state is in play. For the sake of argument, let's say it isn't. That brings the president up to 201, which is exactly where Real Clear Politics has him.

On the other hand, the president has almost certainly lost Florida,Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina, all Red States he carried in 2008 with the exception of Missouri. That brings Mitt Romney's total up to 235.

There remain nine states that can be regarded as tossups and up for grabs, with 102 electoral votes between them. What would each candidate need to do to win?

Mitt Romney has several paths to victory. He would have to add Virginia (13 electoral votes) and Colorado (9 electoral votes) to his total, two states that trend Republican but went for Obama in 2008. He's comfortably ahead in Colorado and ahead in Virginia, and I would not be surprised to see his lead increase in the Old Dominion after President Obama's remarks on the Navy in the last debate.

Assuming he takes both states, he's at 257. To win, he only needs to take one of the following: Ohio ( 18 electoral votes), Pennsylvania, (20 electoral votes) or Michigan (16 electoral votes), all of which are in play at the moment.Or he'd have to take Wisconsin( 10 electoral votes) and one of the following: New Hampshire (4 EVs), Iowa, or Nevada (6 electoral votes each).

President Obama's scenario is a bit different, and more limited. The president, if he can't hold Colorado or Virginia, is going to have to take Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan plus either Iowa or Nevada to win. If he manages to hold on to Virginia, the only one of the Big Four he can afford to lose is Wisconsin. And he would still need to take either Iowa, Nevada or New Hampshire to get to the magic number of 270.

So the big question is, how are these toss up states likely to shake out?

I'm going to resist making hard predictions at this point since things can change, although I'll be doing it closer to the election. But I think we can see some general trends, bearing in mind that turnout is always a factor.

The economy is the big issue this election, and all the polls except a few partisan outliers agree that most Americans trust Mitt Romney more than Barack Obama to deal with it.Another factor is demographics.

Ohio represents a challenge for Romney. Rasmussen and Suffolk currently show the race tied, while a TIME and a Survey USA poll show Obama sightly ahead.

Ohio is traditionally a Republican state, and it went for Obama by 3 points under the national average in 2008.

The problem for Mitt Romney is that Ohio has a capable Republican governor in John Kasich who has done a lot to balance the budget, reduce regulations and cut spending, so the state's unemployment level is well below the national average. Ohio also has a strong union movement that defeated Kasich's attempt to implement laws curbing bargaining rights for public employee unions similar to the ones Governor Scott Walker successfully put in place in Wisconsin.

However, Republicans have an advantage in registration, and Romney has a strong champion here in the person of Senator Rob Portman.

Ohio could go either way.

Pennsylvania might actually be more fertile ground for a Romney pickup. Democrat strategist James Carville famously described the state as Pittsburgh at one end,Philadelphia at the other and Alabama in between.

Pittsburgh is trending fairly Republican along with the more rural parts of the state, while Philadelphia is traditionally a Democrat stronghold. Again, turnout, but what might help Mitt Romney here is outrage over Obama's policies towards coal and a generally poor economic climate and high unemployment statewide.

Pennsylvania traditionally flirts with Republican presidential candidates before going Democrat, but this year could be different. The race here has tightened up considerably, and remember, this is the state that recently elected a very conservative Republican Senator in Pat Toomey.

Which way Wisconsin goes will depend on several factors. The state is trending Republican, but there is a strong and very energized left wing movement centered in Madison and Dane County, AKA 'Berkeley North'. The public employee unions are also heavily involved.

Again, Scott Walker has done much to mitigate the economic trauma, which hurts Romney. But Republicans are also energized here, and Paul Ryan's presence as a favorite son might be enough to swing it Romney's way.There's also a large Catholic population, which could figure heavily in a Romney win here.

Michigan is going to be a story of which weighs heavier...demographics or the economy. The state's traditionally Blue, has a large union contingent and features a large black population in Detroit and the largest Muslim population in America on Detroit's outskirts, all demographics that favor the president. Yet the latest poll, by partisan Democrat pollster Baydoun-Foster, shows the race all tied up.

Michigan elected Republican governor Rick Snyder handily in 2010 in spite of polls and predictions to the contrary, and the State legislature, traditionally Democrat is now Republican in both Houses.

Michigan also has a living example of the Obama economy in Detroit, the state's economy is awful with record unemployment above the national average, Mitt Romney's father was a popular governor who is still well thought of here and Paul Ryan is from right next door in Wisconsin.

Michigan could be a big surprise election night.

It's not surprising to me that President Obama is spending so much time in Iowa. It might make the difference in a tight race.

The state has trended Blue lately, but both Rasmussen and Democrat pollster PPP show it all tied up. Iowa's economy has been slightly better than the national average, and there's also a strong Catholic contingent here, all of which could come into play. In the end, this one will come down to turnout, which could be said of most of these tossup races.

Nevada, like Michigan, is a case of demographics versus the economy. Nevada has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, but it also has an increased Hispanic population, a group President Obama is likely to win by a majority. The Democrats are relying on Harry Reid's vaunted political machine to get out the vote, but it's worth noting that Reid himself is not exactly all that popular in Nevada. He barely won re-election only because he imported a lot of out-of-state operatives into Nevada and because Sharron Angle was inexperienced in running a state-wide race and received no assistance or financial help from RNC chairman Michael Steele in constructed the ground game she needed to compete.

Neither of these is a factor this time out. Obama is currently ahead in the polls, but not by much, and Nevada is still rated a toss up state.

New Hampshire is the maverick state in New England. largely because unlike Connecticut and Rhode Island, it's not in easy commuting distance to New York City or Boston and thus missed out on left leaning progressives from those areas fleeing the mess they made.

Mitt Romney is well known and well thought of here, and owns a home in the state. The polls currently show him ahead, and New Hampshire's economic climate leans in his favor. Also, Senator Kelly Ayotte is a popular Romney surrogate here.

That's my current analysis of the toss up states, and we'll see how things go and take another look closer to Election Day.

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