In 4 days America will finally choose who will be President for the next 4 years. In an election which has seemingly been running for an eternity, the end is finally in sight. So, what is the state of the race?
Make no mistake, President Obama has rescued what could have been a disastrous end to his re-election bid. When the curtain fell on the first debate in early October, the reaction from pundits (and the public) was one of shock: how could the President have put in such a lacklustre performance in the most-watched debate in American political history? The damage that performance did, not only to his reputation, but to the relative standing of his challenger, was profound and long lasting. Whilst the remaining two debates were strong for the President, neither of them was as one-sided as the first and neither of them fully repaired the damage done.
It has taken an act of nature, Hurricane Sandy, to seemingly push Obama back ahead in the polls. With almost universal approval of his handling of the crisis and particular praise given by both a high profile Republican, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, and the independent Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, it seems like Obama has taken his chance to rise above politics and to show the public why he should be re-elected.
However, before I break out the bunting to celebrate another four years of President Obama, a dose of realism is required. The race is still close and, as always, it is in the Electoral College where real interest lies.
As I’ve stated previously, Obama has guaranteed himself 242 EVs, needing 270 to give him victory. So, 26 are required. Let’s look at how he gets there:
1) The Florida path. If Obama wins Florida, it’s over. Florida has 29 EVs on its own, giving Obama the Presidency. The polls in this most famous of swing states show a statistical tie, reflecting perhaps the severe economic climate in the state where the rate of unemployment and house foreclosures are extremely high. Although Obama won Florida in 2008 by 2 points, Romney has invested serious time and money in flipping the Sunshine State. The state has a lot of conservative retirees and a rapidly aging population, which offers Mitt Romney hope, but the outcome could hinge on the turnout amongst Florida’s enormous population of Hispanic (mainly Cuban-American) voters, who usually overwhelming support the President.
2) The Mid-West/Eastern path – either: Iowa (6EVs) + Ohio (18EVs) + New Hampshire (4EVs) or Virginia (13EVs) + Ohio (18EVs). If Florida goes for Romney, Obama’s back-up options begin here. Considering that all 4 of these states voted for Obama in 2008, this is a very attractive alternative. As with Florida, the result in all of these states is likely to be closer than in 2008, but Obama looks strong in Ohio (where his bailout of the car industry is very popular) and in Iowa, which Obama won by 9% in 2008. Crucially, both of these scenarios involve Ohio. It is difficult to see how Mitt Romney wins the Presidency without winning Ohio (in fact, no Republican has ever won the White House without it), and explains why both candidates made multiple campaign stops there yesterday and have spent many millions of dollars in advertisements.
I am also interested in the race in Virginia. It has been underreported this cycle, but Virginia used to be a solid Republican state, voting to re-elect President Bush in 2004 by 9%. However, Obama won it in 2008 by 7% himself. The demographics of the state are changing fast as the suburbs of Washington DC in the north bring an influx of Hispanic and Northern Democrats to the state and this time the Old Dominion appears to be on a knife-edge.
3) The Atlantic Seaboard path: North Carolina (15 EVs) + Virginia (13 EVs). North Carolina voted for President Obama in 2008, but by less than 1%. Personally, I think it is unlikely that NC will go Democrat this time and Obama himself hasn’t campaigned there since the Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte in August, reflecting perhaps a lack of optimism about his chances. However, it offers yet another possibility for the Obama campaign.
4) The Western path: Nevada (6 EVs) + Colorado (9EVs) + ?. I have put this last on my list of potential paths to 270 EVs not because I don’t think either of these states will go for Obama, Nevada almost certainly will and Colorado is a true toss up, but because they are not enough on their own to get him over the line. But added to a state like Virginia in the East, or Ohio in the Mid-West and the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are once again in the hands of the President.
As you can see, Obama’s possibilities in the Electoral College are multitudinous. Romney, however, needs to first stop Obama winning Florida (which I would say he is favourite to do), but then he must also stop Obama picking up the 26 EVs he needs from a combination of Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Nevada, Colorado and New Hampshire. This has always seemed very unlikely to me and I still don’t see how it is possible for him to do so.
Of course, one way of Romney increasing his chance of victory is to “expand the map”. In other words, to try and steal a state out of the 242EVs I have already ‘given’ to Obama. For example, later today Romney will visit Pennsylvania in an effort to win its 20 EVs (incidentally Sen. John McCain did the same in 2008 and still lost by 11%). The campaign has also started to run adverts in Michigan and previously solidly Democratic Minnesota, which has voted Democrat in the last 9 elections. Depending on your point of view, this either betrays confidence that Romney can appeal to voters in these previously Democratic states, or desperation because they feel that Ohio is lost and that without Ohio, their path to the Presidency is narrow and full of potential pitfalls.
In the end, it may be that many of these swing states are won by tiny margins. If they all break one way on election night, we should have a clear winner. However, if all the states look like being close (especially if they are close in different directions) the election for the most powerful man in the world will once again end up being fought out between the estimated 5000 lawyers employed by both campaigns. As the old electoral official’s prayer goes, “Lord, let there be a landslide”.