Politics Magazine

State of the Race

Posted on the 14 October 2012 by Erictheblue


What is the state of the presidential race with less than a month to go, and more than a week since the president's miserable debate performance?

Things stand, near as I can tell, about where they did in the late summer.  Romney, that is to say, needs to draw to an inside straight.  Yet if voter sentiment were to  move at all in his direction he'd have a good chance of winning.  He's clearly in a much better place than he was before the debate, which someone has cleverly described as Obama's worst performance since he took on Clint Eastwood at the RNC.  Pre-debate, it looked like Obama was headed for well over 300 electoral votes, and that he was more likely to get 360 than 260.  That's changed, and it could change again, but, if like me you much prefer Obama and the Dems, resist the tendency to exaggerate the other team's upside. 

Calculations may begin with the fact that there are eighteen states (plus D.C.) that have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate for five elections in a row.  These states have 242 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win.  What are Romney's prospects for breaking through in any of them?  Very slight, I think.  It appears that Wisconsin, his physically fit running mate's home state, is the only one that he is still contesting.  But you have to campaign somewhere, right?  I think Romney's behind in Wisconsin and that he won't catch up unless Obama implodes, in which case of course all these calculations are moot.

The ten states not among the "blue eighteen" that Obama carried four years ago are: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.  You can forget about Indiana, which Romney is going to win.  And let us for the sake of argument put North Carolina and Florida in Romney's column.  (It can only be close if Romney wins both of these, and I'm guessing he will.)  His problem is that Obama is still looking pretty good in the other seven.  No one thinks Romney can win New Mexico's five electoral votes, which, added to those of the blue eighteen, puts Obama at 247.  Then there is Ohio.  It has 18 electoral votes, and it appears that Romney's recent surge has left him still trailing:  the three most recent polls of the Buckeye state show Obama with leads of one, five, and six points.  Without Ohio, Romney really needs to run the table.  But if he were in a strong enough position to run the table, he wouldn't still be behind in Ohio.  Ergo, to win, he needs more movement in his direction.

Psychologists of happiness speak of a "set point" that pretty much determines how we feel about life.  A big event, like a financial windfall or a divorce, has only a temporary effect, and we in time return to the level of contentedness that our DNA seems set to.  If the presidential campaign is like that, then Obama still looks like the winner--the electoral college "set point" is on his side of 270.  If on the other hand the forces at work in the campaign are more like those of the physical world--gravitation, inertia--then Romney will pass him and win.  I think a presidential race seems more like a "psychology thing" than a "physics thing" but time will tell.

One more observation.  All the above discussion would be irrelevant were it not for that deplorable relic of the 18th century known as the electoral college.  Discussion of scrapping it and moving to a true  national election has been resisted by conservatives who, I believe, are subliminally sheepish about what happened in 2000.  If it would have put Gore ahead of Bush, then they're against it.  But the daily tracking polls now show a small national lead for Romney, while the state polls suggest Obama may have built an electoral college firewall in Ohio.  Since the electoral college this season appears to give an edge to Obama and the Dems, might some Republicans come 'round to the side of sweetness and light, thereby enabling us to have an actual national election? 


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