There are 25 days left until November 6, 2012. In the week and a half since the first presidential debate, polls have shifted significantly, changing the Electoral College (EC) math. While Governor Romney holds a lead in the national nationwide polling average, the popular vote is not an accurate barometer from which to measure the outcome of the coming election, since it is the Electoral College (the delegates afforded to individual states) that will determine the victor. Therefore, election-watchers (and the candidates) will closely be watching the individual state by state polls as the race comes down to the wire.
As of now there are at least 12 states considered to be toss-up (or battleground) states. Each of these states holds different numbers of electors in the EC. Prior to last week’s debate there were 9 states considered to be true battlegrounds. Since the debate, two additional states have moved from solid Obama into the toss-up category. The battleground states are in the chart accompanying this article (Bold indicates new battleground states).
The Path to 270
The Big Mo: In politics, momentum is key. Sometimes referred to as “the big mo,” momentum provides not only fundraising and enthusiasm boosts, but also can act as a catalyst to help sway undecided voters. It is in many ways more important than a campaign’s finances. The momentum heavily favors Romney right now, and all recent polls reflect this, especially in the swing states.
Particularly troublesome for the Obama campaign is that Romney has now pulled ahead or is within the margin of error in many swing states. Momentum heavily favors Romney in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia, which comprise the bulk of the delegates up for grabs.
As the race moves into its final few weeks, both campaigns will focus their time and money in states they consider essential and abandon states that they consider out of reach. For the GOP this means that Pennsylvania and Michigan will continue to receive very little — if any — attention. New Hampshire may also be abandoned. Likewise for Democrats, North Carolina and Missouri, where Romney leads outside the margin of error, may be dropped.
The Big Three
The most obvious means of securing victory is for either candidate to win two of the three major tossup states — Florida, Ohio, Virginia. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. Should Romney secure victory in all three of these states he is virtually guaranteed victory. So too if President Obama takes two of the three.
It is still too early to predict what the final map would look like but if trends hold, but expect Obama to hold Iowa while Romney adds North Carolina, Missouri, Virginia, and possibly Florida to his column.
The president maintains an edge in polling and according to many models has a greater chance of winning than does Governor Romney, yet ultimately the deciding factor in the big-three states may be get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. Here too momentum may be swinging Romney’s way. The GOP has seen a 63 percent surge in volunteers and so far has an edge in early voting applications (bucking a trend). Yet Democrats are well known for their formidable GOTV framework, which benefits greatly from the support of union volunteers. Expect GOTV efforts to be a large factor in whether some swing states vote one way or the other. In 2008, Obama received fewer votes on Election Day than did McCain in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and North Carolina, yet still won those states because of his success at driving early voting.
Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Hampshire
While Governor Romney’s father was once a popular governor of Michigan, the auto bailout is very popular in Michigan. Trends suggested that MI would hold solidly Democratic, but two new polls suggest that Governor Romney has closed a double digit gap and is now within the margin of error (statistically neck-and-neck with the President). This is likely attributed to Governor Romney’s strong showing in the debate, which has also helped Romney nearly erase a double digit deficit in Pennsylvania, which has gone Democratic in each of the last 5 presidential elections.
While initially Governor Romney will likely continue to focus his time and money elsewhere, in the coming days there will likely be a flurry of private polls conducted by Super-PACs and the campaigns to confirm the results. Should an ad-blitz break out in any of these states, it will signal independent confirmation and both candidates will shift their strategies and campaign appearances accordingly. This is especially true of Pennsylvania, where Obama holds a 4 point advantage, almost within the margin of error, yet still breaks the 50 percent barrier. New Hampshire doesn’t have many delegates, yet Romney has ties to the state and opening up a new battleground in the Northeast may pressure Obama. Again, the ad-wars will tell if private polling confirms NH’s toss up status. Another 40 electoral votes in play will open up further permutations by which the candidates can gain the 270 delegates needed for victory.
There is still significant time left in the campaign. Twenty-five days is an eternity in politics. Just as the final month of the 2008 campaign ultimately propelled Obama to victory, so too anything can happen during this election cycle. However, given the current momentum and polls, these are possible scenarios:
Tie: It is possible for the Electoral College to reach a tie, 269-269. A tie hasn’t occurred in almost 200 years, and the chance in this cycle is remote. In such a case the president and vice president would be chosen by the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. Of the 12 battleground states there are 61 different combinations for a tie to be achieved.
Assuming that no tie takes place, then one of the more likely outcomes may look like a repeat of 2004, where the election was decided by Ohio, or a repeat of 2000, where the election was decided by Florida. Similar to 2000, it is not inconceivable that a candidate wins the popular vote yet loses the Electoral College, yet such an outcome would likely see the roles reversed, with the Republican candidate winning the popular vote and the Democratic candidate winning the College.