Why The Election Is Not (Just) About Ohio

Ohio is only one of several states that could point towards victory in this year’s election

In the last few weeks, there has been a focus in the media on Ohio for next Tuesday’s Presidential election, with the belief being that it is the most crucial of swing states and whoever carries it will win the White House.  Not only is this a simplistic look at the race, it is also not true – the way the Electoral College map is shaping up, there is a chance that either President Obama or Governor Romney could win the election without being victorious in Ohio – something that has not happened since 1960, when Richard Nixon won the state, but President Kennedy took the White House.

Back in July, I wrote on how the race was looking state by state and at the time, it appeared that Romney’s path to success was narrow.  However, following a single poor performance in the first debate, President Obama has seen his lead evaporate and he now trails by 48% to 47% in the latest national poll – but that has limited importance.  Winning the popular vote has not always guaranteed the Presidency: more people voted for Al Gore in 2000 than George Bush (not even counting those that were rejected in the Florida recount);  the 20th and 22nd President, Grover Cleveland, gained the most votes in three straight elections, but lost the White House for four years to Benjamin Harrison in 1888; and Andrew Jackson lost in 1824, as did Samuel Tilden fifty years later, despite both having more ballots cast for them than their opponents.

The United States is not a Democracy – it was designed as a Republic where the leader is not elected by the people, rather they vote for the people who will elect the President.  Contests are a race to win a majority of the Electoral College Votes, which at the moment means 270 out of 538 – each state having 1 ECV for each Senator (total 100) and House of Representatives seat (435), plus three for the District of Columbia.  With less than a week of the campaign left, these are the states we can be (relatively) sure about:

Electoral College Votes (ECVs) in Brackets:

Romney will win: 

West Virginia (11); Kentucky (8); Indiana (11); Tennessee (11) South Carolina (9); Georgia (16); Alabama (9); Mississippi (6); Louisiana (8); Arkansas (6); Missouri (10); Texas (38); Oklahoma (7); Kansas (6); Nebraska (5)*; North Dakota (3); South Dakota (3); Montana (3); Wyoming (3); Idaho (4); Utah (6); Arizona (11); Alaska (3). 23 states – 191 ECVs

*Nebraska can split its votes between candidates, as it did in 2008 when President Obama took 1 ECV after winning in the 2nd Congressional District, but it is unlikely to happen again this year according to the latest polls, so I am giving Governor Romney all 5 ECVs

Obama will win:

Maine (4); Massachusetts (11); Connecticut (7); Rhode Island (4); Vermont (3); New Jersey (14); Delaware (3); Maryland (10); Illinois (20); New Mexico (5); California (55); Oregon (7); Washington (12); Hawaii (4); District of Columbia (3).  16 states + D.C. – 191 ECVs

Conveniently leaving both candidates needing 79 more Electoral College Votes to win the White House, with 11 more states up for grabs.  If either Governor Romney or President Obama were to lose one of these states, it would be a sign that the entire election was going away from them and could be a landslide victory for their opponent.  The most vulnerable of these “safe” states – thus the ones to look out for – are Oregon (where Obama’s lead is down to 6 points) and Arizona (Romney’s lead was down to 5.3 points in October), but as both states are further west than most of the swing states, results will already be coming in before they can provide any  indication of a massive swing in either direction.

President Obama’s Must Win Quartet

There are four states that should President Obama fail to win in November, his chances of securing a second term would be all but gone:  Pennsylvania (20), Minnesota (10), Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10).  According to the latest Real Clear Politics Average Poll – which has been the most reliable indicator for the last two elections – the President has narrow leads in all four (PA 4.6; MN 5.0; MI 3.0; WI 4.0) and is likely to win, but any shift in momentum towards Governor Romney in the final week could see him claim any, or all of these states.  Should Obama emerge victorious in this quartet, he would add 56 ECVs to his tally, giving him a total of 247, just 23 short of the 270 target, while a loss in any one of them – although it would not be fatal mathematically, would display a trend of voters moving towards Romney.  Basically – if the President does not win in Pennsylvania, it is highly unlikely he will be victorious in Florida or North Carolina.

Governor Romney’s Can’t Lose Duo

With 29 ECVs, Florida is a state that Governor Romney cannot afford to lose, as it would push President Obama’s total to 276, assuming he does not lose any of his own safe or must-win states.  Similarly, if he were to lose North Carolina (15), his path to 270 would involve having to win Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and two out of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.  Like with President Obama’s quartet, a loss in North Carolina would be indicative of a trend away from Governor Romney and would signify a likely second term for the Democrat.  The RCP Average poll currently has Romney ahead by 1.8 points in Florida and 3.8 in North Carolina and the combined 44 ECVs they have would give him a hypothetical total of 235, 35 shy of the target.

The Two Swing States They Both Want

These states can be lost by either candidate and not end their campaign to be President come January 20th, 2013, but if either of them were to take both, they would be well on course for a victory.   In 2008, Obama won Virginia (13) and Ohio (18) en route to gaining 365 ECVs in what ended up being a landslide win over Senator McCain and – while carrying them again may not take him to such a lofty total in the Electoral College this time around – it would be enough for him to secure a second term.  Success in just one of them would favour the President more than his rival, as it would take him to 260 (VA) or 265 (OH) ECVs and leave him needing one or two of the remaining four states to win re-election; while failing to take both would leave Governor Romney either 17 (by taking Ohio, but losing Virginia) or 22 votes (vice-versa) short, with only 25 left up for grabs.  If the Republican candidate did sweep Virginia and Ohio, he would still need one more of the four other states to secure a victory.  The latest RCP Average poll has Obama ahead by 2.3 points in Ohio, and Romney edging the President by 0.5 points in Virginia.

The Four Smaller States That Could Decide It

In 2000, the election was ultimately decided by Florida, 2004 it was Ohio; in 2012, New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6) could all end up being the state that determines who wins the White House.  If it comes down to the wire and the President has won his safe states plus the quartet of PA, MN, WI and MI; while Governor Romney has secured his must-win duo alongside his will-win states, then the scenarios play out as follows:

Obama wins OH, Romney VAThe President wins a second term by picking up any out of Nevada, Iowa and Colorado, while a win in New Hampshire, with Romney taking the other 3, would result in a tie of 269 ECVs each and the Republican candidate would ultimately become President, since the tie would be broken by a vote in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.  In that situation, the Senate, which the Democrats have a majority in, would decide the Vice-President and thus it could be President Romney, with VP Joe Biden.  To avoid a tie, Governor Romney would need to win all four of IA, NH, CO and NV.

Obama wins VA, Romney OHThe President would need any two of NH, IA, CO and NV; while Romney needs any three including CO for an outright win.  If the Republican won IA, NH, and NV, but lost CO, then again the candidates would be tied on 269 ECVs and the scenario listed above would play out.

Romney wins VA & OH: President Obama would need to win all four of NH, IA, CO and NV to squeak to victory by a 272-266 margin.  Taking any 1 of them would make Willard Mitt Romney the country’s first Mormon President

How the Electoral College Map would look based on current polls

The latest RCP Average polls has the races as follows: Nevada – Obama + 2.4; Colorado – Obama + 0.5; New Hampshire – Obama +1.0; Iowa – Obama +1.3

So the Presidential race is about so much more than just Ohio, with several different states having the potential to play the role of King-Maker.  More than that, the Congressional races could be almost as important – should the Republicans end up with control of both the Senate and the House, it is highly unlikely that a hypothetical President Romney would be willing to veto any legislation that crossed his desk, for fear of his own party turning on him and not even nominating him as their candidate in 2016.  Standard & Poor blamed the actions of Republicans in the House of Representatives during the debt ceiling debate, for their decision to downgrade the US debt rating last summer; if that same group have unchecked power for the next four years and could pursue the radical right economic and social agenda the Tea Party caucus has been pushing since 2010.

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