Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Big 2012 Electoral Map - The Race Tightens Again, Obama Plays Dirty

2012 Presidential Update
Days Until the Election: 115
Projected Popular Vote Total: Obama +1.0% (Obama down 2.2% from 2 weeks ago)
Projected Electoral Vote Total: Obama 332, Romney 206 (unchanged from 2 weeks ago)

Mitt Romney has made inroads on President Obama's lead over the past two weeks as the economic news has largely been depressing and the President's insistence on trying to make the campaign about Romney's role at Bain Capital (more on that later) appears to be falling flat, at least to this point.

What Romney has not yet been able to do, at least on my map, is swing the electoral map in a significant way.  I have yet to have a single map that has Romney leading in the electoral college and despite picking up 2.2% in the national polls over the past two weeks, Mitt has not gained a single state.

What he has accomplished is to broaden and tighten the battlefield.  There are 95 electoral votes that currently sit in the "Lean Obama" category and all of them are within 2.8% in my projection.  This means that if Mitt makes the kind of inroads over the next 2 weeks that he has over the past two weeks, he is likely to pick up a fair chunk of them.

If we were to assume that movements in the national polls happen evenly across the country (not necessarily true, but a reasonable proxy), we see a couple of things.  First of all, at a dead even popular vote race, Romney would pick up between 35 and 48 electoral votes (he would pick up Florida and Iowa, Virginia would be a dead heat.)  This would put his prospective total at between 241 and 254 electoral votes, still shy of the 270 needed to win (hence my earlier post about the structural electoral college advantage that President Obama owns), but well within striking distance.  If Romney were to reverse the national polls to a 1% lead for himself, he adds Michigan and Ohio (and locks in Virginia), giving himself 288 electoral votes and putting him over the top.  So, Obama's structural advantage really only matters at the margins, that is, if the national race is within 1 point.

In my eyes, given this map, Romney would be wise to limit the electoral field that he fights hard for.  Pennsylvania is an appealing target with its 20 electoral votes and Wisconsin is an appealing target after the recent GOP recall victory there, but they are distractions.  John McCain wasted time and resources in a Pennsylvania fight he couldn't win.  Romney should realize that PA and WI matter only if the race isn't close, which is to say that they don't really matter at all.  Romney should focus on shoring up his two lean states, with Missouri unlikely to be heavily contested in the end but North Carolina likely to be a battleground and focus the bulk of his resources on the Lean Obama states, especially the ones with the big prizes like Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia.  Just those 4 would give him 282 electoral votes and the Presidency.

The Road to the Presidency
There will be possibly as much as $2 billion spent on this Presidential campaign between now and November between the massive war chests that both candidates will amass and the variety of Super PAC's and interest groups that will run independent ads.  The airways will be flooded between now and November, particularly if you happen to live in a TV market that ties to a swing state.

There will be ebbs and flows to the standing of the race and the polling based on the ads, on the news cycle, the state of the economy and gaffes that happen.  But in my mind, there are 7 events that happen before election day that have the possibility of swinging the race in a meaningful fashion.

The first is when Mitt Romney announces his running mate.  Sources have reported that he has narrowed his list to 4: Senator Rob Portman (OH), Representative Paul Ryan (Wisconsin), Former Governor Tim Pawlenty (Minnesota) and Governor Bobby Jindal (Louisiana).  Other reports include a larger field that includes fringe contenders such as Senator Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), Governor Susana Martinez (New Mexico), Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) or even former Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice.  Or, Romney could do what McCain did in 2008 and make a late pick that wasn't on anyone's short list.  Once Romney decides who he is running with, he has to decide when to announce the pick.  He could announce it as early as next week or wait until right before the convention.  Red State speculated on Friday that Romney might announce a pick of Rob Portman as soon as Monday, based on a series of closed door meetings that reportedly took place between Romney and Portman over the past week. 

Vice Presidential picks are a lot of fun and tend to generate buzz, but more often than not have little impact on the race.  George H.W. Bush is largely considered to have made a poor pick in selecting Dan Quayle, but it didn't stop him from trouncing Michael Dukakis in 1988.  Bob Dole was considered to have made a great pick in selecting Jack Kemp in 1996, but it didn't help Dole any.  Even John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin in 2008 doesn't appear to have cost him the Presidency - he was behind at the time of the pick and seems highly likely to have lost when the economy collapsed regardless of who his running mate was.  But the pick will be revealing as it is a critical insight into the decision-making of a would-be President.

The conventions hold a high degree of importance.  The high level of success of the Democratic convention in 1992 and the apparent bitterness at the Republican convention that year helped solidify Bill Clinton's victory.  The bland, boring and seemingly contrived Democratic convention in 2004 may have been the missed opportunity that cost John Kerry the White House and re-elected President George W. Bush.  So the two weeks where the conventions take place back-to-back and the polling the second week in September after both are concluded will be highly instructive.

The debates are perhaps the most critical as they are not only closest to the election, but will be widely watched and talked about.  Ronald Reagan obliterated Jimmy Carter in 1980 which helped moved the race from a pick 'em race to a very strong win for Reagan.  Al Gore's struggle to find the right debate approach may have cost him those very few votes at the margin that would have made him victorious in 2000.  The Vice-Presidential debates tend to be less important as they tend to be less-watched and more cordial affairs.  But the three Presidential debates have the potential to be the three biggest game-changers in the race.

Here is the calendar of events.  I'm looking forward to learning Romney's pick for Veep.

Mitt Romney Chooses His Running Mate - Sometime between now and August 26th
Republican National Convention (Tampa, Florida) - August 27th through August 30th
Democratic National Convention (Charlotte, North Carolina) - September 3rd through September 6th
First Presidential Debate (Denver, Colorado) - October 3rd
Vice-Presidential Debate (Danville, Kentucky) - October 11th
Second Presidential Debate (Hempstead, New York) - October 16th
Final Presidential Debate (Boca Raton, Florida) - October 22nd
Election Day- November 6th

Dirty, Low Down Politics
I like President Obama as a person.  I like some, but not all of what he has done in office.  And I had hope, after all his grandiose rhetoric from 2004 through 2008 that he might be a different kind of animal when it comes to politics.  President Obama should be running on his record.  And it is totally appropriate for him to strike contrast with Mitt Romney on issues of policy, be it tax policy, social policy or foreign policy.  In my mind, it is even fair game to challenge Romney's credentials and certainly his record.

But the President and his team's vicious attacks on Mitt Romney over Bain Capital are wrong.  I was in agreement with former President Clinton and Newark Mayor Cory Booker when they said he should stop going after private equity a few months ago.  Now the Obama campaign has kicked it into high gear, going so far as to accuse Mitt Romney of committing a felony by continuing to manage Bain Capital while he was chairing the Olympic Committee.  This is a serious allegation and one for which they lack the facts.  Furthermore, it is a line of attack not worthy of the Presidency.

The President would be well-advised to drop the dirty politics and focus on his message and a contrast on the issues.  Independents aren't going to vote for or against Romney because of his involvement with a private equity firm, which is a legitimate part of our system of capitalism.  They will vote for or against him because of President Obama's job performance and the two candidates' positions on the issues.  The President should talk about that and not play into the stereotype of a Chicago politician.

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