Mitt Romney’s Incredibly Narrow Path To Victory

The biggest argument against Romney winning in November is the fact that there aren't many ways for him to get to those pesky 270 Electoral Votes.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes that, under current conditions, Mitt Romney’s path to victory would essentially be the electoral equivalent of threading the needle:

It’s no secret that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has a narrow path to win the presidency this fall. Nowhere is that reality more apparent than when examining the electoral map on which Romney and President Obama will battle in November.

A detailed analysis of Romney’s various paths to the 270 electoral votes he would need to claim the presidency suggests he has a ceiling of somewhere right around 290 electoral votes.

While Romney’s team would absolutely take a 290-electoral-vote victory, that means he has only 20 electoral votes to play with — a paper-thin margin for error.

(…)

In 2000, Bush won 271 electoral votes — one more than he needed to claim the presidency. In eking out that victory, Bush not only carried the South and Plains states with a near sweep but also claimed wins in swing states such as Nevada, Colorado, Missouri and the major electoral-vote prizes of Ohio and Florida.

If Romney was able to duplicate Bush’s 2000 map, he would take 285 electoral votes — thanks to redistricting gains over the past decade.

But to do so, Romney would need not only to win the five swing states mentioned above — with the exception of Missouri, all of them are considered tossups (at worst) for the president at the moment — but also hang on to states such as North Carolina and Virginia where Bush cruised 12 years ago. (Obama carried both states in 2008.)

In 2004, Bush won reelection with 286 electoral votes, losing New Hampshire from his 2000 map but adding wins in Iowa and New Mexico.

Under the 2012 map, Romney would win 292 electoral votes if he replicated the Bush 2004 victory. But New Mexico seems like a very tough place to win — not to mention the fact that he would again need to carry Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Nevada as well as North Carolina and Virginia.

This is roughly equivalent to the six states that I listed as essential to the election back in March, although I didn’t include either Nevada or Colorada at the time:

In 2008, President Obama was able to win election in part because he won in states that had been traditionally Republican such as New Hampshire, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina , as well as picking up the still-crucial swing states of Florida and Ohio. This time around, the only way the GOP can win the Presidency is by picking up a good portion of those states

The good news for Romney is that while he has a relatively low ceiling in the Electoral College, he also has, as Rick Moran points out, a high floor. It seems fairly well established that Romney is likely to hold on to the states that John McCain won in 2008, which gives him 180 Electoral Votes under the new allocation (McCain garnered 173). The one state that seems in doubt is Arizona, as I noted in two posts last week that suggested the race was close there at the moment, but just as Obama is likely to benefit from the Hispanic population in that state, Romney will likely benefit from the Mormon population in that state. Barring a real disaster, I just don’t see Arizona going blue in this election, something it hasn’t done in a Presidential election since 1996 (and then only by the narrowest of margins due in large part to Perot’s presence on the ballot, before that Arizona had not gone Democratic since 1948).

Of the remaining listed states, all of which Obama won in 2008, there are some real prospects but also several road blocks. Nevada may be a likely prospect for Romney to flip simply because of the large Mormon population in the state (11% of the population). At the same time, though, it seems unlikely that Colorado will be good territory for Romney this year. That state has been trending blue for years now and that seems unlikely to change this time around unless the state of the economy completely turns voters off to the President. North Carolina and Indiana seem likely to return to the Republican column. Thus leaving Romney having to battle it out in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, all three of which are likely to be bitterly fought from now until November 6th.

President Obama is in a far better position at the moment. Going off of his 2008 results, he could lose North Carolina, Indiana and Nevada, along with Virginia and either Florida or Ohio, and he’d still win the election. It would be a bit of an historical anomaly since it would be the first time since 1916 that a President was elected to a second term with fewer Electoral Votes than he won the first time around.1 But, a win is a win and I doubt the Obama campaign would complain.

Looking at things most generously for Romney, this is how I see the race right now, courtesy of our friends at 270toWin:

This gives Obama 293 Electoral Votes to Romney’s 245. In order to win the election, Romney would have to strike 23 Electoral votes from Obama’s column, and the most likely way to do that would be to win Virginia and Ohio, which makes the total Romney 276 Obama 262. Winning just one of those states would put Romney close, but not over the 270 hump. Although there is one interesting possibility. If Romney wins Ohio and flips Iowa, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility given the strength of the Republican Party in that state in recent years, then the total becomes Obama 269 Romney 269. And guess where that puts us? In the middle of a political circus that would make the 2000 Election seem like a tea party.

1 Franklin Roosevelt also saw his Electoral Vote hauls slip in a little in 1940 and 1944, but after winning 523 Electoral votes in 1936 there really was no where for him to go but down.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    The question is, is America ready for a soul-less patrician who has no empathy whatsoever for middle class Americans?

    This is a man who, as a member of the “job creator” class, made his $250M fortune by acquiring companies, shutting down operations and laying off American workers.

    He is in agreement with Paul Ryan that we need to begin to privatize Medicare and reduce federal spending on social and education programs, while at the same time cutting taxes, which are now at the lowest levels in the post war era, to the “job creator” class.

    Unfortunately, right now about 45% of possible voters are ready to run off the cliff with Romney and Ryan.

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Good blog post.

    Concerning the scenario set forth in your final full graf, you don’t think it’s a coincidence that Obama already has been in Ohio campaigning on college campuses, do you? That state in November will be very close. The economy will be a huge problem there for Obama, whereas Cuyahoga County will be a monumental hurdle for Romney. (Bring out ‘yer dead.) This also means that Rob Portman seriously would have to be considered for veep, along of course with Rubio. Unless Team Romney is smoking crack, which not only is possible but perhaps is likely.

  3. Idiot says:

    Well then, why bother at all? Just declare that all future presidents will be Dems and be done with it. Nothing can or will happen between now and November so the whole exercise is simply pointless….

    Good grief.

  4. Obviously this is a static analysis and nobody can predict what might happen over the next six months that could change the dynamic of the election.

    Nonetheless, it is clear that the 2012 election is going to be fought on a rather small game board and that there’s almost no room for error on Romney’s part. Obama on the other hand, as I noted, can afford to lose several of the states he won in 2008 and still be comfortable.

  5. J-Dub says:

    In a tie, doesn’t the possession arrow go to the Dems this time?

  6. Blue Shark says:

    The Electoral College has always been the strongest indicator of an Obama re-election.

    …The media and the hard-wired-for-Republican’s beltway journalists are desparate to keep the “horse-race” meme alive.

    …Most Republicans can’t stand Mitt Romney, Just think about the Rest of a non-delusional America.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    One thing that may be in Obama’s favor is that both Ohio and Florida have incredibly unpopular Republican Governors.

  8. Chris Berez says:

    If Romney wins Ohio and flips Iowa, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility given the strength of the Republican Party in that state in recent years, then the total becomes Obama 269 Romney 269.

    If this happens, it’s either shoot myself in the face or succumb to alcohol poisoning; because the prospect of living through a battle even worse than 2000 is a living hell so unimaginably terrifying that it would make both Dante and Sartre shit their pants.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    If Romney wins Ohio and flips Iowa, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility given the strength of the Republican Party in that state in recent years, then the total becomes Obama 269 Romney 269.

    I think we all look forward to Justice Antonin ‘Broccoli’ Scalia deciding this election too.

  10. Read your Constitution, specifically the 12th and 20th Amendments. In the event nobody has an EC majority Congress decides

  11. Carson says:

    Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania: at least two of these states will go Republican.

  12. It won’t be Illinois or Pennsylvania so I’m not sure what you’re smoking that would lead you to put those on the list.

    Virginia and Ohio will be battlegrounds for sure

  13. al-Ameda says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I know, but I couldn’t resist the Supreme Court reference.

    What’s really galling to me is that a state like Iowa (with it’s idiotic caucus system) could end up causing the deadlock. At least Florida is a worthy trouble maker.

  14. Rick Almeida says:

    @al-Ameda:

    What’s really galling to me is that a state like Iowa (with it’s idiotic caucus system) could end up causing the deadlock.

    You know that the caucuses are only used to select candidates, right? Like 47 other states (excepting Maine and Nebraska), Iowa’s electoral college votes are awarded as a unit to the plurality winner of the state.

  15. MBunge says:

    @Idiot: “Well then, why bother at all? Just declare that all future presidents will be Dems and be done with it.”

    What’s important about this subject is that conservative and GOP political strategy and tactics over the last few decades are often widely praised and, while public disdained, enviously regarded by many liberals and Democrats. However, this is an example of the downside to that approach. Romney is about an inoffensive a candidate as Republicans could offer up at this time and it is inconceivable that even he could be competitive in state after state that has been driven firmly into the hands of the Democratic Party.

    Mike

  16. al-Ameda says:

    @Rick Almeida: Yes Rick, I know that. I was just riffing on Iowa’s unwarranted importance in the primary season. But thanks for reminding me that Iowans actually vote in the presidential election.

  17. Jr says:

    The map has always been in BO’s favor, even back in September when he was at his lowest point things were still in his favor.

    Things can change, but the “close” election that the media has portrayed is looking like 2008 all over again, give or take a few electoral votes.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    If I’m Obama I worry about the economy (including Europe’s) gas prices, and some out-of-left-field bullshit.

    If I’m Romney I worry about the fact that nobody likes me and the better they get to know me, the less they like me.

  19. Idiot says:

    Just to show how pointless this thread and it’s premise is, I searched for the May 1980 polling data to see where Carter was in contrast to Reagan:

    http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50E1EFD395F12728DDDA90A94DD405B8084F1D3
    Campaign Report; Gallup Poll Shows Carter Leads Reagan, 49 to 41%

    And, yes, for those who care Obama was ahead of McCain at this point in process. Perot also managed to poll ahead of GHWB and Clinton in June 1992:
    http://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/11/us/the-1992-campaign-on-the-trail-poll-gives-perot-a-clear-lead.html?src=pm

    I remember earlier this year when the NC governor wanted to suspend elections and later said it was joke. I had no idea that applied to this blog as well.

  20. al-Ameda says:

    @Idiot:

    I remember earlier this year when the NC governor wanted to suspend elections and later said it was joke. I had no idea that applied to this blog as well.

    Nobody is saying that – it’s just a quick look at an electoral possibility, and not a call to suspend elections and confiscate our guns.

  21. anjin-san says:

    where Carter was in contrast to Reagan:

    Might mean something if Obama was an obviously bad President like Carter was. Outside of the 27%, no one really thinks that. Might mean something if Romney was one tenth the man Reagan was. He’s not.

  22. mantis says:

    Shorter Idiot: If you predict an election outcome, you advocate abolishing elections.

  23. superdestroyer says:

    I guess wonk wannabes have to find a way to generate interested in an election that is basically over. Notice how no one is discussing the possibility that Romney can win any state that was carried by Kerry in 2004.

    My guess is that the wonk wannabes will be so bored with the election by August that they will regress back to writing about Sarah Palin or MIchelle Bachmann instead of writing about the coming rout.

    Of course, what none of the wonk wannabes or even mainstream writers will ever acknowledge is that the U.S. has become a one party state at the national level and that the real legacy of GW Bush is in being the last Republican President.

    The really humorous aspects of the elections is that how all of the progressives will be writing about how great Obama is in 2012 but will be writing about how the Obama Administration was held back by the Bush Recession for the eight years that President Obama was in office.

    The progressives have the best of both worlds politically. Democrats can take credit for anything that is positive but blame GW Bush for everything that is bad.

  24. Hey Norm says:

    SD…
    I’m dying of curiosity…in your mind;
    What have Democrats blamed Bush for that he didn’t earn the blame for?
    What have Democrats taken credit for that they didn’t deserve credit for?

  25. al-Ameda says:

    @superdestroyer:

    The progressives have the best of both worlds politically. Democrats can take credit for anything that is positive but blame GW Bush for everything that is bad.

    So what, this is as it should be. Ask yourself this: At what point during the Great Depression did Americans stop blaming Hoover and start blaming Roosevelt?

  26. Obama’s path is equally narrow, of course. My assumption going in is that Romney holds all the McCain states, but adds Nevada, Indiana, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia. I don’t actually think VA will be that close — my guess is that Romney takes it by 4-6 points. McDonnell is popular and much smarter than Kasich or Walker, so the VA GOP has not blown up the brand as badly as had the local party in some other states… though it was a close call here in VA.

    The election, as far as I can tell, is going to come down to Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama sweeps those, he wins, Romney wins either, he wins.

  27. Cycloptichorn says:

    @Bernard Finel:

    Why do you think Romney is going to win NV? He’s been trailing in every single poll taken there for the last year.

    The fact of the matter is that Romney basically needs to sweep every single state that’s a toss-up in order to win. That’s going to be tough to do when you have the liabilities he has.

  28. mantis says:

    My assumption going in is that Romney holds all the McCain states, but adds Nevada, Indiana, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia.

    Why are you assuming Romney will pick up those states?

    In 2008, Obama won Nevada 55 – 43%. He won Iowa 54 – 44%. Virginia 53 – 46%

    Florida, Iowa, and North Carolina were all within a 3% margin, so those are clearly tossups this time around. The other three? Those are some big flips. On what basis do you assume they will be flipped by Romney?

  29. merl says:

    @al-Ameda: Lucky for us, the more Willard talks the more he is hated.

  30. superdestroyer says:

    @Hey Norm:

    When the Obama Administraiton began, there were many proposals that would have slowed down private sector job growth to include card check, cap-and-trade, and ACA. Now 3.5 years into the Obama Administration, 50% of the recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. In addition, the percentage of adult males that are in the work force (either employed or looking for work) is the lowest since such numbers were compiled. President Obama’a administration has created such doubt and uncertainty in the private sector that job creation is anemic. Yet, the Obama Administration refuses to take ownership of any economic issues and keeps blaming everything of the Bush Administration.l

    Look at how Bush II is blamed for a recession that occurred in the first year of his administration while President Obama will probably never be blamed for any economic issue for the entire 8 years that he is in office.

  31. jamie says:

    Not going to be close as people think..people understand that the Reps..crashed the economy with the bush policies ,which romney wants us to go back to..romney is a puppet for the christian right ..who are getting more and more nutty..no way romney wins..hell the GOP does not like him..do the math..blacks young people..latinos..jews..women..gay population..obama leads in voting with all these groups

  32. CaveatCalamitus says:

    The average president that gets re-elected was at 55% at this point in their term. G.W. Bush was the lowest to succeed, with a 49% approval-45% disapproval at this point. Obama is at about 47 approval, 47% disapproval according to RealClearPolitics, so if he does happen to win, it will set a new low. The Republicans, however, have yet to start the negative ad blitzkrieg which is certainly going to drive Obama’s numbers down, nor have they really started to market Romney, which will drive the former Governor’s numbers up somewhat. The electoral college largely follows the popular vote. While Ohio, Florida and the other battleground states are close now, they probably won’t be in November. Obama could still eke out a win because he’s certainly the more personable candidate – and that does count to the general public – but historical precedent points to a Romney victory. (And despite the posturing, the the Afghan trip on Osama’s death anniversary shows the Democratic strategists know how bad their situation is.)