Michael Tomasky seems to think so.
There’s a secret lurking behind everything you’re reading about the upcoming election, a secret that all political insiders know—or should—but few are talking about, most likely because it takes the drama out of the whole business. The secret is the electoral college, and the fact is that the more you look at it, the more you come to conclude that Mitt Romney has to draw an inside straight like you’ve never ever seen in a movie to win this thing. This is especially true now that it seems as if Pennsylvania isn’t really up for grabs. Romney’s paths to 270 are few.
Tomasky goes on to describe the polling in Pennsylvania, which due to its demographics (meaning a large share of older, white voters) should be in play. And yet polls show Obama pulling away, and that state’s ugly voter ID law, meant to level the playing field for the GOP by making perhaps a million Democrats ineligible to vote, could yet be struck down.
I disagree with Tomasky’s PA analysis – I don’t think it has ever been in play for Republicans, demographics aside – but the rest of what he writes bears discussing, including this:
So if Pennsylvania is off the boards, let’s look around. Imagine it’s election night, say 10:45 east coast time. Four eastern states haven’t been called yet: Ohio (18), Virginia (13), North Carolina (15), and Florida (29). Also, in some Western states, the polls haven’t closed, or the races are too tight to project just yet—Colorado and Nevada, say. Arizona has just been called for Romney. At this point, Romney actually leads, 188 to 182. In this scenario I’m assuming Obama has won Iowa (6), which is admittedly close but where his lead has been stable at three or four points, and New Hampshire (4), where Obama has a similar fairly small but stable lead, and Michigan (16), where the gap appears to be opening up a little.
So it’s a six-vote Romney edge. They’re feeling great up in Boston. Especially with the big Eastern four still up in the air. Right?
Not really. Let’s look at these West Coast states. Even though they’re still voting in California, obviously Obama is going to win it (55). And equally obviously, he’s going to win Washington (12) and Oregon (7), where neither side even bothered to spend a dime. Throw in Hawaii (4). Those 78 votes haul Obama up to 260. That’s something to keep in mind for election night: Whatever Obama’s number is at 10 pm Eastern, add those 78 EV’s—they’re a mortal lock, and a hefty insurance policy. If he wins Nevada (6) and Colorado (9), it’s over.
In other words, Obama can lose the big Eastern four—Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida: all of ’em!—and still be reelected.
Read the whole thing here.
It’s true that Obama’s probability of getting a least 270 Electoral votes really hasn’t changed all that much in three years. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, would have to run the table of states that tilted to Obama in 2008 in order to win. And for Romney, his winning scenario almost has to include Ohio, which is why most pundits believe Rob Portman is a lock for Mitt’s VP pick.
It’s not nice to say this stuff out loud, (or write it) but as a technical matter, it is true, albeit with one huge caveat: turnout. In short, if voters who supported Obama in four categories: young voters, black voters, Hispanics and single white women sharply reduce their level of turnout this year, either due to apathy, or because they are blocked by voter ID laws or other voter suppression tactics by the GOP, which has every incentive to actively pursue such efforts, Obama could very well lose.
As with every election, the game will be turnout. Democrats need it to be high the way it tends to be in presidential elections (even if slightly down as with all re-elects.) Republicans need it to be high in the way it is in midterms, like 2010, when voter enthusiasm is high mostly among older, white Americans, and low among everyone else.
Still, statistics do matter, and probabilities are what they are.
You can follow Nate Silver’s forecasts here. Right now it’s looking good for Obama by the numbers, which are heavily weighted to polls.
And keep in mind as you look at the polls, that the daily pollers, Gallup and Rasmussen, which have a slight and definitive GOP lean, respectively, tend to pull the polling averages toward Romney, meaning that Mitt’s averages may be even worse than the seem.
Again, anything could happen in the next 90 plus days, and after the GOP convention, Romney will probably, if briefly, pull even or ahead of Obama in the national polling, as usually happens after party conventions. But national polls don’t decide presidential elections. Fifty statewide elections do. And barring a major flameout by the Obama campaign, or a broad failure of his base to turn up at the polls, it’s likely that Obama will still be president on inauguration day, 2013. (Another reason: unseating a sitting president is really hard. They have a 50 state infrastructure available to them, the challenger has to build both that and positive name ID.)
The real question is whether the smart people in Republican politics are looking at the election this way too, whatever they say in public, and what they decide to do about it if they are: double down on Romney (and voter suppression, challenges and the like) to try and get him over the finish line, or try to salvage him as best they can to prevent the rot from moving down-ticket.