Winning Without Ohio or Florida

If there is a common wisdom regarding the 2012 Presidential election – or for that matter, the 2008, 2004, and 2000 contests – it is that the road to the White House for both candidates runs invariably through Ohio and Florida. More specifically, there seems to be a near-consensus among both liberal and conservative commentators that Mitt Romney must win both of these perennial swing states to capture the oval office, while President Obama can afford to lose one or the other, but not both.

A close analysis of the Electoral College map, as well as recent demographic and political shifts over the past decade, however, could be making this view somewhat antiquated; a development which might work in the President’s favor.

To illustrate this point, consider one of Obama’s worst-case scenarios. First, let’s assume the President loses North Carolina and Virginia, which is a distinct possibility, though polls in the latter have remained almost deadlocked for the past two months. Now imagine that Romney is able to carry Ohio and Florida, a considerably more difficult task, but well within the realm of possibility if the GOP blankets these states in ads attacking Obama’s economic record and the alleged cuts in Medicare in the Affordable Care Act.

This would give Romney a total of 266 Electoral College votes, still four shy of the 270 needed to capture the White House. To cross the threshold, the Republican would need to carry Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, or Iowa. The first of these seems unlikely as Obama has enjoyed a comfortable lead in Nevada for at least the past five months and Nate Silver’s blog calculates an 84% chance of the President winning the Silver State. Polls in Wisconsin have tightened recently, though much of this is arguably the result of Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate which still has not closed the gap between himself and Obama. This leaves Colorado and Iowa.

Since coming within one point of the President in mid-August, Romney’s support has slipped to 45.3% to Obama’s 49% in Colorado according to the polling data aggregator RealClearPolitics. Indeed, the state has become increasingly blue, having voted for the Republican candidate for president in every election since 1992 until Obama won there in the last contest. Iowa, for its part, has trended towards the President since early 2012, though the race has tightened there considerably in the last few weeks with the latest averages showing a virtual dead heat in the state.

Both states have also seen substantial growth in their Latino populations, a group which heavily favors Obama. Fully 20% of Coloradans identify as Hispanic, a fact which likely explains the state’s drift towards the Democrats during the last ten years, and Latinos are widely credited for Michael Bennet’s victory over Tea Party favorite Ken Buck in the 2010 Senate race, a year which was hardly a pleasant memory for Democrats. While still a largely white state, Iowa too has seen an 84% increase in its Latino population since 2000, a change that similarly offered a boost for Obama there in 2008.

The status of Iowa and Colorado as the new crucial swing states also has implications in the post-Citizens United world. Four of the country’s 20 largest media markets, according to Nielsen Research, are in Ohio and Florida, making campaigning in these states considerably more expensive than in smaller markets. And with the Democrats and their super-PACs trailing the Republicans in fundraising, the Obama team needs to be somewhat more judicious in where it spends its money. The good news for the President is that only the Denver-area media market ranks in the top 20 while Des Moines is number 72 and Cedar Rapids – Waterloo – Dubuque number 89.

This is not to suggest that Obama has secured either state, and it is entirely possible to imagine the President losing one or both of the races in Colorado and Iowa. What it does mean is that the electoral math for the Democrats is not the same in 2012 as it was in 2008. The same is true for the Republicans.

Nor does this mean that Ohio and Florida are not still very important states for the election in November, and neither campaign would be well advised to ignore them. This is particularly true for Romney as losing either would almost certainly cost him the White House. But it does suggest that the traditional status of Ohio and Florida as must-wins for any presidential campaign is perhaps beginning to change. Despite what most pundits would argue, there is in fact a path to victory for the President that does not include the Buckeye or Sunshine states, and the Obama campaign would be well-advised to consider any route that secures another four years.

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About Jonathan Parent

I am a PhD candidate in Political Science at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY. I have taught courses in American government and Public Law at UAlbany and Union College. I have also contributed op-ed pieces to several online blogs and newspaper publications in Schenectady, NY and Alberta, Canada. I am originally from Edmonton, Alberta and currently reside in upstate New York.
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One Response to Winning Without Ohio or Florida

  1. mvymvy says:

    Presidential elections don’t have to be this way.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in more than 3/4ths of the states that now are just ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes – 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

    Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc