If Romney is really ahead – or even level – nationally, then he should also eke out the narrowest of wins in Ohio
By Pat Murphy: As the American presidential election heads to the finish line, it’s time to take stock. And that stocktaking should include a retrospective on one’s own prognostications.
This column has directly addressed the election eight times over the past year, emphasising three recurring themes.
First, despite being mistrusted by the conservative base of his party, Mitt Romney would win the Republican nomination. While the search for a credible option would produce boomlets for various alternatives, Romney would eventually grind it out.
Second, Romney would provide President Barack Obama with a tough general election challenge – much tougher, in fact, than the conventional wisdom presumed. Despite his alleged propensity for gaffes, Romney is clearly smart and focused. And, more important, Obama’s track record is hardly that of an electoral giant. Even with the benefit of 2008’s perfect political storm, his final margin of just over seven percentage points fell well short of landslide territory.
But third, Obama had a potentially decisive advantage. American presidents, even relatively weak ones like George W. Bush, tend to get re-elected.
While the first two worked out, what about the third? Does Obama still have that ultimate edge?
At the time of writing, Romney leads in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average of the national polls. But it’s the slightest of margins – a mere eyelash.
And, of course, presidential elections aren’t decided by the national popular vote, but rather by the state-by-state accumulation of at least 270 votes in the electoral college. There, Obama still seems to have a tenuous advantage.
So we could be looking at a reverse of 2000, with the Republican this time winning the popular vote while losing the electoral college and the presidency. No doubt, Al Gore would consider this to be bitter-sweet justice.
Should that happen, it’ll be the fifth time in American history. Or perhaps the sixth. In a recent column on the peculiarities of voting in 1960 Alabama, Sean Trende made a plausible case that the methodology for allocating the state’s results may have skewed the historical record. And Richard Nixon, not John F. Kennedy, may have won the 1960 popular vote – albeit not the electoral college.
To prevail on November 6, Romney needs to take back a slew of normally Republican states that went missing four years ago. Some of these, like Indiana and North Carolina, are straightforward. If he doesn’t win them, he’s toast.
But the straightforward ones won’t be enough.
Personally, I’ll be watching four states: Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Ohio. If Romney doesn’t win all four, it’s difficult to see him threading his way to the magic 270. And if he does win them, he’ll almost certainly become president.
At first glance, it’s a tall order. But, as all four states have moved Romney’s way over the past month, it just might be doable.
Begin with Florida. Currently, the RCP polling average gives Romney a narrow lead there. Even Nate Silver, political guru for the liberal New York Times, recently expressed the view that he’ll pull it off.
As for Virginia and Colorado, the RCP average shows them virtually tied. But both states have a Republican history. Prior to 2008, Virginia went Republican in the 10 prior presidential elections stretching back to 1968. And with the single exception of 1992, so too did Colorado.
All of which brings us to Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying it. Neither has any Democrat since 1960.
This year, Obama has consistently led in Ohio. However, the race has apparently tightened in recent weeks, so much so that the RCP polling average now has Obama’s lead down to a little over two percentage points.
And there’s another wrinkle. Specifically, it’s the divergence between national and state polls.
Over the last five presidential elections, the Republican candidate has consistently done better in Ohio than he’s done nationally. Not by a lot, but still always better. On average, the Ohio Republican premium has been just under a percentage point.
So if Romney is really ahead – or even level – nationally, then he should also eke out the narrowest of wins in Ohio. Otherwise, the recent historical pattern would be broken.
Stock up on refreshments. November 6 might be a very long evening.
Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy worked in the Canadian financial services industry for over 30 years. Originally from Ireland, he has a degree in history and economics.