Commentary Magazine


Topic: Electoral College

Making D.C. a State

There was a senate hearing last month on a bill that would make the District of Columbia a state. Only two senators bothered to show up, a good indication of how far this bill is likely to go. Washington is an overwhelmingly Democratic city and Republicans are not going to vote to establish two permanently Democratic seats in the Senate.

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There was a senate hearing last month on a bill that would make the District of Columbia a state. Only two senators bothered to show up, a good indication of how far this bill is likely to go. Washington is an overwhelmingly Democratic city and Republicans are not going to vote to establish two permanently Democratic seats in the Senate.

The problem is that the 646,000 residents of D.C. have no representation in Congress. They have a delegate in the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton, but she cannot vote. That’s not fair. But making D.C. a state would not be fair either. D.C. is not a state, it’s a city, and a quintessential company town at that, existing of, by, and for the federal government. Why should Washington have two senators all its own when every other city in the country, including the 22 that are larger than Washington, has to share its senators with an entire, and often very diverse state? Over-representation is not the solution to under-representation.

One solution would be “retrocession,” returning all but the ceremonial heart of the city to the state of Maryland. The Virginia portion of the District (where Arlington and the Pentagon are located) was returned to that state in 1846.

A better solution would be a constitutional amendment that would repeal the 23rd Amendment that, in 1961, gave the District three electors in presidential elections.  Then it would say something like, “For purposes of federal elections only, the citizens of the district constituting the seat of government of the United States shall be regarded as being citizens of the state that ceded the land constituting the district.”

That would give Washingtonians the same representation in Congress that all other citizens have. It would also reduce the number of presidential electoral votes to 535 from 538, making, at least in a two-person race, a tie vote highly unlikely. A tie vote in the Electoral College sends the matter to the House, where, under Article II, Section 1, every state would have one vote. That would give, say, South Dakota, as big a voice in electing a president as California. How’s that for unfair?

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The Sore Loser Electoral College Plan

Could a change in the way states allocate their votes in the Electoral College have changed the outcome of the 2012 presidential election? The answer to that question is generating outrage among Democrats over schemes that are currently under consideration in Virginia and some other states. That’s because had every state in the union discarded the winner-take-all rule currently used in all but two and instead employed one in which each Congressional district would be an individual contest, Mitt Romney might have earned a slim victory despite losing the popular vote.

Nebraska and Maine currently divide their votes in this manner giving both major parties a chance to win individual districts. That is each state’s prerogative since there is nothing in the Constitution saying that the winner-take-all rule is sacred. But in 2012, when President Obama won a narrow majority in the popular vote but a decisive victory in the Electoral College, allowing such splits would have created an anomalous outcome since the president’s win was predicated on his sweep of virtually every closely-fought battleground state in which he ran up big vote totals in urban areas while losing rural counties. That’s leading Democrats to call the plan to change the system in Virginia, which Obama won by a razor-thin margin, a “sore loser” scheme that is a GOP effort to subvert democracy.

Even though Republicans in some states have been talking about this issue for years, coming on the heels of their 2012 loss, it’s hard to argue that the sore loser tag doesn’t apply. Indeed, though their plan has its virtues, the idea of changing the rules in order to skew the results a bit more in their favor instead of working on issues and producing candidates that will win on their own merits sounds like exactly the sort of foolish thing Republicans ought to be avoiding as they ponder how to do better in 2016. Nevertheless, though the plan creates some bad optics for the GOP, even its Democratic critics should admit that it is neither crazy nor essentially undemocratic.

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Could a change in the way states allocate their votes in the Electoral College have changed the outcome of the 2012 presidential election? The answer to that question is generating outrage among Democrats over schemes that are currently under consideration in Virginia and some other states. That’s because had every state in the union discarded the winner-take-all rule currently used in all but two and instead employed one in which each Congressional district would be an individual contest, Mitt Romney might have earned a slim victory despite losing the popular vote.

Nebraska and Maine currently divide their votes in this manner giving both major parties a chance to win individual districts. That is each state’s prerogative since there is nothing in the Constitution saying that the winner-take-all rule is sacred. But in 2012, when President Obama won a narrow majority in the popular vote but a decisive victory in the Electoral College, allowing such splits would have created an anomalous outcome since the president’s win was predicated on his sweep of virtually every closely-fought battleground state in which he ran up big vote totals in urban areas while losing rural counties. That’s leading Democrats to call the plan to change the system in Virginia, which Obama won by a razor-thin margin, a “sore loser” scheme that is a GOP effort to subvert democracy.

Even though Republicans in some states have been talking about this issue for years, coming on the heels of their 2012 loss, it’s hard to argue that the sore loser tag doesn’t apply. Indeed, though their plan has its virtues, the idea of changing the rules in order to skew the results a bit more in their favor instead of working on issues and producing candidates that will win on their own merits sounds like exactly the sort of foolish thing Republicans ought to be avoiding as they ponder how to do better in 2016. Nevertheless, though the plan creates some bad optics for the GOP, even its Democratic critics should admit that it is neither crazy nor essentially undemocratic.

The Electoral College already gives an unfair advantage to small states that are always overestimated in Congress since each gets at least one member of the House and two in the Senate (the number of Electoral College votes each state gets is determined by their total of members in the House and Senate). But though the College rarely produces a result at variance with the national popular vote (as it did in 1876 and more recently in the Bush-Gore fiasco in 2000) it does tend to distort most results as it did again in 2012 when it gave Obama a much bigger win than his share of the popular vote would have dictated (332-206 in the College while only 51-47 in the popular). In that sense, opposition to the GOP scheme exposes many Democrats to the charge of hypocrisy since they spent most of the last year carrying on about any possible threat to the one-person, one-vote rule.

Since all Congressional districts are supposed to have approximately the same populations the new system if applied nationwide ought to allow the Electoral College to more closely mirror the popular vote around the country.

Changing the system to allow the votes of more Americans to count in the Electoral College is a move toward more democracy not less. It would also force the parties to abandon a practice of active campaigning only in swing states and force them to fight and to spend money everywhere. That means Democrats would be encouraged to compete in red states in the South and Middle West while Republicans would no longer ignore large blue states like New York and California.

But when applied to some individual states, there’s no question that it would help the GOP. President Obama’s ability to run the table in swing states was the function of his big wins in cities while losing rural districts. Romney won seven of the 11 Congressional Districts in Virginia and 11 of the 16 districts in Ohio while both states and the election.

In our current political environment in which Democrats have a stranglehold on large states such as California, New York and Illinois, the winner-take-all rule gives them a big advantage. It is true that the same change would give them a share of a large red state like Texas that they wouldn’t currently get but they would certainly be the losers in the exchange.

Assuming that elections in the future will be dictated by the politics of our present day is always a mistake. So it would be a mistake for either party to decide its position on the future of the Electoral College based on past votes. In particular, Republicans might want to think about the possible perils of changing the system before 2016 when it is entirely possible that they will be able to nominate a candidate who might win the swing states that Romney lost. Democrats may assume that demography will dictate that they will never again lose states like Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania or Ohio but the GOP should think twice about taking votes that a candidate like Marco Rubio or Chris Christie might win and giving them to the Democrats.

In principle, there is nothing undemocratic about allocating Electoral College votes by district rather than by states. And Democrats who never complained about Nebraska or Maine having such a system are in no position to claim it is wrong for Virginia to adopt it. But since it might have prevented Obama’s re-election in a way that most Americans would have thought unfair, Republicans should not allow themselves to be seen as working to game the system in such a way as to thwart the will of the majority. If Republicans want to eliminate the unfairness baked into the Electoral College system, they can advocate scrapping it altogether. Anything short of that is not going to do them or the country a bit of good in the long run.

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Tracking Polls Say Election No Sure Thing

To listen to the Obama campaign and many liberal pundits the last few days, the presidential election is a foregone conclusion and the president is a sure bet to be re-elected. But even though there’s no question the Democrats gained ground over the last week, the latest national tracking polls tell a different story. The president is ahead in none of the four most recent national tracking polls. Mitt Romney has a slender one-percentage point lead in both the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls taken over the last few days, while he is tied with the president in the CNN/Opinion Research and the Monmouth/SurveyUSA/Braun poll. Taken together, and even if one is inclined to believe one more than another, the quartet of surveys illustrates that the race remains very close with either candidate in position to win.

The polls, which continue to show Romney leading among independents by a large margin, also demonstrate that the key to victory tomorrow will be turnout. Romney continues to do better among likely voters than among all those registered, something that will require Democrats to get all of their supporters out to vote. But if Republican enthusiasm continues to run high, it will be difficult for Democrats to replicate the 2008 electorate, in which they had a huge partisan identification advantage. These national numbers may not translate into an edge for Romney in individual battleground states like Ohio. That means we are looking at a possible replay of 2000, when the winner of the popular vote did not win the Electoral College. Yet Romney’s camp has to believe that if they wind up with more votes overall, that is bound to translate into some upsets in swing states where most of the generally less scientific statewide polls continue to show Obama leading. That may not be how things play out, but these national numbers have to sow some doubts in the minds of Democratic strategists who know the odds of the loser of the popular vote getting 270 electoral votes is still a long shot.

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To listen to the Obama campaign and many liberal pundits the last few days, the presidential election is a foregone conclusion and the president is a sure bet to be re-elected. But even though there’s no question the Democrats gained ground over the last week, the latest national tracking polls tell a different story. The president is ahead in none of the four most recent national tracking polls. Mitt Romney has a slender one-percentage point lead in both the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls taken over the last few days, while he is tied with the president in the CNN/Opinion Research and the Monmouth/SurveyUSA/Braun poll. Taken together, and even if one is inclined to believe one more than another, the quartet of surveys illustrates that the race remains very close with either candidate in position to win.

The polls, which continue to show Romney leading among independents by a large margin, also demonstrate that the key to victory tomorrow will be turnout. Romney continues to do better among likely voters than among all those registered, something that will require Democrats to get all of their supporters out to vote. But if Republican enthusiasm continues to run high, it will be difficult for Democrats to replicate the 2008 electorate, in which they had a huge partisan identification advantage. These national numbers may not translate into an edge for Romney in individual battleground states like Ohio. That means we are looking at a possible replay of 2000, when the winner of the popular vote did not win the Electoral College. Yet Romney’s camp has to believe that if they wind up with more votes overall, that is bound to translate into some upsets in swing states where most of the generally less scientific statewide polls continue to show Obama leading. That may not be how things play out, but these national numbers have to sow some doubts in the minds of Democratic strategists who know the odds of the loser of the popular vote getting 270 electoral votes is still a long shot.

Nevertheless, a popular vote victory is no consolation prize in a presidential election. The only thing that counts is getting to 270 and if, despite a virtual tie in the national totals, Obama manages to hold onto leads in Ohio and the other swing states, these numbers won’t matter much. Even more important, if Obama can manage to win Virginia — a state where the majority of polls still give him an advantage, it won’t matter much how Romney does in the northern battlegrounds.

Throughout the last few weeks, conservatives have disputed the validity of polls that were based on samples that showed far more Democrats voting this year than Republicans, as was the case in 2008. But that argument is about to be resolved. If our expectations–that the 2012 electorate is going to be nothing like the hope and change wave that swept Barack Obama into the White House–turn out to be based on a false assumption, then most of the pollsters who produced these surveys can take a bow. If not, this may be as close to a rerun of the 1948 “Dewey Defeats Truman” embarrassment for pollsters as any of us have lived to see.

These final numbers make clear that after months of campaigning, and probably more than a billion dollars spent by both sides in the contest, neither candidate has any kind of real edge in the national vote. Last week, New York Times blogger Nate Silver believed President Obama had the equivalent of a three-point lead in a football game with three minutes to play. But it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we’re heading into the final moments of this presidential contest with the score probably tied. What we don’t know is which team has the ball and how close they are to the other team’s goal line. We’ll find out tomorrow night.

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Expecting the Electorally Unexpected

Throughout the Republican primary season, the favorite fallback story angle for pundits was one that hyped the possibility of a deadlock that would lead to an open or contested GOP convention. That was always highly unlikely, and in the end it didn’t come close to happening. Mitt Romney wound up sweeping the field and the Tampa convention was the usual boring political infomercial, rather than one that harkened back to the colorful and unpredictable political conclaves that were par for the course in an earlier era of American history. The yearning for this anomaly said more about the desire of the media for something interesting to cover than anything else, but it must be admitted that it was always a possibility, albeit one that had very little chance of coming to pass. Several months later, the media has a new meme along the same lines: the possibility that one candidate will win the popular vote while losing the Electoral College. This, too, is unlikely. But given both recent history and the way some of the polls are looking, this one is a bit more difficult to dismiss.

As much as it is difficult to understand what exactly the myriad of polls are telling us about the presidential race, there does appear to be a difference between the way President Obama’s standing in the national polls has declined and his ability to remain competitive if not ahead in many of the key swing states. If this continued, it could mean that Mitt Romney would win the popular vote but still lose the Electoral College as the president won razor-thin majorities in a few battleground states such as Ohio, Iowa and Colorado. If this happened, Democrats who cried bloody murder in 2000 when George W. Bush found a similar path to the presidency would enjoy the turnabout and Republicans who defended the arcane system would suddenly discover the necessity of its abolition. But before we start preparing ourselves for another Bush v. Gore Armageddon, it’s important to point out that while it is possible, it’s probably not going to happen.

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Throughout the Republican primary season, the favorite fallback story angle for pundits was one that hyped the possibility of a deadlock that would lead to an open or contested GOP convention. That was always highly unlikely, and in the end it didn’t come close to happening. Mitt Romney wound up sweeping the field and the Tampa convention was the usual boring political infomercial, rather than one that harkened back to the colorful and unpredictable political conclaves that were par for the course in an earlier era of American history. The yearning for this anomaly said more about the desire of the media for something interesting to cover than anything else, but it must be admitted that it was always a possibility, albeit one that had very little chance of coming to pass. Several months later, the media has a new meme along the same lines: the possibility that one candidate will win the popular vote while losing the Electoral College. This, too, is unlikely. But given both recent history and the way some of the polls are looking, this one is a bit more difficult to dismiss.

As much as it is difficult to understand what exactly the myriad of polls are telling us about the presidential race, there does appear to be a difference between the way President Obama’s standing in the national polls has declined and his ability to remain competitive if not ahead in many of the key swing states. If this continued, it could mean that Mitt Romney would win the popular vote but still lose the Electoral College as the president won razor-thin majorities in a few battleground states such as Ohio, Iowa and Colorado. If this happened, Democrats who cried bloody murder in 2000 when George W. Bush found a similar path to the presidency would enjoy the turnabout and Republicans who defended the arcane system would suddenly discover the necessity of its abolition. But before we start preparing ourselves for another Bush v. Gore Armageddon, it’s important to point out that while it is possible, it’s probably not going to happen.

I’ve taken issue with some of Nate Silver’s conclusions about the race recently, but I’ve great respect for the former baseball analyst’s willingness to look at the statistical truth where it can be discerned from what he rightly calls the “noise” that tends to distract us. Silver assessed the likelihood of a number of different scenarios and puts the current odds on their coming to pass in this manner:

How often the following situations occurred during repeated simulated elections.

  • Electoral College tie (269 electoral votes for each candidate) 0.4%
  • Recount (one or more decisive states within 0.5 percentage points) 10.1%
  • Obama wins popular vote 63.8%
  • Romney wins popular vote 36.2%
  • Obama wins popular vote but loses electoral college 1.7%
  • Romney wins popular vote but loses electoral college 5.8%
  • Obama landslide (double-digit popular vote margin) 0.7%
  • Romney landslide (double-digit popular vote margin) 0.2%
  • Map exactly the same as in 2008 0.1%
  • Map exactly the same as in 2004 <0.1%
  • Obama loses at least one state he carried in 2008 99.5%
  • Obama wins at least one state he failed to carry in 2008 4.6%

I think the liberal writer is overly optimistic about Obama’s chances, though you can bet he will revise those numbers in the last days before the election if it looks like Romney is heading to victory. But I have no quarrel with his assessment of the other scenarios, especially the one that shows that there is slightly more than one in chance in 20 that Romney wins the popular vote while Obama wins the Electoral College.

The point here is that whether you believe Gallup and its tracking poll that shows Romney up by seven percentage points or Investors Business Daily/ TIPP and its survey that has Obama up by six or the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that calls the race a tie, the odds are that in the last two weeks the swing states will follow the national polls or vice versa. It is far more reasonable to suggest that the trend will break one way or another (or rather, hold steady as Romney continues to gain ground in most surveys that do not, like IBD, have samples that are heavily skewed toward the Democrats) than anything else. That’s why it is also reasonable to assume that whoever wins the presidency may be able to influence enough state races to swing an evenly divided U.S. Senate with them as well.

Nevertheless, the fact that the popular vote diverged from the Electoral College result only 12 years ago means this isn’t merely a discussion that revolves around the unkind fates that befell Democrats Samuel Tilden and Grover Cleveland in 1876 and 1888. If that happens again in 2012 (which would make it only the fifth time in American history that result was obtained), but especially if it happened to a Republican this time, then I would have to agree with New York Times editorial writer Juliet Lapidos that this would probably mean the end of the Electoral College. This will probably not happen, but we may see another Electoral College/popular vote split before we experience another contested national political convention.

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Obama Needs a Momentum Shift Now

Last week as Mitt Romney’s post-debate surge first took hold, Democrats comforted themselves by pointing to swing state polls that showed President Obama still holding comfortable leads that ought to have ensured his election. A week later, the fluctuating numbers in the key battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia and Florida as well as several others that must now be considered up for grabs makes it obvious that the gap between Romney’s rise in the national polls and the outlook in the Electoral College has shrunk. The Democrats’ assumption that several important states in various parts of the country could remain comfortably in their grasp while Republicans gained ground in the national polls was illogical.

As the Real Clear Politics Electoral College Map shows, the president’s seemingly overwhelming advantage in terms of states that are solid, likely or leaning in the Democrats direction is evaporating. It currently shows Obama with 201 Electoral College votes and Romney with 191 with a whopping 146 in states where the average margin in recent polls is less than five percent for either candidate. But with Romney steadily gaining ground even in states that few serious people thought would even be in play, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, the ebbing confidence among liberals is justified. The question now is what, if anything, the president can do to reverse this momentum shift that appears to be on the verge of sweeping him out of the White House.

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Last week as Mitt Romney’s post-debate surge first took hold, Democrats comforted themselves by pointing to swing state polls that showed President Obama still holding comfortable leads that ought to have ensured his election. A week later, the fluctuating numbers in the key battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia and Florida as well as several others that must now be considered up for grabs makes it obvious that the gap between Romney’s rise in the national polls and the outlook in the Electoral College has shrunk. The Democrats’ assumption that several important states in various parts of the country could remain comfortably in their grasp while Republicans gained ground in the national polls was illogical.

As the Real Clear Politics Electoral College Map shows, the president’s seemingly overwhelming advantage in terms of states that are solid, likely or leaning in the Democrats direction is evaporating. It currently shows Obama with 201 Electoral College votes and Romney with 191 with a whopping 146 in states where the average margin in recent polls is less than five percent for either candidate. But with Romney steadily gaining ground even in states that few serious people thought would even be in play, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, the ebbing confidence among liberals is justified. The question now is what, if anything, the president can do to reverse this momentum shift that appears to be on the verge of sweeping him out of the White House.

The most obvious answer is for Obama to be seen to beat Romney in either or both of the remaining debates. But, as history shows, decisive wins or loses in these affairs such as the one Romney scored earlier this month are the exceptions. So long as both men show up prepared, look interested (something Obama failed to do on October 3) and don’t make any glaring mistakes, it isn’t likely that either side will reap that much of a benefit.

There is the chance that some “October surprise” will pop up abroad that will reinforce the president’s status as commander-in-chief. Should some of those who assassinated the U.S. ambassador to Libya be killed or captured before Election Day, it may be that this will reinforce the Democrats “bin Laden is dead” theme and give the president the boost he needs even if that also prompt some “wag the dog” cynicism about the action.

But the Libya debacle illustrates that incumbency brings perils as well as advantages. It is likely that the president will spend the next three weeks continuing to try to dodge questions about what he knew about the consulate’s requests for more security and the fact that there was no demonstration about a video prior to the killing and when he knew it. Libya also contradicts the claim aired in his re-election ads that America’s enemies have been beaten.

This should encourage Republicans, but if there is anything we should have learned in the past two months it is that this election is not so easily predicted, as the pundits would like. The unexpected shifts in the polls after the conventions and the first presidential debate illustrate the fact that the nation is still nearly evenly divided. Romney has some more ground to make up in states like Ohio, where both candidates and their running mates are a constant presence. But unlike the situation earlier in the campaign when it was understood that it was Romney that had to act, now it is Obama who must find a way to alter the direction of the race.

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Faithless Electors Could Cost Romney

Throughout the winter and spring, supporters of defeated libertarian extremist Rep. Ron Paul were fond of claiming that they had the power to either disrupt the Republican National Convention or generate enough defections in November to sabotage the mainstream GOP’s efforts to win back the presidency. Though the Paulbots managed to amuse some bored members of the press corps at the Tampa convention, their attempts to gain attention barely deserved to be called a distraction. Their threats about affecting the vote in the general election appear to be even emptier as polling showed that much of Paul’s limited support came from Democrats crossing over to participate in GOP primaries and caucuses. However, it appears that the libertarian fringe could actually materially affect the outcome in a way that no one seems to have foreseen.

As the Associated Press reports today, three of the Republicans who will become members of the Electoral College should Mitt Romney win their states are now saying they will refuse to vote for the Republican. All three are Paul backers who somehow managed to be appointed to this usually symbolic post but who have the power to thwart the will of the voters if that is their pleasure. Two are from potential tossup states, Iowa and Nevada. Another is from Texas, a state certain to go Republican this fall. All profess to be not merely disgusted with Romney’s relatively moderate stands on the issues but angry with some of the petty slights dealt out to Paul delegates in Tampa. Together, they could deprive Romney of a majority should the election turn out to be a nail-biter. If this happens, those in the GOP leadership who insisted on net letting Paul’s name be placed in nomination or in counting the votes cast for him will rue their decisions.

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Throughout the winter and spring, supporters of defeated libertarian extremist Rep. Ron Paul were fond of claiming that they had the power to either disrupt the Republican National Convention or generate enough defections in November to sabotage the mainstream GOP’s efforts to win back the presidency. Though the Paulbots managed to amuse some bored members of the press corps at the Tampa convention, their attempts to gain attention barely deserved to be called a distraction. Their threats about affecting the vote in the general election appear to be even emptier as polling showed that much of Paul’s limited support came from Democrats crossing over to participate in GOP primaries and caucuses. However, it appears that the libertarian fringe could actually materially affect the outcome in a way that no one seems to have foreseen.

As the Associated Press reports today, three of the Republicans who will become members of the Electoral College should Mitt Romney win their states are now saying they will refuse to vote for the Republican. All three are Paul backers who somehow managed to be appointed to this usually symbolic post but who have the power to thwart the will of the voters if that is their pleasure. Two are from potential tossup states, Iowa and Nevada. Another is from Texas, a state certain to go Republican this fall. All profess to be not merely disgusted with Romney’s relatively moderate stands on the issues but angry with some of the petty slights dealt out to Paul delegates in Tampa. Together, they could deprive Romney of a majority should the election turn out to be a nail-biter. If this happens, those in the GOP leadership who insisted on net letting Paul’s name be placed in nomination or in counting the votes cast for him will rue their decisions.

Faithless electors are not unknown in American history, and approximately half of the states have laws prohibiting electors from voting for anyone but the choice of the voters. But as the AP points out, Nevada’s law carries no punishment, meaning that one of the GOP electors who has said he’ll vote for Ron Paul rather than Romney could probably do so with impunity.

Other Paul supporters who have managed to become potential members of the Electoral College promise they’ll defect only if it won’t influence the outcome of the election. Thus if Romney exceeds or falls short of the 270-vote majority he needs, there may be more than three votes for Paul or abstentions.

This possibility will raise the usual objections to the Electoral College as an institution. The faithless electors are right that the founders of the republic did intend them to act as a deliberative body of elites. Yet the College persists because changing it would alter the balance of power between the states and because it is difficult to shuck tradition. It was bad enough when it produced, as it did in 2000, an outcome that did not match the popular vote. But should faithless electors thwart the will of individual states, it will be difficult to refute the inevitable calls for change that will ensue.

But if Paul supporters didn’t like the top-down rules that were imposed on the RNC to silence them, this will only serve to motivate both parties to create regulations that will be even more draconian attempts to weed out dissidents from positions of influence. Any state Republican party, such as the one in Nevada, that allowed its electors to be chosen by the Paul faction will be likely to do everything to ensure that this never happens again.

The odds are, either Romney or President Obama will wind up getting more than 273 votes, making the potential Paul protest merely a matter of symbolism. But if, as is entirely possible, the outcome does come down to a couple of Electoral votes, the focus on these individuals will be intense. If they manage to deadlock the College and send the decision to Congress — something that last happened in 1824 — it will turn the election into more of a circus than the 2000 debacle in Florida.

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State Polls Illustrate Romney’s Difficult Path to Victory

The formula for electing Mitt Romney to the presidency isn’t all that complicated. He must hold all the states John McCain won in 2008, take back normally Republican states that went to President Obama such as Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Indiana and win at least one of the major swing states such as Ohio or Pennsylvania. That sounds easy in theory but as the latest round of polling — which, thanks to the Electoral College, are the numbers we should be watching more closely than the national tracking polls —in individual states shows, Romney’s path is far from clear.

While the certain Republican nominee should be encouraged by surveys of voters in Florida and Ohio, the numbers from Virginia and to a lesser extent in Pennsylvania are daunting. As much as the national popular vote looks to be almost a dead heat between Romney and Obama right now, the Democrat’s Electoral College advantage is clear. Even more to the point, unless Romney finds a way to come from behind in Virginia and North Carolina, putting Florida and North Carolina back in the red column won’t matter.

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The formula for electing Mitt Romney to the presidency isn’t all that complicated. He must hold all the states John McCain won in 2008, take back normally Republican states that went to President Obama such as Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Indiana and win at least one of the major swing states such as Ohio or Pennsylvania. That sounds easy in theory but as the latest round of polling — which, thanks to the Electoral College, are the numbers we should be watching more closely than the national tracking polls —in individual states shows, Romney’s path is far from clear.

While the certain Republican nominee should be encouraged by surveys of voters in Florida and Ohio, the numbers from Virginia and to a lesser extent in Pennsylvania are daunting. As much as the national popular vote looks to be almost a dead heat between Romney and Obama right now, the Democrat’s Electoral College advantage is clear. Even more to the point, unless Romney finds a way to come from behind in Virginia and North Carolina, putting Florida and North Carolina back in the red column won’t matter.

The new Washington Post poll of voter sentiment in Virginia confirms what a Public Policy Polling survey of the state showed earlier this week: the president has a substantial lead in a state that Romney must have if he is going to win. The Post poll shows Obama ahead by 51-44 percent among registered voters. PPP gave him a similar 51-43 edge. A Survey USA poll showed Obama leading by a smaller 47-43 percent margin in North Carolina. Less depressing for the GOP are Quinnipiac University polls that show Romney ahead 44-43 percent in Florida and almost even in Ohio with Obama leading there by 44-42 percent. Quinnipiac also has Obama comfortably ahead in Pennsylvania by 47-39 percent.

The Real Clear Politics Electoral College map illustrates Romney’s problem. RCP shows the president ahead in states totaling 253 electoral votes with states that are either likely or leaning to Romney giving the GOP standard-bearer only 170 votes. That means Romney must win 100 of the 115 votes in the tossup states to get to the magic number of 270 that guarantees victory.

Given the tight national polls and general dissatisfaction with the president’s job performance, that is far from unlikely, let alone impossible. But it gives Romney very little margin for error. He must, more or less, run the table in swing states. This means that although the GOP has good reason to believe it can win in both Florida and Ohio, it can’t afford to lose either Virginia or North Carolina without scoring a far more unlikely upset in Democrat-leaning Pennsylvania or Michigan.

Democrats believe the changing demographics in Virginia and North Carolina, as both have become more urban, dictates that their recent history as reliable Republican states is over. But those factors will not save Obama if the economy continues to lag on his watch. Today’s figures that show disappointing job growth and a still high unemployment rate make it clear the Democrats are quite capable of blowing this election and losing all the swing states. If Romney is to overcome his current Electoral College deficit, he must, as he did this week, concentrate on campaigning in states like Virginia and stick to his message about the economy. Obama’s current advantage there is daunting, but with six months to go and little reason to believe the economy will improve over the summer, there is plenty of hope left for the Republican.

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An Electoral College Edge for Obama?

At the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza makes an argument that although 2012 isn’t going to be anything like 2008, President Obama still has an edge over Mitt Romney in the swing states that will decide the election. While the numbers do give Obama a slight advantage, as RealClearPolitics’ Electoral College map indicates, the triumphalism about the president’s re-election we’ve been hearing lately from Democrats is more the product of bombast than insight. Stunts like the Democrats’ attempt to promote myths about the Republican “war on women” aren’t likely to change that map. More to the point is the fact that the states that will determine the winner are likely to be influenced heavily by an economy that few outside the administration and liberal editorial pages believe has been turned around.

There isn’t a lot of doubt about which states are up for grabs this November. Nor is there much uncertainty that the battle for the White House this year will more closely resemble 2000 and 2004 than President Obama’s romp four years ago. The outcome will, as Cillizza rightly understands, depend on whether the voting patterns of the last few elections will be re-written by dissatisfaction over the president’s uninspiring performance in office.

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At the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza makes an argument that although 2012 isn’t going to be anything like 2008, President Obama still has an edge over Mitt Romney in the swing states that will decide the election. While the numbers do give Obama a slight advantage, as RealClearPolitics’ Electoral College map indicates, the triumphalism about the president’s re-election we’ve been hearing lately from Democrats is more the product of bombast than insight. Stunts like the Democrats’ attempt to promote myths about the Republican “war on women” aren’t likely to change that map. More to the point is the fact that the states that will determine the winner are likely to be influenced heavily by an economy that few outside the administration and liberal editorial pages believe has been turned around.

There isn’t a lot of doubt about which states are up for grabs this November. Nor is there much uncertainty that the battle for the White House this year will more closely resemble 2000 and 2004 than President Obama’s romp four years ago. The outcome will, as Cillizza rightly understands, depend on whether the voting patterns of the last few elections will be re-written by dissatisfaction over the president’s uninspiring performance in office.

As Cillizza states, there is not much argument there are nine swing states that should be in play this fall: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin–comprising 110 electoral votes. He points out that Democrats would include Arizona, Indiana and Missouri, adding 32 votes to the total of those in doubt even though none of them have a history of abandoning the GOP. Republicans would include Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, adding 41 to the swing state total, but only New Mexico has gone for the GOP even once in the last generation.

If none of those flip this year, that leaves us with the nine swing states and because as Cillizza points out, Obama carried all nine in 2008, he must be considered to have an advantage.

The only problem with this reasoning is that a poor economy that can no longer be blamed on the Republicans leaves Romney an opening. Each state is a different story. In New Hampshire, Romney may have a regional edge. Virginia may revert to Republican form after deserting the GOP for the first time in decades last time around. Wisconsin may be influenced by the outcome of the Scott Walker recall effort that is itself a referendum on the 2010 Republican midterm victory. The point is there are still too many variables and far too much time until November to list any of these pure swing or semi-swing states in either column.

With the GOP contest now all but concluded, the general election is about to begin. President Obama enjoys the enormous advantage that comes with incumbency as well as Camelot-style press coverage that has largely eschewed the personal attacks that dogged the re-election efforts of all of his recent predecessors. But until we know whether the economic state of the union on September 1 is such to inspire confidence in an Obama rerun, coloring any of the states up for grabs any shade of blue or red is a mistake.

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