Thursday, October 18, 2012

Will the Sun Shine for Mitt Romney?

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

Which state is the must-watch harbinger for this year’s election?  Is it Ohio, or Iowa, or even Wisconsin?  All of those states are keys to victory in one way or another.  But the make or break state this year is Florida.

This is not the same situation as the nail-biter in 2000.  It is unlikely that Florida’s 29 electoral votes will ultimately be responsible for putting either candidate over the top in this year’s Electoral College count.  Florida, though, will determine whether Mitt Romney can win.

Political pundits of the bean counter ilk have come up with a variety of Electoral College scenarios that would put Mitt Romney in the White House (a good one is here).  But it’s important to note that all of these scenarios hinge on the assumption that Romney takes Florida.

A win in Florida does not guarantee a Mitt Romney victory, but a Sunshine State loss almost certainly hands Barack Obama another term.

With little more than three weeks to go before Election Day, eight states are currently considered to be the battlegrounds based on polling and where the candidates are spending their resources.  These are New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada.  Among this group, Florida is probably the most likely to go for Romney based on recent electoral performance.

In 2008, John McCain lost Florida by less than 3 percentage points.  He lost Ohio by 4, Virginia by 6 and each of the remaining 2012 toss-up states by 9 points or more.  In 2004, George W. Bush won Florida by 5 points, second only to his 8 point margin in Virginia among these eight states.  Bush won Colorado by just under 5 points, Ohio and Nevada by about 2 points each, and Iowa by 1 point.  He narrowly lost Wisconsin and New Hampshire to John Kerry.

In other words, if Mitt Romney loses Florida, he is unlikely to have an edge in any other battleground state.  In fact, if he loses Florida, he would have to run the table in those seven other states in order to be elected.  Highly improbable.

On the other hand, if Romney does take Florida, his path to victory is a little easier than it appeared just two weeks ago.  For instance, he could sweep the five smallest states (NH, WI, IA, CO, and NV).  Or swap out Iowa and Nevada for Virginia and Romney would still win.  All without Ohio!  Based on recent polling, this is not outside the realm of possibility.

We’ll find out – hopefully – on November 6th.  As Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Veep Debate has Consequences

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ 

Joe Biden mugged, laughed and interrupted.  Paul Ryan was more composed, but perhaps a little geeky.  Both sides firmly believe their candidate won.  And that could be bad news for the Republican ticket.
There is little doubt that Mitt Romney won the first presidential debate last week.  Even Barack Obama’s most ardent supporters had to concede this fact.  Some – read Chris Matthews – reacted as if their team’s ace closer gave up a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.
What caught many less partisan observers by surprise, though, is the extent to which that debate changed the election’s dynamic.  Usually, it takes an outright gaffe to move the needle on horse race numbers.  However, Mitt Romney’s solid and workmanlike performance coupled with Barack Obama’s lack of game revealed just how volatile this electorate is.
In the national Monmouth University Poll released yesterday, 9% of likely voters claim that they changed their vote intention as a result of the debate.  Taking into account this group’s current support, this accounts for up to a 4 or 5 point swing in intended vote over the past week.  That is precisely the size of the shift most poll aggregators have shown since the debate.
It’s worth noting that Pres. Obama’s poll lead peaked at 4 points the week before the debate on both the RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster trackers.  It was already on a downward trend leading into the debate and stood at 3 points on October 3.  However, that downward trajectory accelerated immediately following the debate.
So why won’t the VP debate help the Romney-Ryan ticket or at least maintain the status quo for the Republicans?  Because Thursday’s face-off reinstated the highly charged partisan rhetoric that had dominated this race and was turning off those independent voters who were positively impressed by Romney in the first debate.
During the past week, voters have enjoyed a bit of a hiatus – at least on the national level if not in swing states – of the partisan flame-throwing that has characterized this campaign.  Starting with last week’s presidential debate through to Mitt Romney’s recent stump speeches, we have seen a more moderate campaign theme from the Republican side while the Democrats have been forced into a defensive posture.
The VP debate now gives both sides’ supporters permission to re-engage in the “My guy is right, your guy sucks” line of attacks that only serve to turn off voters in the middle.  These are the voters whom Romney tentatively won over last week.  But they are not fully committed to him.
If the campaign returns to 24/7 partisan bickering – as I sense it will – those voters will likely desert Romney.  They will either stick with the devil they know or choose not to vote at all.  In this scenario, the incumbent benefits.
Paul Ryan may have held his own and Joe Biden may have been off-putting.  But the end result is that we are likely back to the campaign we saw before the first presidential debate.