For Romney and Obama: It IS all about the arithmetic

By Peter Fenn – 09/20/12 02:37 PM ET

In his convention speech, America’s President for Life, Bill Clinton, talked eloquently about the “arithmetic” of the Romney/Obama economic plans.

I am switching to the arithmetic of the votes, the states in play and the Electoral College.

But indulge me first to opine from 30,000 feet.

The conventional wisdom this summer was that if Obama was going to win this he would squeak it out, winning just barely. If Romney wins, it could be a squeaker, but it also could very well turn out to be a blowout. My very smart and very savvy Republican colleague, John Feehery, floated that notion, and many Democrats did not disagree.

How times change! And, as we junkies know, six weeks is an eternity in politics, so things can certainly change again. But the later we get, the more this election gets set.
Clearly, the following has happened: conventions, clear advantage Obama; economic optimism, clear advantage Obama; Romney’s tin ear on the middle class and his “47 percent” comment, clear advantage Obama.

Also, the fundamentals on likability and trust, combined with serious advantages for Obama on nearly all the issue areas, has been a double whammy for Romney. His weakness as a candidate over these past six years, and especially these past six weeks, has begun to harden opinions of him. The more voters see, the less they like.

The point is, you don’t win elections if you are losing on all the issues AND people don’t like you! Candidates have needed one or the other in order to pull out victories — George W. Bush succeeded on the likability scale even though falling somewhat short on many of the issues. Nixon wasn’t nearly as likable as Humphrey, but he beat him because of Vietnam and unrest. People liked George H.W. Bush, but he had a strong opponent in a weak economy.

So how has this affected the arithmetic?

Romney’s problems are cascading. You remove Michigan and Pennsylvania from the toss-up or leaning category and you pull your ad money — that is trouble. You are constricting your electoral map, not broadening it — just what happened to McCain in 2008.

If you add up the electoral count for Obama right now of states that are almost all assured to go for him, I count 237 electoral votes. Here are the states I give him: WA, OR, CA, NM, MN, IL, PA, NY, DE, MD, CT, RI, MA, VT, ME, HI, DC. It is hard to imagine any of those states going for Romney right now. You would have to see a drastic reversal in the race to change states such as NM, MN, MI or PA. I think that is highly unlikely, barring any outside, unpredictable event that really takes Obama down.

So that leaves Obama 33 electoral votes shy of the critical 270. Most agree that Romney is sitting with 191 electoral votes pretty much locked up, barring a 2008 re-do.

And there are currently nine states that could go either way — NV, CO, IA, NH, WI, OH, VA, NC, FL. The combined electoral votes for those states is 110.

The big fish are clearly: Florida with 29 electoral votes, Ohio with 18, North Carolina with 15, Virginia with 13, Wisconsin with 10 and Colorado with 9.

Certainly, Obama’s path to victory is much clearer than Romney’s. If he wins either Ohio or Florida, it looks pretty much over. Romney would almost have to run the table with the others — unlikely.

Even if he loses both states and wins Wisconsin, Virginia and pulls 10 electoral votes from the remaining five states he wins.

Romney needs 79 electoral votes out of this group of nine states — that means he can only lose states with a total of 21 electoral votes. So, basically, he can’t afford to lose any of the big states (FL, OH, NC, VA) — and if he loses one of those states Obama can get to his 33 needed with some combination of NV, WI, NH, IA, CO.

Obama could get a big win if he wins states that polling now shows him leading: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa. That would put him at 319 electoral votes.

Bottom line: With just over six weeks to go, Obama’s arithmetic gives him a lot more paths to victory than Romney’s and the window is closing.