By Brendan Loy
This is fascinating. Obama’s re-election next month is guaranteed if he can hold on and win the five contiguous states outlined in orange below, all of which, even after his precipitous decline since the Denver debate, he still leads by between 2.4% and 5.0% in the Real Clear Politics averages:
That map gives Obama exactly 270 electoral votes. It assumes that Romney wins Virginia (currently tied) and Colorado (Mitt by 0.2%), as well as North Carolina and Florida (which I’ve always felt would be in Romney’s column in a close election). The map also posits Romney comebacks in Nevada, where Obama currently leads by 3.0% in the RCP average (and where there’s some reason to believe the polls may be understating Obama’s support) and New Hampshire, where Obama leads by 0.8%. The map even gives Romney the sparsely-polled rural 2nd Congressional District of Maine, which became about 0.8% less Democratic after redistricting, bringing it slightly closer to New Hampshire (it has ranged between 1.5% and 4.5% more Democratic than New Hampshire in recent presidential elections) and thus making it potentially more competitive — if still a bit of a reach for Romney. Yet even though we’re generously giving Romney all of those swing states (and one swing district), Obama would still win, 270-268, because of the Midwestern firewall.
The current poll averages in the “firewall” states? Obama is up by 2.4% in Ohio, by 2.8% in Wisconsin, by 3.3% in Iowa, and by 5.0% in both Pennsylvania and Michigan. Those aren’t exactly landslide margins, but they’re robust enough that you’ve got to take this potential firewall seriously, at least for the moment.
Because of their geographic proximity and rough similarity, these five states are likely to move somewhat in sync with one another in the polling. It would be surprising, for instance, to see Obama stay at +3% in Wisconsin, but suddenly sink to -3% in Iowa. Thus, while it’s entirely possible that Romney’s overall standing will improve enough that he sweeps the Midwestern bloc — or at least its three closest states (Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio) — it’s harder to see him micro-targeting and “picking off” just one specific Midwestern state without moving the polls in the other. Put another way, he needs to generally get 2-3 points better in the Midwest to have a real shot.
The flip side of this point: if Obama starts showing vulnerability — in the poll average, not just in an individual outlier poll or two — within the Midwestern firewall, that’ll mean it’s time for Democrats to really start to #PANIC. My guess is that the firewall will either hold completely, or crumble completely.
Exit question: Why on earth did Romney write an editorial titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” back in November 2008? I’m not addressing the substance of it, just the politics. He wasn’t a member of Congress; he wasn’t the governor of an affected state; he didn’t have to decisively weigh in, vote “Yes” or “No,” or otherwise take a firm stance. He could have vacillated, waited to see which way the wind blew, and taken a position after-the-fact, as he and so many other politicians have done on so many issues. Instead — to his credit, in a certain respect — he came out and took a stand. And that stand might cost him the presidency. If Obama’s Midwestern firewall holds, the candidates’ respective positions on the auto bailout will surely be a key reason why.
P.S. An earlier version of this post, containing various elaborate scenarios regarding New Hampshire, Maine and Nevada, was erroneous because I made a critical error in composing the map. In flipping states from 2004, I forgot to give New Mexico to Obama. So the post, as originally written, was totally wrong. Oops.