Politicos of all stripes are busy these days gaming out the 2012 electoral map. Most of the projections I see tend to agree with the Washington Post’s theory that Mitt Romney has a very narrow path to the 270 electoral votes required to win. While they may very well be correct, I think they’re going about their projections all wrong. In fact, I think most everyone is analyzing the electoral map all wrong because they’re using a very shaky starting point – they’re starting with the wrong map.
Most people are using the 2008 map as the baseline when really they should use the 2004 map as the baseline. It was an anomaly that Obama won Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado, and so forth. It wasn’t quite an anomaly that he won Florida, but almost.
Let’s look at the voting history of a couple of those states.
Ohio went for George W. Bush twice.
Florida went for George W. Bush twice. Yes, in 2000 Florida was very close (to say the least) but four years later, GWB easily carried the state.
Indiana went for Obama in 2008. The last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state was LBJ in 1964.
North Carolina isn’t exactly a solid blue state either. Before 2008 the last Democrat to carry the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976. The state party is awash in scandal, the Democrat governor is leaving office in disgrace, and state unemployment is at 9.7% which is well above the national average.
Colorado isn’t exactly a lock for the President either. The last time it went blue was 1992, and even that was an anomaly. Clinton lost Colorado in his 1996 re-elect. Before ’92 the last Democrat to carry CO was LBJ in 1964.
This year, President Obama can’t look at these states as though he has some sort of institutional advantage in them and expect that they’re his by default. Yes, Mitt Romney will have to work very hard for those states, but the institutional and historical advantages are on his side, not Obama’s.
Furthermore, the president will have to spend a lot of extra money defending some states that are traditionally deep blue. Wisconsin and Michigan have both trended red in statewide races since 2008. Both states have new Republican governors. Wisconsin has a new Republican senator. Wisconsin also re-elected a state Supreme Court justice (David Prosser) in a statewide election against the mighty and all-in union opposition. If ever Wisconsin was capable of going for a Republican, it’s now. This will be all the more true if Gov. Walker wins the recall and holds the seat.
Pennsylvania just hired a Republican governor and a Republican senator. So, it’s far from impossible for Republicans to win statewide races in PA. Obama will have to have massive turnout in Philadelphia and Pittsburg to overcome the Republican tide in the rest of the state. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, Philadelphia unemployment was 5.3% at the time Obama was elected in 2008. It’s 8.4% today. It makes sense that a lot of people in that area who voted for him last time around will either vote Romney or stay home this time.
So, in addition to defending his 2008 gains, Obama is going to have to spend an inordinate amount of time and money defending states that he should already have in the bag.
Last time around, Obama benefitted enormously from being a “blank slate” and from the fact that people wanted to be part of the historical tide of electing the first black president. Those are two advantages he no longer has. In addition to having lost those advantages, the President’s reelection effort has to overcome a slew of unpopular “accomplishments”, an out of control EPA that people increasingly despise, the possibility of two major Supreme Court losses in June, and an economy that is sluggish at best.
He won’t be able to count on the historic level of turnout he saw in 2008. He won’t be able to count on young people voting in droves because, let’s face it, they’ve been hit hardest by this economy. And he won’t be able to count on seniors coming out for him since they’re getting screwed by his Medicare cuts.
Bottom line is, the 2004 electoral map is a much likelier baseline to start from than the 2008 map, and that does not bode well for the President.