Just how big a hill do the Republicans have to climb to win the White House in 2012? Consider this: In 2008, Barack Obama beat John McCain in the electoral vote by a tally of 365-173. So, if, on Election Day next year, Mr. Obama loses Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Indiana and New Mexico — a whopping 95 electoral votes from states he carried in 2008 — he would still win.
Just barely, with a right-on-the-button 270, but he’d win.
That’s how big a hill.
Sure, Virginia and Indiana and North Carolina are all leaning hard toward the Republicans, but according to a mash of recent polls, Florida and Ohio are currently dead heats between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, long the Republican front-runner.
But hold on: The unemployment rate in Florida is hovering around 11 percent; in Ohio, it’s more than 9 percent. Potential voters say the economy is the No. 1 issue in 2012, and Mr. Obama scores horribly on the economy; only 41 percent of Florida voters say Mr. Obama deserves re-election. So maybe that scenario — the president losing all seven of those states — really is in play.
Yet the electoral math gets interesting in other places that, unlike elections past, definitely will be in play in 2012. Pennsylvania, for one. There, half say Mr. Obama doesn’t deserve re-election. His job approval rating has been in the mid-40s for months, and the White House is so freaked out about the situation that they sent the president to Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s hometown of Scranton (when the veep was out of the country). It was the president’s 16th trip to the state, the eighth in 2011 alone.
Pennsylvania is trending Republican. Last year, Pat Toomey won the open U.S. Senate seat, and the GOP also picked up five new House seats and took the governor’s mansion.
Then, consider this, from the New York Times, no less: “All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.”
Hmm. Doesn’t sound like Scranton.
“What this means is mostly ceding Midwestern states with large ‘white working-class’ populations like Ohio (18) and Pennsylvania (20), and concentrating on Southern and Western ones, such as Colorado (9), Nevada (6), North Carolina (15) and Virginia (13). But he needs some Midwestern states, too: Were he to lose Iowa (6), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10) and Wisconsin (10) along with Ohio and Pennsylvania, that would leave him with only 267 electoral votes.”
And there’s the real fear: Mr. Obama really could lose all those states — Iowa, Michigan (Mr. Romney’s home state), Minnesota and Wisconsin. George W. Bush’s “brain” Karl Rove started working Wisconsin hard in 2000, even harder in 2004. Mr. Obama smooshed Mr. McCain there is 2008, by 56 percent to 42 percent, but Sen. John Kerry barely won the state over Mr. Bush in 2004, 49.7 percent to 49.3 percent. In 2000, former Vice President Al Gore and Mr. Bush were separated by just 5,708 votes. Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes are fully in play in 2012.
And how much would the GOP like to win Nevada, home state of nemesis Harry Reid, majority leader of the Senate? The unemployment rate there is nearly 14 percent, and Mr. Obama famously chastised corporate-jet owners to stop flying off to Las Vegas for junkets. The city has been crushed and foreclosures are among the top in the nation. Mr. Reid has the unions wrapped around his pinkie, but the anger there is palpable. Another six electoral votes in play.
And New Hampshire? Boy, they hate being played as rubes up there in the “Live Free or Die” state. Mr. Bush won there in 2000, but lost in 2004. Mr. Obama crushed Mr. McCain by 10 percentage points in 2008, but one thing they don’t like is being played as fools. How’s that hopey-changey thing working out? Not so good.
Team Obama most fears Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. He’s killing them in New Hampshire fundraising, with nearly double the take of the president. Ditto Nevada. And he’s crushing in Florida too — $2.5 million to Mr. Obama’s $1.1 million.
But when looking at national trends, keep this in mind: Only one Democrat in the past 100 years has won the White House without winning Ohio. In 2008, Mr. Obama lost the middle but carried voters with graduate degrees and incomes of more than $200,000 and the working class with no high school diplomas and salaries of less than $50,000.
He might lose both edges in 2012, as well as the middle, again. If you lose the 20 percent on the low, and the 20 percent on the high, plus the 60 percent in the middle, what’s left: Zippy the Chimp.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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