An Unpredictable End to a Very Predictable Election


Election 2012 has had few surprises. So it’s somewhat surprising that heading into the final weekend of the election season, we are unable to confidently project who is likely to win the White House. All year long, the economy has been the No. 1 issue of the campaign. That hasn’t changed. While Mitt Romney has a slight advantage when it comes to handling the economy, neither candidate has really convinced voters that they know what the nation needs.

From the beginning of the year to today, the fundamentals suggested the presidential election would be close. The president’s job approval, which is a good predictor of his ultimate share of the vote, has stayed in a range of 47 percent to 50 percent all year. That, by itself, virtually guarantees a close election. On the Friday before Election Day, the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll showed the race tied at 48 percent for Obama and 48 percent for Romney.

Pundits and the campaigns have focused on a relatively small number of swing states all year. Today, the president can reasonably count on 237 Electoral College votes, while Romney can count on 206. Two states won by Obama four years ago are in the Romney column today — Indiana and North Carolina.

Eight states, with a total of 95 Electoral College votes, remain toss-ups and will determine the winner: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. All eight of those states were carried by Obama in 2008.

Florida and Virginia are absolute must-win states for the Romney campaign. If the president wins either, the election will be his. It is quite reasonable to think the challenger can win these states, but far from a sure thing.

If he can win those two states, Romney will then have to win either Ohio or Wisconsin to stay in the game. It is possible that the president could win both and keep his job, but that outcome is far from certain, as well.

Ohio is the bigger prize, with 18 Electoral College votes — but it may be a bit more difficult for Romney to carry. The auto bailout has helped the president in the Buckeye State, and the Obama campaign spent millions of dollars here early in the year defining Romney negatively. Still, Democrats may be a bit concerned that early voting in their Ohio strongholds is down from four years ago.

Wisconsin, with its 10 electoral votes, is close enough that both parties’ presidential and vice presidential candidates have visited the state in recent days. If Romney can win the Badger State after losing Ohio, he would still need to win Colorado and either Iowa or Nevada to win the election.

Those who don’t like uncertainty should focus on the congressional races. It appears that the Democrats are likely to retain control of the Senate and Republicans to keep control of the House.

But the race for the White House remains close because of the economy. Most Americans do not feel better off than they were four years ago, but most are not feeling worse off, either.

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