April 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Coming Down to the End of the Line in 2012

John Moore/Getty Images
President Barack Obama seems to have an easier path to 270 electoral votes than does GOP nominee Mitt Romney, but tight contests in a handful of states leave enough doubt to raise questions about the electoral vote, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

Bush won nationally but carried Ohio by just 2.1 points. This cycle, Obamaís early start and initial successes in the state, in part because of his auto bailout message, has improved the presidentís prospects in the Buckeye State. And the growing Hispanic vote in Nevada, which went for Bush by 2.6 points, makes the state more difficult for Romney than it was for Bush eight years ago.

So an electoral split, with Obama losing the popular vote but winning the electoral vote, is possible. But obviously, since a split verdict requires just the perfect division of votes in key states, itís always an unusual outcome.

One additional question: Could Romney win states such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan, which seem to be tightening in late polls? I canít rule it out, but it is still unlikely. Those three states were among the nine closest contests in 2004 (Kerry won Pennsylvania with 50.1 percent, Minnesota with 51.1 percent and Michigan with 51.2 percent), so while it wouldnít be unusual if they ended up being tight, they are not likely to flip from one party to the other.

The House certainly will remain in GOP hands, and Democrats never positioned themselves to have an even-money chance to net 25 seats. Republicans did a good job taking districts off the table with redistricting, and divided control in Washington and national polarization have helped potentially vulnerable Republicans to hang on. 

Democratic retirements and vulnerable incumbents allowed the National Republican Congressional Committee to stay on offense even after the party won more than 60 seats two years ago. Democratic recruiting wasnít terrible, except in Pennsylvania, but the party might well have a disappointing night in New York, where Democrats once hoped to net at least four seats but could end up with a net gain of zero. A disappointing election night for the party in Illinois could mean a disastrous election nationally.

Who will gain seats and how many? Your guess is as good as mine. Iím expecting anything between no net change and a Democratic gain of 10 seats. A net GOP gain is unlikely but not impossible.

The fight for the Senate probably depends on the top of the ticket. It isnít that people donít know how to split their tickets. They do. But partisan polarization is strong, and Romneyís or Obamaís strength in Virginia, Wisconsin or Nevada could tilt those races. The same holds for states as diverse as North Dakota, Massachusetts and Montana.

As many others have noted, itís easier to see Democrats losing two seats or fewer (possibly even gaining a seat) than it is to see the GOP netting four seats or more. But if the presidential race breaks one way or the other over the final weekend, the Senate could move as well. So while Democrats are more likely than not to retain the Senate next week, Iíd advise caution of anyone making predictions.

Finally, I am expecting surprises, whether a presumed safe incumbent going down to defeat or a heavily favored nominee in an open seat losing. There are some strange numbers out there, and a few of them could well be true. Plus there are races that have attracted little polling but which are ripe for an upset or two.

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