Monday, October 15, 2012

Obama’s Electoral College Gamble

Now that the polls in the swing states have finally stabilized and stopped their downward trajectory, it looks as though the President is still ahead – albeit barely – in enough states to put him over the top in November.  According to RCP, Obama is ahead by 1 point in New Hampshire, 2 points in Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada, 3 points in Iowa and 4 points in Michigan.  Assuming the leads hold, that would give him 281 electoral votes.

Of course there’s just one tiny problem: the only state that isn’t within the margin of error is Michigan.  All the other states could conceivably wind up in the Romney column on November 6th.

And that’s why it’s rather puzzling to learn that the Obama campaign has apparently decided to continue running ads in states like North Carolina, which is now clearly trending towards Mitt Romney, rather than pull its resources and concentrate its efforts in states that are far more likely to go blue come election day.  

The reason, according to the campaign, is that it wants to have as many avenues as possible to get to 270 electoral votes.  By spreading the playing field, it forces Romney to defend states where he holds a lead; however, it also means that states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa will be vulnerable to Romney’s super PACs over the next three weeks.  While the Obama campaign raised more money than Romney’s last month - $181 to $170 million – Romney’s super PACs hold a commanding lead over Obama’s.  In a firefight they can outspend Obama by a wide margin in the Rust-belt states and still have enough left over to defend North Carolina and Florida. 

This is a huge gamble.  As Nate Silver correctly pointed out the other day, Obama's swing-state "firewall" is brittle.  Why Obama would risk losing the whole election just to prove a point is beyond belief.  The days of the 50-state strategy are long gone.  If I were Obama, I would hole up in a two-story brownstone in Akron and shuttle between Madison and Des Moines for the next three weeks.  Forget ’08; the objective here should be anything north of 269, pure and simple.

But then again, if I were Obama, I probably wouldn’t have phoned it in in Denver the other night.


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