The Electoral College Challenge

One of the fundamental errors of analysis that Republican strategists made in 2012 was their presumption that African-American voters would be less enthusiastic about reelecting Barack Obama than they had been about electing him in the first place. This presumption was relied upon heavily by everyone from Dick Morris to Karl Rove to Mitt Romney. It was basically wrong. While Romney got a slightly higher percentage of the black vote than John McCain, turnout was extremely strong. And it was enough to help Obama win Ohio and prevent a nail-biter on election night.

Their analysts seem to be going down the same path now, assuming that without Obama on the ballot, black turnout will nosedive. I’m going to warn then now that this is a dangerous hypothesis. The president will be lobbying African-Americans heavily to turn out and protect his accomplishments, and it is a message that will deeply resonate. Any electoral strategy that relies on blacks sitting out the 2016 election is grasping at straws.

Nonetheless, it’s true that the Republicans can legitimately hope to win Ohio and possibly also Wisconsin if they can do turn out more of the white vote than they did in 2012. It’s a vulnerability for the Democrats and a potential way for the Republicans to make some inroads in the Electoral College.

On the other hand, some of the GOP’s other pickup possibilities may be slipping away:

“Ohio went Democratic (in 2012) because Republican support was tepid among whites and [Democratic support] full-throttled among minorities,” [Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institute] said. “Republicans will have to push as many older whites out [to vote] as possible in the Northern states where they may have a shot.”

But long-term, he said, Republicans cannot win if they can’t figure out how to improve their showing with the growing bloc of Hispanic voters and other minorities. Already, he said, Nevada has grown so Hispanic that it may now be considered safe for the Democratic nominee, rather than a swing state as has been the case in recent elections.

Just as a thought experiment, if Nevada is safe for the Democrats, then the following is the bare minimum way that the Republicans can win the White House. If they hold all Romney’s states and also win Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa, that gets them to a 269-269 tie, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives could potentially decide the election in the GOP nominee’s favor. Things would be a little more solid if the GOP could flip Colorado, New Hampshire or, especially, Virginia.

One thing to consider, too, is the importance of Florida. If the Democrats hold Florida in the above scenario, they win 298-240. Let me paint this as clearly as possible.

If the Republicans hold Romney states and cannot flip Florida, the Democrats can lose Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Colorado and still win 272-266.

In that kind of scenario, the Republicans would have to find one more state. New Mexico would suffice, but that won’t happen if the Republicans can’t fix their image with Latinos in a big hurry. The next most obvious opportunities would Pennsylvania and Michigan.

But, you get the idea. The Republicans absolutely have to win Florida. And to win Florida, they’ll have a little steeper climb than they had the last two times around.

Black and Hispanic voters’ share of the eligible voting population [in Florida] is going up, and the share of white voters is going down. With their increasing numbers, if Hispanic and black voters go for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 as strongly as they went for Obama in 2012, the Democrat would likely win the state 51.2 percent to 47.8 percent, under one of the [Center for American Progress’s] simulations.

Alternatively, the center found that if Hispanics and blacks vote for the Republican candidate the way they went for President George W. Bush in his 2004 re-election, the Republican would likely win the state 50.4 percent to 49.5 percent.

So, this is basically the whole shebang. If the Republicans can’t win in Florida, there’s nothing really to discuss and we can ignore all these presidential debates and all the advertisements and everything else. None of it will matter.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.