The GOP’s tricky electoral math for 2012

Right now, there’s plenty of ink and binary characters being spilled on both parties chances in 2012. Some are comparing this to 1992, others to 1996 in terms of the incumbent’s chances. Some have the Republicans on an unstoppable comeback, others have the GOP nearing implosion. However, we all know that few elections are an exact replay of the one before it. What exactly constitutes a swing or marginal state can change from election to election. Why, in 1980 Hawaii was thought to be winnable for the GOP, as it was in 2004, if only momentarily. Same with Maine in other elections. With that in mind, 2010 did at least give us an idea of which states may still be marginal, given Republicans winning it last year but the Democrats in 2008, often by similarly large margins. And so we present to you Dr. Larry Sabato of UVA’s first projection for 2012.

There’s plenty for both sides to take exception to–Republicans would say New Mexico is much closer to being a marginal state and two straight landslides (thanks to VA’s unique position on the electoral cycle) should put the Old Dominion in the leaners category, while Democrats would argue that Montana at least leans a little closer to them and that there’s no way they lose Maine.

Regardless, however, the map shows just how tricky the math is for Republicans. The fact that New York and California are almost completely out of Republican reach means that Democrats start with a big built in advantage. If you give each party their “leaning” states, Democrats start with 247, while Republicans have just 180. One interesting way to digest these results is to input them into 270towin.com, a fun site that presents an electoral college calculator. Color each state the way you think it will go, and the site will calculate the number of ways, if you give both parties less than 270 votes, the number of ways to get to the magic 270.

The big problem for Republicans? If you input this map into the site, giving both parties their leaning states, there are 14 different combinations that lead to a Republican victory. The problem? All of them require Florida. Again, both sides will have their talking points. Republicans will point to congressional pickups and Rubio’s win in 2010, while Democrats will point to Rick Scott’s cratering approval ratings in the state. However, the fact of the matter is that Republicans just don’t have the same sort of EC base built in that the Democrats do, largely due to the fact that their safest states are amongst the largest. In fact, Texas is the only red or “reddish” state that has more than 12 electoral votes.

That said, 2010 was a positive movement in that Republicans made important gains in PA, WI and MI, as well as North Carolina and New Mexico. The last two aren’t as important–if you give both to the GOP, FL is still a neccesity. However, take any of the first three out of the Democratic column, and a Floridaless path to victory emerges. Again, this is all just the analytical talk of shooting the breeze for the time being. We have quite some time to go in this cycle–more than a year, in fact. However, it should point to the importance of a) nominating a ticket that has a wide personal appeal to a large swath of Americas, both suburban and rural, and b) running on issues that appeal to pragmatic, more centrist voters that do not betray our core principles.

But, until we have a better idea of who those candidates might be, kill some time and come up with your own path to victory. For the record, I’m not 100% on the above, so if you can find a Floridaless path to victory that does not involve MI, WI or PA, by all means, please share! But do note that the the site won’t calculate scenarios where there are more than 12 states in play, as the number of possibilities increases exponentially. Again, many of these are far fetched, but hey, welcome to life with the electoral college!

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