Virtually everyone expected this election to be extremely close, and that a handful of swing states, particularly Ohio, would hold the key to victory. In fact, the latest poll in Ohio indicates a dead heat between Obama and Romney at 48 to 48.
The popular vote, however, isn’t the issue; the key is attaining 270 electoral votes. While it’s mathematically possible for both candidates to get to 270 electoral votes without winning Ohio, it will be particularly difficult for the Romney campaign. Most pundits say the next president of the U.S. will be known when the winner in Ohio is declared.
But the pundits have been wrong on some major points. The consensus early on was that this election would be a referendum on Obama’s presidency. Instead, it’s been a referendum on Romney, and to a lesser degree, on the Republican Party.
Interestingly, Romney capitalized on the debates to overcome hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the Democratic machine to mischaracterize and destroy him. Though Romney’s favorability ratings have improved dramatically down the home stretch, the Obama campaign continues to focus on criticizing him rather than talk about the past four years or promote their vision for the next four years. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is focused on expressing optimism and defining its vision for the future.
But the road to a Republican victory isn’t an easy one. Romney/Ryan must win the overwhelming majority of the swing states to have any chance of acquiring the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the White House.
This is a difficult challenge because of the growing influence of certain demographics for Democrats. For instance, pundits say the Hispanic electorate has increased by 64% since 2004, and that nearly 70% of that vote will favor the Democratic Party. The numbers of other minority groups, particularly the black vote, are even more dominant for the Democrats.
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If Romney is able to build a winning coalition it will be because of a shift among a few key groups. For instance, Jewish support for the Democratic ticket is expected to be softer this election due to Obama’s weak posture toward Israel. And Romney has dramatically narrowed the gender gap in the last couple of weeks, but this growing support among women is thought to be due primarily to concerns about the dismal economy, which has disproportionately affected women. That movement by women, however, likely doesn’t signify a long-term trend in favor of Republicans.
Romney could well win this election; he has the momentum late in the game and it seems to be growing in strength. In fact, thanks to Obama’s dismal record, this election could produce a Republican president, a stronger Republican majority in the House, and even a narrow majority in the Senate.
At the same time, however, with important demographic constituencies trending away from Republicans, the GOP could find itself in control of the federal government but incapable of being able to compete long term at a national level without recreating itself. The opportunity to square off against an incumbent with the worst economic record since the Great Depression isn’t a scenario that rolls around too often.