Jump to Any Race
National Politics|By Charlie Cook, November 3, 2012

While the contest for the national popular vote is very close, it’s also looks increasingly difficult for Mitt Romney to overtake President Obama in the Electoral College.

Starting off with the very safe assumption that Romney wins the 22 states that Sen. John McCain won four years ago, the former Governor would start off with 180 Electoral votes, 90 short of the 270 needed for victory. Then add Indiana (11), a traditionally Republican state that Obama picked off last time, but is widely expected to go Republican this year, bringing Romney up to 191 Electoral votes, 79 short of the 270 needed for victory.

We now go into three states that Obama won in 2008, but where current polling shows a very close race: North Carolina, Florida and Virginia. Of the three, the most likely state for Romney would be North Carolina (15), bringing his total to 206. The next would be Florida (29), running the EV total up to 235, then Virginia (13), taking the Romney total to 248 or 22 Electoral votes short of necessary. So this would be giving Romney all states that are basically even.

To move above that 248 Electoral votes, Romney has to begin winning states where Obama is currently ahead, albeit by narrow margins. The most plausible of these Obama-leading states might be Colorado (9), which would take Romney to 257, 13 short Electoral votes short of 270. Next might be New Hampshire (4) bring Romney up to 261. The third most plausible Obama-leading state might be Iowa (6), taking Romney to 267, three short of the magic number. It would take either Nevada (6) or Ohio (18) to put Romney over the top. If Romney were to win Nevada, that would bring him up to 273. If it’s Ohio, he would have 285. Winning both states would give Romney 291 Electoral votes and the Presidency.

In sum, this Electoral vote scenario requires Romney to win the 23 seats where he is expected to win (McCain’s 22, plus Indiana), then North Carolina, Florida and Virginia; all three are hotly contested and very close. Then he must win four states where Obama is currently ahead, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa and either Nevada or Ohio. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are out of Romney's reach. Romney winning Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa and either Nevada or Ohio, at this point, looks extremely difficult.

In terms of the national popular vote, we can track the ebb and flow of the race looking at the averages of just those polls that use live interviews of both respondents with landlines and those who only have cell phones. Looking only at the period since the two national part conventions, Obama hit peaks in mid-September (about four points ahead), just after the Democratic convention and at the time that the 47 percent video was leaked. The Obama lead subsided slightly, then crested again in the days leading into the first debate, when he was about three points ahead. Obama dropped about three points from pre-debate peak (about 49 percent) to post-first-debate trough (46 percent). Romney picked up about three points from the first debate (from about 45 to 48 percent), pulling a couple of points ahead of Obama. The Romney edge subsided a bit (about a point) then Romney jumped up again after the third and final debates, back up to 48 percent. Romney’s momentum seemed to run out of gas about ten days ago and before Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy hit. The race stabilized at roughly even, but it appears that Obama has been rising a bit over the last few days as Romney has dropped some. This is possibly related to Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy, and his bi-partisan storm damage tour with New Jersey’s GOP Gov. Chris Christie.

In the Senate, Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy continues to see the range of outcomes somewhere between no net change, which would leave Democrats with a 53 to 47 seat majority, to a three seat net gain for Republicans, which would tie the Senate at 50 seats each. In that case, the new Vice President would break tie votes. The most likely outcome is a net gain for Republicans of either one or two seats, reducing Democrats majority to either 52-48 to 51-49 (these numbers assume that Vermont’s Bernie Sanders will continue to sit in the Democratic Caucus and that Maine’s Angus King wins that open-seat contest and caucuses with Democrats).

Duffy also sees Republicans picking up between one and three gubernatorial seats. There are only 11 Governors races this cycle. Democrats must defend eight seats to just three for Republicans. Republicans are almost certain to win the open seat in North Carolina. The races in the open seats in Montana, New Hampshire and Washington are all within the margin of error. It is unlikely that Republicans will pick up all three, but it is possible that they can win two of the three.

As for the House, House Editor David Wasserman sees no net change to a Democratic gain of five seats as the most likely outcome, but anything from a Republican gain of five seats to a Democratic gain of ten seats is possible. District by district, public and private polling varies widely, but on balance, surveys point to Republican voters “coming home” in many competitive races, further solidifying the advantage Republicans built through redistricting.

While the GOP will retain a strong majority, there will be historic generational turnover. More than four fifths of the 87 member GOP freshman class are likely to win a second term, but 62 seats have no incumbent on the ballot (a record since 1992), and the next freshman class is likely to include between 75 and 85 members. It’s certain that more than a third of members will have less than three years of House experience when the next Congress is sworn in in January.

There are other underlying reasons why Tuesday will be a watershed House election. We are headed for the most polarized House in history – Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition are likely to be cut in half for the second consecutive cycle, while the ranks of Tea Party hardliners in the House GOP are likely to grow modestly. With Democrats slated to gain seats in California and Illinois but lose more seats across the rural South, this is the first time in history women and minorities will be a majority of the Democratic caucus.