Numbers Game

Mitt Romney is supposed to be a numbers guy, and after 1,144 (the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination), the number on his mind is 270. After a bruising primary process that seems to have largely confirmed his many deficiencies as a candidate while highlighting none of his strengths, Romney is finally in position to clinch the top spot on the GOP ticket, assuming he doesn’t “step on a landmine,” as former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has put it. The fight for Tampa is nearly over; the fight for the Electoral College is about to begin. And Romney is going to lose. At least, that’s the way it looks if you run the numbers. Setting aside the safe states for both parties (Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan will all go for the Democrats), and assuming that Missouri, Indiana, and North Carolina break Republican, 86 electoral votes will be up for grabs, in seven states: Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. The western states look bad for Romney, with the exception of Nevada, which has an unemployment rate of 12.8 percent, well above the national average, and whose Mormon population may give Romney an edge. Florida is likewise in bad economic shape, and the possible vice presidential nomination of Senator Marco Rubio can only help. Assume for a moment, then, that Obama takes Colorado and New Mexico, while Romney wins in Nevada and Florida (both blue states in 2008, and neither one a lock for Romney at this point). Iowa, Virginia, and Ohio will be left. Once again, all states carried by Obama in the "Year of Hope and Change," and all states where Romney currently trails in the polls. Even worse, our scenario thus far leaves Obama with 260 electoral votes.

If, in such a situation, Obama were to win either Ohio or Virginia, he would win the election. Iowa’s outcome would only be significant if it made up for the loss of Colorado or Nevada by either of the candidates. Either way, given our present assumptions, Romney has to win both Ohio and Virginia in order to unseat Barack Obama. And that is something he almost certainly cannot do. Both states have below-average unemployment rates. Both states went blue in 2008. And while Romney could try to use his VP pick on Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia or, less likely, on Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, their presence on the Republican ticket will not change the facts on the ground: Obama will have more money, more volunteers, and more inertia. The ongoing Yankeefication of Northern Virginia is making the state look more and more reliably Democratic in national politics, and the oil boom in Ohio is undercutting Romney’s core argument against President Obama. There are, of course, serious problems with this analysis. Romney could show unforeseen strength coming out of the convention. Obama could implode over gas prices or a foreign crisis. But based on the underlying trends, I’m tempted to make a $10,000 bet with Governor Romney—that he’s going to lose.