Monday, October 25, 2004

The electoral math today
By now we should all know that this is going to be an extremely close election. There is a significant chance that the electoral division from 2000 -- 271-267 -- could be repeated. Most of the tracking polls for most of the states are within the margin of error, though it should be noted that Zogby's state-by-state battleground polls from the past two days would give Bush 287 EV's. Nationally, Rasmussen and the Washington Post both have Kerry with small leads, while Zogby gives Bush a small lead. Only Gallup, which was thoroughly discredited in 2000 (it showed Bush with a 13-point lead on Oct. 26, 2000) has Bush up by anything more than a point or two. With undecideds likely to break heavily for Kerry, we are in for yet another squeaker. How can both candidates win?

For Kerry and for Bush, there are a handful of scenarios for easy, uncontested victory. For Bush, winning both Ohio and Florida would make it nearly impossible for Kerry to win the election. This is because due to reapportionment after the 2000 census, the Bush states from 2000 actually gained 7 EVs, and the Gore states lost 7. So even if Kerry wins all of the Gore states (and he has now been trailing consistently in Iowa and Wisconsin polls), he would lose the election 278-260. If Bush holds his 2000 states and picks off Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico, all within the realm of possibility, then he wins decisively, 300-238. Bush could even lose Ohio and Wisconsin and still win 270-268. So as much as I believe the momentum is with Kerry right now, there's no getting around the fact that there's lots of ways Bush can win.

As for Sen. Kerry, he could also win the election easily and outright by winning Ohio and Florida. There is almost no scenario under which he wins those states and loses the electoral college. If he keeps the Gore 2000 states and wins Ohio and Florida, he wins 307-231. Even if he were to lose Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, and Minnesota, he still wins 275-263. It would also be unlikely for Kerry to lose if he wins Florida and loses Ohio. The Gore 2000 states plus Florida equal 287, meaning he could lose Wisconsin and Iowa and still eke out a victory.

In my mind, one scenario has begun to look more and more likely. Let's say the electoral map stays exactly the same as 2000, with only two exceptions. First, let's assume, as now seems likely from the polls, that New Hampshire flips for Kerry. Second, let's assume that someone in the Kerry camp has a brain and sends Bill Clinton to Arkansas, where polls now show a dead heat, for the duration of the campaign. The Gore 2000 states plus Arkansas and New Hampshire would give Kerry a most narrow victory, 270-268, assuming that Bush doesn't pick off one electoral vote from Maine. That, disastrously, would throw the college into a 269-269 tie, and send the election to the House of Representatives, which would surely give the election to Bush.

You can go play with the American Research Group's handy-dandy electoral vote calculator yourself, and create a thousand scenarios to keep you tossing and turning between now and election day. As for me, I'm ready to make a prediction. Kerry, disappointingly, is going to lose in Iowa, the state that sent him on his meteoric rise to the Democratic nomination. He is going to lose New Mexico, where not even popular Gov. Bill Richardson can save him. That will set him back in the math to 290-248 Bush. The president will almost surely find a way to keep Florida in his column as well. But huge, unprecedented turnout in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis will keep the critical states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania in Kerry's column. Kerry is also going to win New Hampshire, and he's going to win Ohio, and last but not least, he's going to win Arkansas and the election, 278-260. I also predict that the popular vote will once again be within one or two million votes out of a record 115-120 million cast.

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