Obama-Romney Race Could
be Closest Race Since 2000
November 03, 2012
One way or the other, history will be made on November 6th, Election Day
in the United States. We’ll know soon enough, but if Republican Mitt
Romney is able to defeat President Barack Obama that day, he would
become the fourth presidential candidate to oust an incumbent since
World War II. Mr. Romney would thus follow in the footsteps of Democrat
Jimmy Carter in 1976, Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Democrat Bill
Clinton in 1992.
Mr. Carter narrowly defeated President Gerald Ford, largely because Mr.
Ford decided to pardon his predecessor, Richard Nixon, and absolve him
from any criminal liability in the Watergate scandal. Historians also
like to point out Mr. Ford was never actually elected president. He was
appointed vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973, and assumed
the presidency after Mr. Nixon’s resignation in August of 1974.
Four years later, Mr. Carter was the victim of an political insurgency
led by Ronald Reagan. Mr. Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, was also
ousted after one term by Bill Clinton. In all these cases, a weak
economy played a major role and presumably will again if President Obama
cannot muster enough support for a second term.
On the other hand, if President Obama’s Democratic supporters come out
to vote in sufficient numbers and get him a second term, he will go down
in history as one of those rare presidents who was saddled with a tough
economy but managed to win re-election anyway.
These days, the experts are gobbling up new public opinion surveys each
day, both of voters nationally and in the key states, and trying to
figure out where this presidential race is headed. What we know is this:
before the debates, it was Barack Obama’s to lose. The president had a
modest but steady lead and was in good shape in most of the nine
so-called battleground states where the outcome remains in doubt.
But after the debates, especially the first one where Mitt Romney scored
a major victory, the landscape has shifted considerably. Mr. Romney has
closed the gap, and in several national polls has moved into a slight
lead over Mr. Obama. Analysts note that when an incumbent president is
still running neck and neck with a challenger this late in the race, and
is running below 50 percent in most surveys, it’s usually seen as a
danger sign for the incumbent. That is certainly the story line the
Romney camp likes to promote.
On the other hand, the Obama camp remains focused on the polls in the
individual battleground states where the election will be won or lost.
Most of these states right now show a very close election, with very
slight leads for one candidate or the other. For example, Mr. Romney
seems well on his way to putting North Carolina out of reach, a state
the president narrowly won four years ago. On the other hand, the Obama
campaign is feeling somewhat confident about Nevada, where the polls
show a steady lead of about three points or so.
All of this is important because in the final week of the campaign the
focus will be on seven or eight of these so-called swing states,
especially places like Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. Ohio is
enormously important to both camps. If the president can maintain his
slight lead in Ohio and win its 18 electoral votes, it would put him by
most calculations at 255 of the 270 electoral votes he needs to win a
second term. That means cobbling together some combination of Wisconsin
(10 electoral votes), Nevada (six electoral votes), Iowa (six) and New
Hampshire (four) to get to the magic 270 figure.
For Mr. Romney, trying to get to 270 without Ohio is much harder. Most
analysts give Mr. Romney a base of 191 electoral votes. But without
Ohio’s 18 votes, the Republican would have to nearly sweep the remaining
battleground states, something the polls suggest right now might be
difficult. So while the national polls have been trending slightly in
Mr. Romney’s favor, the president appears to be holding a slight
advantage in the Electoral College.
Senate Hanging in the Balance
So far, the presidential race has overshadowed the battle for control of
Congress. Most of the action is in the Senate, where Democrats are
scrambling to hold their current 53 to 47 majority. Heading into this
election cycle the Democrats appeared to be in real jeopardy of losing
their majority. They are defending 23 of the 33 seats up for election
this year. Senators serve six-year terms and one third of the Senate is
up for election every two years. House members, of course, serve
two-year terms and elections are held every two years.
At the moment, a handful of Senate races are hanging in the balance and
will determine which party controls the chamber come January. The most
watched races include the Massachusetts contest between the Republican
incumbent, Senator Scott Brown, and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Warren
has built a lead, but Brown remains popular with swing voters. Another
race drawing national attention is in Virginia between two former
governors, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine. Allen lost
this seat six years ago to Democrat Jim Webb in a campaign famous for
his use of the disparaging word “macaca,” in reference to a Democratic
volunteer taping one of Allen’s campaign events. Allen is on a mission
to redeem himself while Kaine is pitching the idea that he will be able
to work with the next president whether his name is Obama or Romney.
It’s seen as a toss-up right now.
In Indiana, Republicans ousted veteran Senator Richard Lugar in their
primary earlier this year in favor of Tea Party favorite Richard
Mourdock. But Mourdock veered into trouble recently with debate comments
on abortion and rape and that could make his race against Democrat Joe
Donnelly quite close. Mourdock in some ways is now being lumped in the
same category as Todd Akin in Missouri, the Republican Senate candidate
who talked about “legitimate rape” a few months back. Akin, by the way,
is still seen as an underdog in his showdown with the incumbent
Democrat, Claire, McCaskill. McCaskill had been generally seen as the
most vulnerable Democratic senator.
are counting on picking up the Senate seat of retiring Democrat Ben
Nelson in Nebraska and may prevail in a close race in North Dakota for
the seat of retiring Democrat Kent Conrad. But the Republicans may fall
short of pickups in Ohio and Connecticut and if they lose seats in Maine
and Massachusetts, it would probably make it impossible for them to pick
up enough seats to reclaim a majority in the Senate.
As for the House of Representatives, Democrats would seem to have a tall
order in trying to gain the 25 seats they would need to reclaim the
majority they lost in 2010. In fact, most analysts predict modest gains
of up to 10 seats or so, which would leave the House chamber under
Republican control. It will be interesting, though, to see how many Tea
Party favorites, if any, are defeated in House races this year after all
the focus on Congress in gridlock for the past two years.