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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sabato: Obama’s 2012 Hopes Hinge on 7 Swing States

Fourteen months out may seem a little early to start counting electoral college votes, but we can be sure that’s exactly what the pros are doing on both sides. Larry J. Sabato, who has a pretty good track record in assessing presidential elections, reasons it out state by state and then works up a tally that both blue and red strategists are sure to note:

So Republicans are a lock or lead in 24 states for 206 electoral votes, and Democrats have or lead in 19 states for 247 electoral votes. Seven super-swing states with 85 electors will determine which party gets to the 270 Electoral College majority: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13). Prior to Obama’s 2008 victories in each state, several of these toss-ups had generally or firmly leaned Republican for most elections since 1980. Virginia, which hadn’t voted Democratic since 1964, was the biggest surprise, and its Obama majority was larger than that of Ohio, which has frequently been friendly to Democrats in modern times. Massive Hispanic participation turned Colorado and Nevada to Obama, and it helped him in Florida. New Hampshire was the only state lost by Al Gore that switched to John Kerry; its special New England character makes it especially volatile.

It’s a fairly optimistic scenario for Dems, given the worrisome economic challenges of the political moment. And Sabato pinpoints another advantage the President can leverage, “Right now, though, a troubled President Obama — so far unopposed for renomination — has the luxury of keeping both eyes on the Electoral College, planning his trips and policies accordingly.” In a related post, Sabato and associates work through various scenarios targeting the “fickle five” states (NC, IN, FL, OH and VA).
Sabato believes the Democratic preferred target states will depend on the GOP nominee, since there are very different regional angles to consider with respect to front-runners Perry and Romney. The “National Popular Vote Campaign” to render the electoral college inconsequential doesn’t appear to be on track to kick in for 2012, so winning a majority of electoral votes of the seven swing states remains the big game.
Equally encouraging, Alan I. Abramowitz, also writing in Sabato’s Crystal Ball, sees “a slight advantage to Obama,” adding “It appears that there are more ways that he can piece together the 270 electoral votes needed to win in a close election. Despite what happened in 2000, the Electoral College may yet turn out to be the Democrats’ friend in 2012.”

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