The Electoral College makes the rules for winning an election extremely clear: win 270 electoral votes, and the presidency is yours. Because these electoral votes are allocated on a state-by-state basis, certain states are much more important than others. These ‘swing states’ are the true deciders in American elections. So, from a very preliminary glance at the electoral gameboard, with a focus on swing states, it is possible to gain some idea of how November’s election will turn out.
We will start with Mr. Obama. From traditionally Democratic states, he will likely receive 227 electoral votes. Unfortunately for him, that leaves 43 votes from uncertain swing states that he must win in order to reach 270.
Next, Mr. Romney. From traditionally Republican states, I estimate him to earn an easy 180 electoral votes, 90 shy of victory. This estimate means that Romney will have to win more than twice the amount of swing state votes than Obama, a possiblility, but by no means easy to do.
What are these swing states, anyway? The list differs slightly depending on who you talk to, but in my opinion, FL, PA, OH, NC, VA, AZ, CO, IA, NV, and NH are all in play. The swing states have been listed from highest to lowest number of electoral votes, meaning that the first few states are comparably much more important than the last few ones.
Only needing 43 of the 131 swing electoral votes, President Obama has a multitude of winning options. Still, some paths to success seem more probable than others. I for one feel that Obama will be able to win Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, leaving him with 23 left to go. But after Pennsylvania, states become much more difficult to call. However, Mitt Romney’s disappointing performance in the Ohio primary makes Obama a slight favorite there, especially considering Obama won Ohio in 2008. If Obama takes both Pennsylvania and Ohio, he could pick up the remaining five electoral votes he would need rather easily. Obama won Nevada, Iowa and Colorado all by 9% or greater margins in 2008, and he would only need one of these states to secure victory given two wins in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
All those prognostications assume that Obama has lost Florida. This is because (assuming Obama takes Pennsylvania) Florida is a must win state for Romney. It would be mathematically impossible for him to gain a majority without it. But even with Florida, Romney still needs 61 more electoral votes for victory. In a winning scenario, I can see him picking up Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia for 39 more. But still 22 votes away, Romney would also need Ohio and one other state.
Wait, that’s a problem! Ohio was already in the Obama totals. A crucial state for both candidates, Ohio may be the deciding state for this election. Then again, Obama is sure to fight a tough campaign in Florida as well. What this means is that the two most important swing states are Ohio and Florida, and it looks like Romney will need both to win the election. Obama, on the other hand, just needs one or the other.
Still, Romney has six months until the nation votes. Preliminary electoral mapping gives us some ideas of how the election may shape out, but expect some surprises before November comes. After all, the election season has just begun!