President Obama’s electoral college edge

September 12, 2012

President Obama maintains an edge in the race for 270 electoral college votes, according to a state-by-state Fix analysis, even as national polling suggests the race remains tight between the incumbent and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Since we last analyzed the national map in July, and despite the fact that Romney has picked his vice president and both parties have held their nominating conventions, there's been no polling data or spending decisions compelling enough to move any state from its current rating of toss-up, lean Obama or lean Romney.

That means that Obama can count on 196 solid electoral votes and another 41 -- in New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- that lean his way for a total of 237. Romney has 170 solid electoral votes and 36 -- Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina -- leaning his way for a total of 206.

Among the states, then, that seem unlikely to move either way over the next 55 days, Obama starts with a 31-electoral-vote edge. But it's in the eight states we rate as toss-ups where the incumbent's current advantage makes itself clearer.

Relying solely on the Real Clear Politics poll of polls in each state -- the most reliable apples-to-apples comparison we know of -- there are seven swing states (Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and New Hampshire) where Obama currently leads and one (Virginia) where Romney holds the lead.

Going by those polls, Obama would take 82 of a possible 95 swing-state votes and win reelection with 319 electoral votes.

Remove states where either candidate leads by a single point or less -- that's Iowa (Obama + 0.2) and Virginia (Romney + 0.8) -- and Obama takes 76 of the swing-state electoral votes, giving him 313 -- and a second term.

Now, to be clear, where polling in these swing states stands today isn't a direct indicator of where the race will end up. Obama is the incumbent and, history shows, isn't likely to win large swaths of voters who haven't made up their minds yet. (If they're not for him now, why would they be in six weeks time?)

And, in many of the genuine toss-up states, the Obama campaign thus far has heavily outspent Romney even when spending by conservative outside groups is added into the mix. Once GOP spending begins to assert itself, there's a reasonable case to be made that many of these close states -- Obama is ahead by no more than 3.4 points in any of the Fix's eight toss up-states, according to RCP -- could tilt Romney's way.

As of today, however, it's clear that Obama has more paths to 270 electoral votes than Romney. If Obama starts at 237 electoral votes -- and that seems to be the case, as there is scant evidence that Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Mexico are regarded as seriously in play -- then he could lose all but Florida and New Hampshire among the Fix's eight swing states and still get to 270.

Win Ohio, Wisconsin (where no Republican has won since 1984) and either Nevada or Iowa, and Obama gets to 271 electoral votes. Obama could lose Virginia, Ohio and Florida and still be re-elected if he carried the other five Fix toss-up states.

We could go through electoral college scenarios all day. (Seriously.) But they almost all add up to the same thing: Obama remains in the driver's seat when it comes to winning the 270 electoral votes he needs to claim a second term.

The next 55 days are (obviously) critical, as undecided voters begin paying attention (finally), but Obama has built himself a not-insignificant electoral college cushion to ward off any momentum won by Romney.

Matchups set in Rhode Island, New Hampshire: It was primary day Tuesday in three states, and things panned out as expected.

In New Hampshire, former Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne (R) and former state senator Maggie Hassan (D) easily won their primaries and will face off in the state's open governor's race.

In Rhode Island, Rep. David Cicilline (D) easily survived a primary challenge, taking more than 60 percent of the vote. He still faces a tough matchup in the fall, though, with former state police superintendent Brendan Doherty (R), despite Cicllline's heavily Democratic district.

Delaware was the third state holding its primary on Tuesday, but Democratic incumbents are expected to easily hold on to their seats in the state's governor, Senate and congressional matchups.

Dem super PAC goes up in 6 districts: The Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC is launching $2.2 million worth of new ads in six key House districts.

The ads will run against Reps. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Steve King (R-Iowa), Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) and Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), and also against Rep. Mike McIntyre's (D-N.C.) opponent, state Sen. David Rouzer.

The ad against Lungren is also being sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The $2.2 million spent looks to be a good chunk of the super PAC's war chest. At the end of July, it had $4.6 million cash on hand.

Fixbits:

new Obama ad keeps the focus on women's rights, while another new ad running in Iowa, Nevada, Virginia and Ohio hit Romney for not revealing details of his tax plan.

Vladimir Putin takes on Romney.

A senior Israeli official says the Obama White House has turned down a meeting later this month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At the Democrats' convention last week, the party reinstated platform language recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel amid controversy. And the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has been a bit rocky.

Automated pollster Survey USA shows Obama up by four points in Florida while another pollster, Gravis Marketing, shows him ahead by four in Ohio and down by five in Virginia.

Top Ron Paul aide Jesse Benton has left the Campaign for Liberty, a grassroots organization launched by Paul supporters.

Continuing a hot new trend, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) compares the government to Nazis.

House Speaker John Boehner sounds a pessimistic note on avoiding the "fiscal cliff".

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson (R) says an aide who promoted video of Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) dancing at a gay pride event made a mistake. Baldwin, Thompson's opponent in an open Senate race, is trying to become the first openly gay senator.

SurveyUSA also shows a huge swing toward Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in Florida's Senate race.

The author of a study on members of Congress and their attendance at committee hearings is asking Linda McMahon's (R) Connecticut Senate campaign to stop using a quote that takes her out of context.

McMahon's opponent, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) launches an ad targeting her business record.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) defends his comment comparing gay Republicans to "Uncle Tom."

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), who like Cicilline faces personal problems and a tough race in a northeastern district that should be safe, launches his first ad.

Must-reads:

"Quick Start to Program Offering Immigrants a Reprieve" -- Julia Preston, New York Times

"Democrats in Congress try to put Paul Ryan back in campaign spotlight" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

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Aaron Blake · September 11, 2012