And The Winner Will Be ...
Without further ado, here's how I see the 2012 Presidential election playing out.
As a starting point, it is extremely hard to defeat a sitting President.
In my lifetime, an incumbent President seeking re-election has only been defeated three times: Ford (by Carter in 1976); Carter (by Reagan in 1980); and George H.W. Bush (by Clinton in 1992). In addition, since 1896 every sitting President who was re-elected to a second term (McKinley, Wilson, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush) won by a larger margin of the popular vote than when they originally ran.
If you're going to beat an incumbent, three things need to happen. First, people who voted for a candidate originally need to change their minds. Since people don't like to admit they made a mistake, this is tough. Second, voters who supported a candidate originally need to sit out the second run. Third, people who sat out the original election need to get re-involved in the process and support the challenger.
So, what does that mean for Tuesday?
Using Real Clear Politics as a guide, it appears that President Obama has 201 Electoral College votes sewn up (primarily from States in the Northeast and West) while Mitt Romney is a lock for 191 Electoral College votes (primarily from States in the South and the Plains). That leaves 11 States (and 146 Electoral College votes) in play. The candidate who gets 270 votes wins.
It appears that the Romney campaign is surging in Pennsylvania (20 votes). If Romney is somehow able to carry Pennsylvania, he'll most likely become our 45th President. Still, a Republican hasn't carried Pennsylvania since 1988 - and I'm not sure that this is going to be the year that the streak ends. Let's give Obama Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes. Although a late poll also shows Romney surging in Michigan (16 votes), I think Obama is likely to carry both States raising his total to 237.
In 2008, Obama carried Florida (29 votes), North Carolina (15 votes) and Virginia (13 votes). Just like Obama absolutely has to carry Pennsylvania, Romney absolutely has to carry Florida. I think he will. I think he's also going to carry North Carolina and Virginia raising his total to 248. Of the three States, Virginia will probably be the closest.
In 2008, Obama also carried Colorado (9 votes). I think Romney reverses that this year - raising his total to 257.
And then there's Ohio (18 votes). Most independent polls show that Obama is slightly ahead but that the race is extremely close. I think that some groups of voters who sat out 2008 turn out in a big way in 2012 and that Romney pulls out Ohio.
In other words, I think Romney pulls a mild surprise on the pollsters and wins the Presidency with 275 Electoral College votes.
There are other States that Romney certainly can win - most notably Wisconsin (10 votes) and New Hampshire (4 votes). As a matter of fact, if I'm correct and Romney wins Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado, he can lose Ohio and still win 271 Electoral College votes by carrying Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
Romney can also lose Virginia but still win the Presidency if he carries Wisconsin and Ohio - giving him 272 Electoral College votes. I still think the Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia and Ohio scenario is the most likely though.
As to Wisconsin, I think the result will be incredibly close. If nothing else, the tightness of the race has required Obama to divert a lot of resources to the State over the final week of the campaign. Winning Wisconsin would be a coup for Romney and may well happen - but Wisconsin hasn't voted for a Republican for President since 1984. I'm frankly not sure which way Wisconsin will go - so in an exercise of caution, we'll put it in the Obama column for the sake of argument.
For the same reason, I'll also put Iowa (6 votes), Nevada (6 votes) and New Hampshire (4 votes) in the Obama column. I won't be surprised though if Romney picks up one of these States (most likely New Hampshire).
So, where does that leave us?
When the smoke clears, I predict Romney with 275 Electoral College votes (with a ceiling of 289 including the potential for Wisconsin and New Hampshire) and Obama with 263.
As far as other races, I think Thompson defeats Baldwin for U.S. Senate unless Obama wins Wisconsin by about 4 points (which I don't think is going to happen). I also think Republicans re-take control of the State Senate 18 to 15 (including the solidly GOP leaning District in Waukesha that is currently vacant) and continue to maintain a substantial edge in the State Assembly.
Nationally, I think Republicans will continue to maintain a huge majority in the House and will - unfortunately- fall one or two seats short of re-taking the U.S. Senate. More on that later.
In 2004, I correctly predicted the results of the Presidential election in 49 of the 50 States (missing Wisconsin!). Things are much more fluid this year but the above is my best guess.
Feel free to chime in. You can't win if you don't play.