So I’ve been playing with the Electoral College map in my usual, obsessive way, and here’s my latest find.
If President Barack Obama wins all the states where he’s currently leading in polls consistently by at least 5 points, he comes very close to a win, capturing 266 out of the 270 Electoral College votes he needs for a second term.
In many of those states — like Michigan, Wisconsin and New Mexico — the President is actually leading by double-digit margins, and commands over 50% support. So clearly, Mr. Obama holds a powerful strategic lead.
Does that mean it’s game over for Mitt Romney? No. As many In Boxers have pointed out, it’s still very early days.
So far, Romney hasn’t shown the kind of talent on the stump that has allowed other campaigners — politicians of the caliber of Reagan and Clinton, say — to recapture the larger narrative.
The lengthy Republican primary is also limiting dangerously the time that he’ll have to pivot from his conservative talking points to a more moderate general-election message.
But even if the campaign dynamic doesn’t change dramatically in tone and momentum, the Republican does still have a path to victory.
Here is what may be the most plausible scenario for how Romney could unseat an incumbent president.
First, of course, he has to hold everything that is currently expected to fall in the “red” column, including states like Arizona and Missouri that some Democrats think might conceivably be put in play.
Republicans have already come very close to losing Virginia, a state that was once purplish or downright red.
Polls show Obama leading in that southern-border state consistently by close to double-digit margins, thanks largely to Democratic support in growing northern suburbs just outside of Washington DC.
One more significant erosion of that caliber on the national map and the game is probably up.
Still, if Team Romney can hold onto the territory that now looks safe, they have a shot. They then have to run the table in these remaining battlegrounds: Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.
That kind of sweep won’t be easy, of course. Romney currently trails (by small and inconsistent margins) in several of those states, including Florida and Ohio. But the door clearly remains open to making an argument to those important voters.
It’s also worth noting that for Romney to recapture New Hampshire would be a nice coup.
His power base within the Republican Party is set solidly in the Northeast, but he’s expected to win almost nothing in that region during the general election.
Even if he wins all those states, Romney would emerge with a scant victory of 272 Electoral College votes. So there is, as they say, zero margin for error.
I think it’s a fact that at this stage of the game, the Republican map — and Mitt Romney’s room to maneuver — is much, much smaller than most pundits have acknowledged.
But a win is a win and during the primary Romney has shown that he’s comfortable eking out a victory on points, rather than a knock-out.