Now that the 2012 Republican primary for the presidential nomination is starting to wrap up, conservatives are beginning to band together and look for a path to defeat President Barack Obama. After discussing the best ways conservatives can counter Obama, here will we look at the actual path to victory.
The Electoral College
In the United States, the president is not elected by a national popular vote. In fact, it is possible to lose the national popular vote and still win the presidency. In 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore by .5% but one the Electoral College vote by five electors.
Similar to how the Republican primary awards delegates on a state-by-state basis, presidential candidates pick up electoral votes from each state they win. The population of each state, determined by the most recent census statistics, controls how many electoral votes each state is worth. Naturally, states like California, Texas, and New York are some of the biggest prizes in presidential elections. Overall, a candidate must win 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.
Republican Party Strategy: The Path to 270
The magic number for winning the presidential election and defeating Obama is 270, the total number of electoral votes required for an absolute majority. While many have speculated that this path might be quite difficult against the Obama political machine, the numbers actually align quite favorably for the Republicans in 2012.
Essentially, the Republican nominee must do three things to win the election. First, the nominee must carry John McCain states from 2008. Second, the nominee must pick up states that generally favor Republicans but Obama won anyway. Finally, the nominee must pick up a couple of crucial toss-up states, almost all of which Obama won last election.
Goal One: Win John McCain States
The easiest task for the Republican nominee is to win the states that John McCain won in 2008, a race McCain lost by over 9 million votes. If Obama could not win these states in a year where he had every advantage, the chances of him winning them now as his popularity has dropped dramatically are slim. McCain carried 22 states overall, and this offers a solid starting point for the 2012 nominee.
Adding a slight advantage for the Republicans is the fact that these states actually netted six electoral votes from the last election cycle due to census changes, while solid Obama states lost six electoral votes.
The states in the "should win" category are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The only state in the list that the Obama campaign will probably put serious effort into winning is Missouri, a state McCain carried by less than 1%. Winning these conservative leaning states once again will start the GOP nominee off with 180 of the required 270 electoral votes.
Goal Two: Win Back Conservative Leaning States
With only 90 electoral votes to go, the next goal is to win back states that typically vote Republican, but that Obama managed to win anyway. Indiana (11 electoral votes) and North Carolina (15) should be the easiest two states for the Republicans to win back in 2012. Obama won both by less than 1% and are states that were George W. Bush carried by wide margins. Virginia (13), which was carried by Bush with 54% and has had a recent GOP resurgence, is equally vital.
The next two are a little trickier. Florida (29) is probably the singularly most important state for conservatives in 2012. Obama carried the state by less than 3% in 2008, one of his weaker showings. Bush won Florida twice, including by 5% in 2004. Since Obama's election, the GOP has swept nearly every political race in the state. The GOP has greater than two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers. Marco Rubio, a potential vice-presidential pick, easily won his Senate race while Rick Scott won the governorship. Republicans also hold 19 of 25 congressional seats. Florida is definitely a red state, but it has a tendency to vote competitively in national elections.
After Florida, Ohio (18) is probably the second most important state up for grabs. Ohio went for Bush in both 2000 and 2004 before swinging Obama's way in 2008. All three races were decided by fewer than 5%. In 2010, Ohio saw a bit of a Republican comeback as John Kasich upset an incumbent Democrat in the gubernatorial election and Rob Portman scored a huge victory in the US Senate race.
Goal Three: Pick a State, Any State
If the Republicans are able to complete the first 2 goals, the race essentially comes down to needing a single victory in any number of states. At this point, the Republican nominee could have 266 of the needed 270 delegates for victory. Of course, should the Republican nominee lose one or more of the above states, they would have to be substituted from other states below.
Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), New Mexico (5) Pennsylvania (20), and Wisconsin (10) all provide ample opportunity for victories. With the exception of Colorado, all of these states saw big victories for tea party and conservative candidates during the 2010 GOP comeback. These are also states where Bush had either won or was very competitive in both 2000 and 2004.
The Obama advantages of 2008 are now gone. His signature achievement is unpopular. The unemployment rate is still higher than when he took over and the number of people in the workforce is dropping dramatically. Gas prices have doubled. Unable to talk about his accomplishments, his plan for victory is to launch class, gender, and race attacks against Republicans. The presidential election is certainly either party's to win or lose. The Republicans are hoping the electoral trends of the last three years continue, while the Democrats will be hoping for a little change in that pattern.