Politics

Our Forecast: Obama Likely To Win

Romney closed the gap but the electoral map still works against him as Election Day draws near.

A bitterly divided nation seems set to give Barack Obama a second term as president. This isn’t an endorsement, just straight talk from the Oct. 26 issue of The Kiplinger Letter about the likely outcome, based on an analysis of polls, party breakdowns from states with early voting, and interviews with campaign operatives and officials in key states.

Though Romney narrowly tops some national polls, Obama leads the race for electoral votes, and those 51 separate elections -- in 50 states and the District of Columbia -- will determine who will be sworn in as president on January 20.

Romney’s momentum is slowing after a run of several weeks that allowed him to close the gap in several key states. It can swing his way again, but a renewed surge this close to Election Day would be unusual unless Obama commits a big blunder or a major event raises new doubts about him.

For now, give Obama 277 electoral votes in 22 states and D.C. -- seven more than the 270 he needs to clinch the election.

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That includes the key prize, Ohio. Some polls still show a close race for the state’s 18 electoral votes, but concerns about the auto industry and stout turnout among Democrats during early voting is likely to leave Romney trailing by a narrow margin.

Most of Obama’s success is in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, with a safety net in the Upper Midwest. He’s big in Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan, the state where Romney was born.

Give Romney 235 electoral votes in 25 states, with 26 votes still up for grab in three states: Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire. He’s solid in most of the Plains states, the Mountain states and throughout much of the South.

A week ago, a path opened up for Romney to win. Without Ohio, that path to victory is a long shot. He needs to win all three toss-up states and overtake Obama in Wisconsin. That scenario would give him 271 electoral votes to Obama’s 267.

Romney would also win if the electoral votes added up to a 269-269 tie. The election would be thrown to the 2013 House to decide by casting one vote per delegation, based on which party holds the most seats in that state. Republicans will have a clear edge, but an electoral vote tie is highly unlikely.

If Obama holds on, this year’s focus on early voting will be the deciding factor. Indeed, Romney will win the Election Day vote in Ohio, Iowa and other states. But Obama racked up huge leads over Romney among those voting before Nov. 6, and that will give him the advantage in key states when all ballots are counted. In some states, early voters will account for a fifth or more of the turnout, and many of those votes were cast before Romney’s post-debate surge kicked in.

Republicans privately acknowledge the superiority of Obama’s get-out-the-vote effort. It’s most obvious now in states with early voting, but it will also help the president on Election Day in Pennsylvania and other states that Romney may need to flip to win.

Large Hispanic populations in key states give another nudge to Obama. Hispanics make up more than a quarter of the voting-age population in Nevada, which leans toward Obama, and Colorado, which is up for grabs. Obama will carry 60% or more of Hispanics who vote.

It’s true that an Obama victory will frustrate, or even anger, nearly half of the voters in the U.S. But here’s something to keep in mind: The outcome won’t make a huge difference either way. There are vast disagreements between the candidates on some important issues, but outside of potentially shaping the Supreme Court, whoever is president won’t have much latitude to drive the national agenda, because Congress will still be closely divided.

The House will stay in GOP hands, and Democrats are poised to keep the majority in the Senate.

The bottom line: There’ll be no mandate for the next president, though he’ll try to claim one. With a split Congress and an angry electorate, divisiveness will continue to dominate both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Senior Associate Editor Richard Sammon and Associate Editor Kenneth R. Bazinet contributed to this report.

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