The 3.8 percent point margin by which President Obama defeated Mitt Romney in 2012 clouds the challenge the Republicans face in 2016. Unless they are able to improve their standing by 5 to 6 points in the key electoral states, they cannot win.
Romney got 206 electoral votes (carrying his closest state, North Carolina, by only 2.2 points). To add to this total, much less to bring it up to the 271 needed to win, Republicans must carry a number of states where they lost by five or more points in 2012.
Here are the closest states that went for Obama in 2012:
Note how sharply Obama’s margin increases as we look down the list to marginal states he carried in 2012. The states above the line in the chart, combined with the ones Romney carried, would suffice to reach a majority. A tall order, indeed.
In fact, if all the 2016 Republican candidate did was to close the 3 point gap in the popular vote -- and this was reflected in the swing states -- he would still lose, getting only 168 of the 171 he needs to win.
He has to do better to win. If the vote in swing states reflected the overall national vote, he would need to win by two points in order to eke out a bare electoral majority. A George W. Bush 2000 performance would not cut it. (Bush lost the popular vote to Gore by .5 percent). Even the 2004 margin by which Bush defeated Kerry, 2.4 percent, would prove only barely adequate, representing only a 5.4 percent swing.
The results of 2014 give Republicans hope as they contemplate the electoral map. They carried Iowa, Colorado, Florida, Ohio and came very close in Virginia. So, scaling the electoral mountain is quite possible for a Republican.
In this context, we Republicans must look for a candidate who brings an electoral vote edge with him. In a sense, the criterion that normally govern the selection of a vice president must now intrude itself into our choice for president.
Jeb Bush brings with him obvious strength in Florida where he served as a popular governor for two terms. Similarly, Senator Marco Rubio would have an edge in the state. But any Republican has got to win Florida to have a chance. And just winning Florida would leave him far behind nationally.
Similarly, John Kasich’s edge in Ohio simply helps a Republican win a state he has to carry but that would still leave him 18 votes shy of the 271 he needed (assuming he carried both Florida and Ohio).
Only Scott Walker appears to offer the chance for a decisive shift in the electoral vote.
Having won election twice and survived a statewide recall vote as well, Walker's ability to carry a state Romney lost by 7 points is pretty well established. If Walker was able to carry Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin, he would need only 8 more votes to win which he could pick up in Virginia (13 votes, Obama won by only 3 percent) or Colorado (9 votes, Obama won by only 4.7 percent).
Viewed another way, a Latino Republican candidate would give the party a much better shot at Colorado’s 9 votes, Nevada’s 6, in addition, of course, to Florida’s 29.
But without Wisconsin or a Latino candidate, the electoral challenge is daunting, indeed.
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