In the Daily Beast, Michael Medved encourages Mitt Romney’s campaign to take steps to avoid the “catastrophe” that would result from “the very real chance that Mitt Romney will win the Electoral College even while losing the popular vote badly to Barack Obama.” He adds, “Mr. Obama could prevail by as much as the 7 percent margin that gave him victory last time, while still losing the Electoral College to Romney.” This is certainly provocative, but it’s not realistic.
In 2008, John McCain won only one state (Texas) by so much as 500,000 votes and no state by 1 million votes. Obama won one state by more than 3 million votes (California), another by more than 2 million votes (New York), another by more than 1 million votes (Illinois), and 9 states by at least 500,000 votes apiece (those three plus Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, and Washington). In other words, Obama posted lopsided margins last time around in large, left-leaning states, yet he still won nationally by only 7 percentage points. And in the process of winning by 7 points nationally, he won more than two-thirds of the electoral vote.
That’s the way the Electoral College — a product of the Constitutional Convention, a welcome reminder of federalism, and one of the more unsung of the Founders’ many ingenious contributions to our republic — works. It almost always accentuates the margin of victory, and hence the perceived legitimacy, of the winner.
There is no way that Mitt Romney is going to swing North Carolina (which Obama won by 0.3 points), Indiana (which Obama won by 1 point), Florida (which Obama won by 3 points), Ohio (which Obama won by 5 points), Virginia (which Obama won by 6 points), and at least one state that Obama won by 9 points or more, into the GOP column — which would just barely get Romney above 270 electoral votes — without Romney’s also doing far better than McCain in the popular vote in the process. And that would be true even if it weren’t the case that a whole host of red states are almost surely to become even redder this time around, which will further buoy Romney’s tally in the popular vote.
In short, there is no way that Obama is going to win big in the popular vote and lose the presidency. The last thing the Romney people need to worry about is this.
What they need to worry about are the nine states that will likely swing this election — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire — and the four others that could: Michigan, North Carolina, Minnesota, and New Mexico. If Romney wins enough of these states to win the election, the popular vote will likely go his way as well. And if it doesn’t, so be it.
Tennis players win matches all the time without winning as many games as their opponent. The Red Sox outscored the Reds over a 7-game stretch in October 1975, yet Boston lost the greatest World Series ever played, 4 games to 3. The “catastrophe” wouldn’t be for Obama to win the popular vote. It would be for him to win the election.