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An Election Night Guide

6:00 AM, Nov 6, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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To win, Obama needs at least 270 electoral votes, while Romney needs at least 269. If each candidate has 269 electoral votes, then, per the Twelfth Amendment, the newly elected House of Representatives would break the tie, with each state delegation having one vote. Because Romney will almost certainly win in a majority of the states, and because a majority of the states will almost surely have House delegations that are predominantly Republican, 269 electoral votes should be enough to give Romney a (highly contentious) victory — even if Obama wins the national popular vote.  (A tally that close, however, would also raise the concern that the election could be swayed by a rogue elector, like President Ford’s elector who cast a vote for Ronald Reagan in 1976.)

With a tally of Obama 237, Romney 235, therefore, Obama would need to win 33 electoral votes in the remaining seven states, while Romney would need to win 34.

Everyone who’s been following this election knows the singular importance of Ohio. With 18 electoral votes, it’s the biggest of these final seven states. In the century and a half since the Republican party came into existence in the 1850s, no GOP presidential candidate has ever won without it.  Similarly, Obama would be hard-pressed to win without it. Ohio is huge. 

If Obama doesn’t win in Ohio, he’ll probably need to win in Virginia. With a split in those two states, the tally would be Romney 253, Obama 250, and it would be anyone’s race.  But if Obama doesn’t win in Ohio or Virginia, then he’d have to sweep Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire.  That would be a tall order.  On the other hand, Obama won each of these states by at least 9 points last time around, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he could sweep them again. 

If Romney doesn’t win in Ohio, then for all intents and purposes Virginia and Colorado would become must-win states for him.  (Likewise, if he loses in either Virginia or Colorado, he must win in Ohio.)

Without Ohio, Romney appears to have two viable paths to victory (both involving Virginia and Colorado).  One is the Wisconsin path — win in Virginia, in Colorado, in Wisconsin, and in one state from among Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire.  The other is the west-of-the-Mississippi path — win in Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada (to get to 269 electoral votes), and then win the election by prevailing either in New Hampshire, in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, or in the House of Representatives. 

Mathematically, Romney could prevail without Ohio by winning in Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nevada — but it’s awfully hard to imagine him winning in Nevada without winning in Colorado, and sweeping Wisconsin and Iowa without winning Ohio.  Alternatively, he could prevail by sweeping Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire, but — in the wake of having already lost in Ohio and Virginia (in this scenario), both of which are more GOP-leaning than any of these five (with the possible exception of Colorado) — that’s probably not much better than a 100-to-1 shot.  In all likelihood, therefore, there are only two paths back for Romney if he loses in the Buckeye State, and both involve winning in both the Old Dominion and in the Centennial State.

All in all, if the election comes down to the nine key swing states (so, if the other 41 states all go according to form), it’s a mathematical certainty that, to win the presidency, Romney will have to win either Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, or Nevada — and, to win reelection, Obama will have to win either Florida, Ohio, Virginia, or Colorado. 

To help keep all of this (and more) in mind, here’s a cheat-sheet for tonight: 

“Must-win” (or nearly “must win”) states (among the 37 in play):

Romney: Florida and North Carolina.

Obama: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Oregon.

Viable paths to victory without winning Ohio (listed in no particular order):

Romney:

1. Win his “must-win” states plus Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin, and either Iowa, Nevada, or New Hampshire;

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