Friday, November 9, 2012

The Curse of the Second Term

Barack Obama and his supporters are jubilant these days, basking in the afterglow of their electoral victory. They haven't been terribly gracious in their victory, either, which I have long found to be a recipe for eventual disaster.

And many scoff at the lessons of history, having just turned conventional wisdom on its ear by successfully waging an entire campaign dedicated solely to smearing the opposition. That isn't really anything new in American politics, but, usually, when a politician is re–elected to office, his/her supporters have an idea what he/she intends to do.

But I spoke to many Obama supporters during the general election campaign, and I asked them sincerely — I asked some multiple times — what the incumbent wanted to do if given a second term. Not a single one could tell me what Obama's second–term agenda was.

Perhaps that was the prudent thing. After all, most presidents who win re–election do so after they have expressed some kind of a grand vision — and then they get shot down (often by something entirely unexpected).


(Sometimes, though, presidents just run out of gas long before their second terms are finished — having already used their first terms to present their best legislative ideas.)

In my lifetime, Obama is the fifth president to be re–elected, and the first four were stymied by serious problems in their second terms.

George W. Bush proclaimed on election night that he had "earned political capital" in the campaign that he intended to spend — and then the president who couldn't think of a single thing he would do differently in his first term got sidetracked in his second by an increasingly unpopular war and the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina.

Bill Clinton was impeached in his second term. No one had heard of Monica Lewinsky in November 1996.

Ronald Reagan's second–term agenda was derailed by the Iran–Contra scandal.

Richard Nixon resigned as Watergate blossomed from a "third–rate burglary" in his first term to a major scandal in his second.

It isn't a new phenomenon, either. For presidents who are re–elected, election night is frequently the high point of their second terms. It's mostly down hill from there.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term was bogged down by his attempt to "pack" the Supreme Court.

Woodrow Wilson was re–elected by the slimmest margin of any president until Obama's re–election this week, largely because he kept the United States out of the war that was being waged in Europe — but America wound up in World War I, anyway.

Dwight Eisenhower had a series of problems in his second term. The United States fell behind the Soviet Union in the space race. The infamous U–2 incident embarrassed him in the final year of his presidency and raised tensions between America and the Soviet Union. And his administration lost the services of his trusted chief of staff and several Cabinet officers.

But Eisenhower managed to keep the peace between the two nations, and his second term was also marked by federal enforcement of school desegregation in the South and a memorable farewell address to the nation in which he warned against "unwarranted influence ... by the military–industrial complex."

Obama will face numerous challenges in his second term — the looming fiscal cliff gets all the ink right now, but then it will be the implementation of Obamacare and the probability that both will plunge the United States into another recession, as well as hearings on the terrorist attack in Benghazi — and the time may well come when the president will regret not having made a friend or two on the other side of the legislative aisle.

Trying to make some legislative friends from across the aisle now just isn't likely to work, given the venomous nature of Obama's campaign attacks.

It's a two–way street, though. Obama's short–lived filibuster–proof majority in the Senate is long gone and, most likely, won't be coming back since Democrats must defend 20 seats in the 2014 midterms. Few if any of the Republican–held seats look like they could be in jeopardy (right now, at least), but the Democrats must defend senators from Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and South Dakota — among others.

But congressional Republicans, who famously said their top objective was to make Obama a one–termer, must reconcile themselves to the fact that, like Bush and Clinton before him, Obama has been re–elected, and it will be necessary now for both sides to work together in the best interest of the country.

That calls for skills that Obama has never really shown that he possesses, but that's the way the system is set up in this country. We have checks and balances built in to the system to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful, and we have regular elections so voters can at least feel as if they have some power over what happens — even if they don't have nearly as much power as they might like to think they do.

When Clinton was president, and he was forced to deal with a Republican Congress, he gravitated to the political center and worked out deals with members of the Republican majorities.

For the first two years of his second term, Obama must work with a Republican House (and cajole enough Senate Republicans to prevent filibusters from happening) to get things done.

That's going to be tricky. But it must be done. The alternative is a recession, if not a depression, with massive job losses.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Big Election About Small Things

"If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things."

Barack Obama
2008 Democratic National Convention

Presidential elections are seldom about what they should be about.

I probably should have learned that on this day in 1972 — or, at least, not long thereafter.

As I have mentioned here before, my mother was a huge supporter of George McGovern, the quixotic Democratic nominee who ran against President Richard Nixon that year. McGovern tried to run on the big issues of the day — the biggest of which was the Vietnam War, which had so divided America four years earlier when Nixon had been elected president.

And I frequently went with Mom when she was campaigning door to door for McGovern that fall.

She admired the fact that McGovern spoke about the difficult issues of war and peace, poverty and prosperity, and, while I don't remember McGovern's loss on this day being a surprise to her, as I mentioned on the occasion of McGovern's death last month, she must have known what was coming. Everyone did.

It was a different time, which is something, I suppose, that younger Americans simply cannot understand any more than they can understand how their elders used to listen to recordings on discs several times the size of modern CDs that were deceptively heavy and could only be played with — of all things — needles.

It was the last election in which the major party nominees did not debate at least once — Nixon had learned his lesson from the experience of debating John F. Kennedy and declined all such offers.

Such a move probably would be greeted by a huge public outcry today. Modern voters expect presidential candidates to debate each other, but it merited only a couple of references by most observers and then it was dropped when it drew no traction.

Neither, for that matter, did the Watergate break–in and coverup. Oh, Watergate was mentioned from time to time, but, as Jason Robards observed in the movie version of "All the President's Men""Half the country never even heard of the word 'Watergate.' Nobody gives a s***."

And that is my memory of the general attitude toward the break–in. It was one of those things that may happen in a political campaign. It was deplorable, everyone agreed; the people who participated in the planning and the execution of the plan should be brought to justice, but it wasn't the candidate's fault. The candidate, especially if he was an incumbent, could not possibly be expected to know everything that went on within his campaign organization and in his name.

People today — perhaps foolishly, given what we learned about human nature from that episode in our history — expect better than that from their candidates. They wouldn't stand for any of the old–school shenanigans and dirty tricks that, in hindsight, marked all of Nixon's campaigns in one way or another.

"It was customary, during and after the campaign, to say that the American people did not care," wrote Theodore H. White in "The Making of the President 1972."

"Wise men agreed, and the polls supported them, that it meant little — that Americans had become callous, too cynical to worry about morality in government."

White was torn on the issue in what was the final volume in his "The Making of the President" series. Based on his observations from the campaign trail, White wrote, people were concerned about what they were hearing about the president's men and what they had been up to.

And, based on the number of voters who came to the polls compared to four years earlier, White concluded that Nixon "failed to maximize his potential support."

"[I]t is possible," White wrote, "that at least 3 or 4 million Americans were so disillusioned by both candidates that they chose not to vote at all."

For those who did vote, however, there was "an open choice of ideas, a free choice of directions, and they chose Richard Nixon."

And, while some people did try to make the 1972 election about the big things — the war, the economy, Watergate — my memory is that the Nixon campaign focused on small things — inconsistencies in McGovern's voting record or verbal missteps — and didn't spend too much time talking about what Nixon had done or what he hoped to do.

Nixon had told voters in 1968 that he had a "secret plan" to end the war in six months, a plan he could not reveal because of the sensitivity of the information and the strategy. The war was still going on in 1972. He had failed to achieve the thing that most Americans wanted more than anything else.

If the campaign had been about that, Nixon probably would have faced — in the words of one of his successors — a "one–term proposition." And, privately, Nixon was bitter about the war with which Kennedy and Johnson had saddled him.

There were arguments that Nixon could have made that there had been real improvements on long–term propositions — because ending the war and reviving a sagging economy that was just beginning to experience long–term issues on energy really were long–term problems. It was unrealistic to regard them as anything else.

Of course, promising to end the war in six months was unrealistic and probably ill–advised, but even more ill–advised was any decision to vote based solely on that remark. McGovern did mention that promise from time to time in 1972, but my memory is that most people were dismissive of it. I don't remember any fist fights breaking out over the pledge.

Nixon could — and did — focus on big accomplishments, like forging new relationships with the Chinese and the Russians. But, mostly, his campaign was about little things.

Much like the campaign that just concluded.

While their political philosophies were different, Mitt Romney reminds me a lot of George McGovern — a decent man who sought to speak about big things but was frequently mischaracterized and belittled, first in his own party and then in the general election.

Romney handled it better than McGovern did. He didn't have to drop his running mate, after all. But, nevertheless, his was the first major–party ticket to lose both its home states since the 1972 election.

(Paul Ryan, of course, is a native of Wisconsin, but plausible arguments could be made that Romney's home state could be Michigan, the state of his birth, or Massachusetts, the state that elected him its governor. For the purpose of the argument, though, it doesn't matter. The GOP lost both.)

And Romney didn't lose in a huge landslide. It was a squeaker by historical standards. Obama's successful re–election was the most tepid I have witnessed in my lifetime — and he is the fifth president in that time to be re–elected.

Of course, three sitting presidents (including Gerald Ford, who is an exception because he was never elected president or vice president) have been rejected by the voters, too.

I believed Obama would join them. I was wrong.

He may yet join Nixon. I believe there is a lot about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi that has not been revealed. I don't know if it will be revealed before Obama's term is over. That may depend upon whether mainstream journalists are willing to explore the troubling questions that have been raised, no matter where those questions may lead them.

It should be a source of enduring shame to journalists the way they have often shilled for the administration and failed to act as the watchdogs of the truth they are supposed to be. (I see more egregious examples of this in broadcast journalism than I do in print — but, unfortunately, Americans seem less inclined to read than ever.)

It was the role of watchdog, perhaps more than any other, that attracted me to journalism when I was young — the dogged determination of the press to pursue Watergate wherever it took them. I hope American journalists will rediscover the value of that role.

Perhaps then, if we allow a big election to be defined by little things, it will not be because the press did not do its job.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Election of 1912

A century ago today, an incumbent president was rejected by the voters.

That might be a bad omen for the incumbent president whose name is on tomorrow's ballot, but, unlike the incumbent who lost on this day in 1912, at least he doesn't have to run against a former president who is running as a third–party candidate.

(If, on the other hand, Barack Obama is re–elected tomorrow, that might open the door to another possible scenario that was suggested in print by Michael Barone the day after the third and final presidential debate two weeks ago. More on that a bit later.)

Presidential elections usually have several "third–party" candidates, but, typically, only the two major parties (which have varied in the last two centuries, but, since the time of Lincoln, the dominant parties in the United States have been the Democrats and Republicans) receive enough support to make them factors.

Most of the time, third parties are, at best, distractions — and magnets for disgruntled voters who like neither of the major–party nominees. But, occasionally, the third–party candidate wins a large share of the popular vote — and a few even manage to win a state or two.

There have been several times in U.S. history when an incumbent president was defeated in a bid for another term; obviously, such elections involve both a past and future president.

But once — and only once — a three–way race involved three credible candidates who had been — or would be — president. That was the election of 1912. Those voters went to the polls a century ago today.

The incumbent president was William Howard Taft, the hand–picked successor for Theodore Roosevelt, who did not run in 1908 because he had served nearly all of William McKinley's second term plus a full one of his own and honored a pledge he had made in 1904 not to seek another one.

Taft had been Roosevelt's secretary of War, and they had been close friends, but a rift developed between them during Taft's presidency and, by 1912, Roosevelt was the acknowledged leader of the progressive wing of the Republican Party while Taft was the leader of its conservative wing, setting the stage for a battle for the party's nomination in 1912.

Even before the presidential campaign, a deep divide within the Republican Party was clear when Republicans lost 10 Senate seats and 57 House seats in the 1910 midterm elections. The 1912 campaign for the Republican nomination merely put an exclamation point on it.

1912 was the first year that Republicans held presidential primaries, and Roosevelt was, by far, the more popular candidate among the Republicans' rank and file, winning nine of 12 primaries, most by wide margins.

But three–fourths of the state delegations were chosen in state party conventions run by the party's establishment, which strongly favored the status quo, and Taft, along with Vice President James Sherman, was renominated when Republicans convened in Chicago in June.

(Sherman's nomination wasn't the slam dunk that 21st century observers might assume. He was actually the first sitting vice president to be renominated in more than 80 years.)

Roosevelt and his followers held their own convention, and Roosevelt was nominated to run as the standard bearer for the new Progressive Party. When asked by reporters about his physical condition, the 53–year–old Roosevelt responded that he felt as strong as a "bull moose."

It was kind of an odd question, I suppose. I mean, since leaving the White House, Roosevelt had been on an African safari and had suffered no ill effects on it, but he had been stricken with malaria during the Spanish–American War so the question was relevant. From that point on, the new party was known as the Bull Moose Party.

All that sounds like a huge gift for the Democratic challenger, doesn't it? Well, since the Democrat eventually won the election, I suppose it was — except the nominee was not clear when Democrats convened in Baltimore at the end of June.

In those days, a simple majority of the delegates was not sufficient to win the Democratic nomination. The support of two–thirds was required, but no one could even get a majority until the ninth ballot.

In an ironic twist, the initial frontrunner, House Speaker Champ Clark of Missouri, was hurt when the infamous Tammany Hall political machine from New York backed his candidacy. Although it boosted Clark past the 50% mark on the ninth ballot, Tammany Hall's support had the reverse effect, earning the wrath of three–time nominee William Jennings Bryan, who had been officially neutral up to that time and was still the darling of the party's liberals despite having lost all three elections.

Denouncing Clark as the Wall Street candidate (that has a familiar sound to it, doesn't it?), Bryan threw his support behind New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson, a centrist, and Wilson gradually gained momentum, finally winning the support of enough delegates to claim the nomination on the 46th ballot.

Perhaps the greatest irony of that election year was the fact that Wilson, who had been finishing second to Clark in the previous ballots, was on the brink of withdrawing and releasing his delegates to vote for someone else when the schism between Bryan and Clark occurred.

If Wilson had given up a ballot or two earlier, Clark might have won the nomination — or Bryan might have boosted the candidacy of someone else.

And the course of American history would have been altered.

It was a different time, of course. There was no internet, no television, no radio to rapidly distribute images and information; news traveled long distances by telegraph. It was relatively early in the industrialization of the United States. The railroad had opened up the West, but the automobile was still new, and commercial air travel was still many years away.

Those who thrive in our instant information era would feel wholly out of place if they could be magically transported back 100 years.

It was, as I say, a different time. Titanic sank nearly seven months earlier — man flew to the moon and back half a dozen times before his technology permitted him to probe the ocean's depths and find Titanic's remains.

It was a different political time, too. It was, in the estimation of many, progressivism's plateau. A fourth candidate for the presidency, Socialist Eugene Debs, made his fourth run for the office and received 6% of the national vote — his highest share ever of the popular vote.

A labor organizer at heart, Debs had little interest in the American electoral system, and he spoke disparagingly of the so–called "Sewer Socialists" who had made political deals to win low–level elections.

The 1912 campaign would have been one for the books if only because three men who had been or would be president were on the ballot.

But there were other things about the 1912 campaign that were significant.

For one thing, Roosevelt was the target of an assassination attempt about three weeks before the voters went to the polls.

While campaigning in Milwaukee on Oct. 14, 1912, Roosevelt was shot by a former barkeeper from New York, John Schrank.

Schrank claimed to have been visited in a dream by McKinley's ghost, who had urged him to avenge his death and pointed to a picture of Roosevelt. He apparently had been stalking Roosevelt from New Orleans to Milwaukee, where he confronted and shot the former president in his chest at a hotel where Roosevelt was to deliver a speech.

Roosevelt was not killed. The bullet struck Roosevelt's steel eyeglasses case and a 50–page copy of his speech. The ex–president concluded that, because he was not coughing up blood, he was not seriously wounded, and he proceeded to deliver his speech (which took 90 minutes).

Roosevelt's diagnosis was confirmed later by doctors, who decided that it would be more dangerous to try to remove the bullet from his chest than to leave it where it was. Roosevelt carried the bullet inside his body the rest of his life.

An attempt to assassinate a presidential candidate has been rare in American politics. Only two men (Robert Kennedy and George Wallace) have been assassination targets in the last 100 years — and no major–party presidential candidate had been similarly attacked on the campaign trail before.

(Schrank was declared insane and was sent to the Central State Mental Hospital in 1914. He died there of natural causes in 1943.)

Another thing that made 1912 different was the death of Vice President Sherman.

Sherman suffered from kidney disease — in fact, he had delivered his renomination acceptance speech against his doctors' wishes — and he died at his New York home about a week before the election.

In America's history, half a dozen vice presidents had died in office before Sherman did — including Roosevelt's predecessor, Garret Hobart, in 1899 — but no incumbent vice president has died in the century that has passed since Sherman's death, not even Harry Truman's veep, Alben Barkley, who was elected when he was 70 years old.

So, by 21st–century standards, I suppose, it would have been shocking if, say, Vice President Joe Biden had dropped dead last week.

But voters in 1912 probably weren't too shocked. Vice presidents' deaths were more common than presidential deaths in the second half of the 19th century.

Sherman's death was unique, however, in that it left President Taft without a running mate a week before the election. The president of Columbia University, Nicholas M. Butler, was designated to take Sherman's place, but Sherman's name remained on the ballot.

In the long run, I guess, it didn't matter whose name was on the ballot. The Taft–Sherman ticket ran third and received the electoral votes of only Utah and Vermont. That was not attributable exclusively to Sherman's death, but it could not have helped Taft's cause to have such uncertainty about his running mate just days before the election.

Taft's loss, however, turned out to be the Supreme Court's gain, as Claude Marx observes at

And now, back to Mr. Barone's observation a couple of weeks ago.

In 2008, he noted, Obama "got a higher share of the popular vote than any other Democratic nominee in history except Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson."

But most political analysts, including Barone, are convinced that, if Obama is re–elected, it will be by a considerably narrower margin. Only one president in American history, Barone observed, was re–elected by a smaller margin than the one by which he was elected originally.

That would be Wilson, who was "re–elected in 1916 by 49 to 46 percent in popular votes and 277 to 254 in the Electoral College," Barone wrote.

"If California, which then had only 13 electoral votes, had not gone for Wilson by 3,773 votes," Barone continued, "the incumbent would have lost."

Barone pointed out that Obama has not been definite about his plans for a second term.

"Presidents who get re–elected," he wrote, "usually offer second–term agendas. Obama hasn't, especially on the economy. As a re–elected president, he will be as free of constraints as Wilson was."

Just one thing stands between Obama and that second term — tomorrow's election. (And, for the record, Barone doesn't believe Obama will be re–elected. But Larry Sabato does.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

And the Winner Will Be ...

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by presidential elections.

Mind you, I'm not talking about election campaigns. Modern experience is that political campaigns are nasty, dishonest and undignified — although American history does have a few inspiring tales of elevating campaigns that go a long way toward redeeming the rest.

No, I have never been fascinated by the campaigns. I covered some political campaigns when I was a general assignment reporter, and I know that one political rally is pretty much the same as the next. In fact, with their scripted messages of the day and their identical backdrops, any rallies that take place on the same day really could substitute for any of the others on that evening's news broadcast — and hardly anyone would be the wiser.

What has fascinated me is the numbers that come in on election night, what they say about who we are and what we care about — and the most important numbers of all, of course, the tallies in the Electoral College.

I enjoy analyzing the vote by various demographic groups because it tells us a lot about our priorities, but I guess I have always been more intrigued by the raw state totals that usually determine how each state's electoral votes will be cast. Generations come and go, the faces in the voting lines change but political alliances seldom do.

I suppose that explains why certain states always vote for one party or the other. And I have a healthy respect for the lessons of history.

In the lead–up to this year's elections — in large part, I'm sure, because of our national experience with the recounts of 2000 — some have been openly worrying about the possibility that the popular vote winner will not be the electoral vote winner.

Paul Brandus, for example, recently wrote in The Week about nail–biters in American presidential election history.

And he pointed out something that no one else, to my knowledge, has in this election cycle — the possibility that the electoral vote would be inconclusive and the matter would have to be decided by the Congress.

Brandus wrote about the slim mathematical possibility that both Obama and Romney would finish with 269 electoral votes — one short of the required 270. (Personally, I'm more inclined to believe that a "faithless elector" — or two or three — would prevent a candidate from winning in the Electoral College.)

If that happened, the House would select the president, and the Senate would select the vice president. That is how such an impasse is to be resolved, according to the Constitution.

The catch is that the newly elected Congress — not the one that is presently in power — would make the decisions. Congress has adjourned and is not scheduled to be in session again until January, when the newly elected members will be sworn in.

And their first order of business, in the event of an Electoral College tie, would be to choose the president and vice president.

Most people expect the House to remain in Republican hands — the GOP would have to lose about two dozen seats to lose control of the chamber, which is something that almost never happens (historically), but, in the last three elections, we have seen double–digit seat shifts in the House so it is possible.

However, the fate of the Senate, which is narrowly held by Democrats (who must defend about two–thirds of the seats that will be voted on Tuesday), has been less certain for many observers, but the emerging consensus seems to be the Democrats will hold on to their majority in that chamber.

If that turns out to be the breakdown of the next Congress, Brandus observed, the House would be expected to elect Romney president — and the Senate would be expected to re–elect Vice President Joe Biden. Talk about gridlock.

It's a season for silliness, I suppose. Most of the time, the electoral vote winner is the popular vote winner so, historically speaking, talk of such a split belongs under the heading of worst–case scenario. It is possible but not probable, even in a very close race.

And, usually, a candidate's share of the electoral vote tends to mirror that candidate's share of the popular vote (if not exceed it) as well. But not always. The only requirement for winning a state is to get more votes there than the other guy. It can be by a few hundred votes (see Florida in 2000) or by a million or more (see California, Texas, New York in just about every election in the last 30 years).

For that reason, many political scientists have observed, Democrats (like Al Gore in 2000) may be more vulnerable to a popular vote/electoral vote split because — in recent elections, at least — they have been winning heavily populated states like California and New York by wide margins.

The flip side is that most of the states that are popularly labeled red states these days are primarily smaller states (with the noteworthy exception of Texas) — so if a Republican is winning a majority of the popular vote, recent history suggests that he must be winning (perhaps handily) in the Electoral College because his margins in most states will appear tiny when compared to the Democrat's margins in the larger. more urban states.

(While we're on the topic of silliness, I feel torn between hilarity and horror at the suggestion that the president could postpone the election because of the recent hurricane that devastated the East Coast.

(The Constitution spells out when a federal election is to be held, and only an act of Congress — which is not in session, as I mentioned earlier — could do that. Lawmakers from the interior U.S. almost certainly would sympathize with the plight of the folks in the Northeast but would not see any reason to inconvenience their own constituents, many of whom have already voted early, anyway.

(So I find it hilarious that people even suggest this. It may be in jest or it may be serious. I think both may be at play here because I am sure that at least some are being facetious. But I am inclined to feel horror at the thought that there are citizens out there who not only believe the president possesses such sweeping powers that he can reschedule a national election — but are actually comfortable with one individual having such totalitarian power in a democratic republic.)

Speaking of history, I can't recall a week preceding a presidential election that was quite like last week.

I didn't have access to a wide range of news sources when I was growing up, but I've been online for about 15 years now, and I have witnessed all sorts of columns and articles prior to presidential elections during that time.

And, frankly, I was astonished at the number of post–mortems for the Obama campaign that were appearing in print and online editions of publications last week — almost as if the votes had already been counted.

Steve Huntley of the Chicago Sun–Times wrote that Obama has "eroded" the American dream.

Foremost in these post–mortems was a column by Richard Cohen, who wrote in the Washington Post of watching a documentary about Ethel Kennedy that showed her husband on his trips to Appalachia and Mississippi and how he "brimmed with shock and indignation, with sorrow and sympathy" over the plight of the poor.

Kennedy "was determined," Cohen wrote, "you could see it on his face — to do something about it. I've never seen that look on Barack Obama's face." He lamented that "I once wondered if Obama could be another RFK."

But, Cohen wrote, undoubtedly echoing the thoughts of many, "I wish he was the man I once mistook him for."

Anyway, let's get back to the business at hand.

Back in April, I examined the "emerging electoral map" and tried to explain historical voting patterns.

I started off by dismissing nearly half of the states as sure things for one side or another — and, with only one real exception, I'm standing by that forecast.

Of the sure things, Mitt Romney has 14 states — Alabama (9 electoral votes), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Nebraska (5), Oklahoma (7), Tennessee (11), Texas (38), Utah (6), Wyoming (3). Total = 120 electoral votes.

Barack Obama has 10 states (and D.C.) — California (55 electoral votes), Connecticut (7), D.C. (3), Hawaii (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), New York (29), Oregon (7), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington (12). Total = 145 electoral votes.

The wild card in that group, I feel, is Oregon.

Yes, I know that Obama carried Oregon by more than 16 percentage points in 2008. And I know Democrats have carried Oregon in six straight presidential elections.

But I'm still doubtful about the state.

Last Monday, The Oregonian reported a six–point lead for Obama in its latest statewide poll.

That may sound good to Obama supporters, conditioned as they have been lately to disappearing leads in states they were counting on carrying, but it actually represents a decline from findings in polls taken in the last three or four months. It isn't a huge decline as these things go — and it falls within the typical margin for error so things may not have changed in Oregon.

But slippage would be in keeping with the apparent pattern in most states.

And, even though seven electoral votes from a single state doesn't mean much when there are 531 electoral votes in the other 49 states and the District of Columbia, seven electoral votes might make all the difference in a race that is expected to be as close as this one is believed to be.

(Personally, I don't think it will be as close as many people do.)

So, while I still predict that Oregon will vote for Obama, I also say that, if it is a very close race, Oregon will bear watching in the late–night hours when the votes on the West Coast are being counted.

I'm still inclined to keep Oregon among the sure things — but, in the shifting political climate, I'm not as sure of it as I was.

I labeled the next group of states the probables — states that are likely to vote in a certain way but, for one reason or another, their eventual leaning will remain unclear until the votes are counted on Tuesday.

Romney had nine states in this group: Arizona (11), Colorado (9), Georgia (16), Indiana (11), Montana (3), North Dakota (3), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), West Virginia (5). Total = 70 electoral votes.

I'm inclined to leave those states in the Republican column — including Colorado. Many observers have been listing Colorado as too close to call — but Colorado usually seems to be close. (Well, Obama did carry the state by about nine percentage points in 2008.)

It also seldom votes for Democrats. In the 14 presidential elections before 2008, Colorado only voted for Democrats twice. And it hasn't voted for Democrats in consecutive elections since it supported Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936.

Most recent polls show either candidate with a one–point lead or the two candidates tied. I expect it will be close on election night, but I'm sticking with my original prediction that Romney will carry the state.

Obama has five states among the probables: Delaware (3), Illinois (20), Maine (4), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14). Total = 51 electoral votes.

I still think Obama will win those five states, but I'm a little dubious about Minnesota and New Jersey.

Minnesota has a long history of supporting Democrats. It hasn't voted for a Republican since Richard Nixon's 49–state landslide in 1972.

A week ago, though, rumors were rampant that Obama was planning a visit to Minnesota, sparking speculation that Democrats were in trouble there. Obama, preoccupied with Hurricane Sandy, didn't go to Minnesota after all, but former President Bill Clinton came instead.

Minnesota voted for Obama by about 10 percentage points four years ago, and it is hard to imagine that it would flip to the Republicans. But Clinton's presence there about a week before the election can only be interpreted as a sign that Democrats are worried.

My next category was the leaners. Like the probables, they can be expected to vote in a certain way — but the chances that they actually will are less than they are for the probables.

Romney has two states in this group: North Carolina (15), Virginia (13). Total = 28 electoral votes.

They were both regarded as too close to call a few months ago, but I felt Obama effectively lost North Carolina when he announced his support for gay marriage the day after North Carolina voters resoundingly rejected it.

Virginia is still considered too close to call by many. But its support for Obama in 2008 was the first time it had voted for a Democrat in more than 40 years — and Virginia hasn't voted for Democrats in back–to–back elections since the 1940s — all of which leads me to believe Virginia will vote — albeit narrowly — for Romney. Especially if George Allen's Senate race is successful.

Obama also had two states among the leaners: Michigan (16), New Mexico (5). Total = 21 electoral votes.

New Mexico looks like it will remain in the Democrats' column, but I'm not so certain about Michigan. That, after all, is where Romney was born and where his father served as governor. Obama did win the state by more than 800,000 votes in 2008 — and a recent Detroit Newspoll showed Obama in the lead — but that lead, which has been cut in half since early October, was within the margin of error.

Ramussen recently found Obama leading in Michigan with 50%. I think Obama can count on it — but it may be late in the evening before he can secure Michigan's electoral votes.

That gives the following electoral vote totals: Romney = 218, Obama = 217. And it leaves eight battleground states — Florida (29), Iowa (6), Missouri (10), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), Wisconsin (10) — worth 103 electoral votes.

I designated these states as battlegrounds back in April. Most are still regarded as battlegrounds today; a few are considered reasonably safe for one candidate or another, but I think all are in play to an extent.

Recent polls indicate that Missouri is likely to vote Republican, which would boost Romney's electoral vote total to 228. And, in fact, polls have been suggesting a Romney victory in Missouri was increasingly likely ever since I posted my first glance at the Electoral College.

But the other seven states still are generally regarded as too close to call — even if some polls suggest that one candidate or the other has a modest lead.

So let's look at them, one by one:
  • Florida — The race appears close in Florida, with recent polls showing one– or two–point leads for either candidate. Florida voted for Obama four years ago, but the state hasn't voted for Democrats in consecutive elections since the days of FDR and Harry Truman.

    I think it will be close – no surprise there — but I think it will be in the Republican column. (Romney = 257, Obama = 217)
  • Iowa — The Des Moines Register, which has endorsed Romney, reported Saturday that Obama leads by five points, but he is still below 50%.

    It will probably be tight in Iowa, but I think Obama will carry it. (Romney = 257, Obama = 223)
  • Nevada — With one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, Nevada seems like fertile ground for Romney, and perhaps it will turn out that way on Tuesday.

    But even though the Las Vegas Review Journal, in a sharply worded editorial, endorsed Romney last Thursday, Obama's lead in Nevada appears to be growing.

    So I will pick Nevada to vote for Obama. (Romney = 257, Obama = 229)
  • New Hampshire — New Hampshire was once considered reliably Republican, but it has voted Democrat in four of the last five elections.

    A recent University of New Hampshire poll found the candidates tied at 48–48. Since undecided voters tend to break for the challenger, I will call this state for Romney. (Romney = 261, Obama = 229)
  • Ohio — It is an article of faith among political observers that no Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio. Sometimes Republicans have lost the national election in spite of winning Ohio (Richard Nixon in 1960, Tom Dewey in 1944).

    Most recent polls — MSNBC, CNN, — show the president at 50% or better in Ohio. And, without the auto bailout, it is hard to argue that Ohio would be doing as well as it is in the current economic climate.

    It is worth noting that Rasmussen says the race is a dead heat. Perhaps it is.

    But, right now, I'm inclined to pick Ohio to vote for Obama.

    Does that mean Romney will lose? Not necessarily. Twenty years ago, when George H.W. Bush sought a second term, polls showed him leading Bill Clinton in Texas — and political observers pointed out that no Democrat had won the presidency without winning Texas.

    But Clinton was elected president twice — and Obama was elected president once — without the support of Texas. A U.S. presidential election is actually 51 individual elections (50 states and the District of Columbia). If Romney loses Ohio, it is only 18 electoral votes — the fewest Ohio has been worth since the days of Andrew Jackson — and that loss can be made up with victories elsewhere. (Romney = 261, Obama =247)
  • Pennsylvania — I'm sure no one in the Obama campaign thought Pennsylvania would be up for grabs in the closing days of the election, but I predicted it would back in April — and my reason was the strong Republican showing in the state in the 2010 midterm elections.

    Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat and the statehouse.

    Recent surveys by Franklin & Marshall and the Philadelphia Inquirer have Obama leading but with a plurality, not a majority.

    And, since Pennsylvania was assumed to be a lock for Obama, it was spared the barrage of anti–Romney commercials that flooded other battleground states in the spring and summer — so the voters there had few preconceived notions that Romney had to refute

    To be fair, that wasn't an unreasonable conclusion. Pennsylvania voted for Obama by a 10–point margin in 2008, and the state hasn't voted Republican since 1988.

    In a close race, Democrats usually hope for a strong turnout in Democrat–leaning Philadelphia to help them win Pennsylvania. But I wonder just how strong the turnout in Philadelphia will be, given its close proximity to the area that was most directly affected by Hurricane Sandy.

    I believe few, if any, Americans hope that the pain and suffering caused by the hurricane will influence the election in any way, but, if turnout in Philly is lower than usual — and I'm inclined to think it might be — that could tip the balance of power to Romney. And that is what I think will happen. (Romney = 281, Obama = 247)
  • Wisconsin — Usually, Wisconsin could be expected to be even more Democratic than Michigan, perhaps about as Democratic as Minnesota.

    But a couple of things make me think Wisconsin will vote for Romney.

    For one, Wisconsin has been the site of many recent Republican victories — the 2010 election of Scott Walker as governor and the rejection of the recent recall effort, the 2010 election of Republican Ron Johnson to the U.S. Senate, and the shift of two of its eight House seats from Democrat to Republican hands.

    For another, Wisconsin does not usually have a candidate on the national ticket. But this year it has one in Rep. Paul Ryan, who ran 13 percentage points ahead of Obama in his southeast Wisconsin district in 2008.

    I think Wisconsin will vote for Romney. (Romney = 291, Obama = 247)