American elections for president just aren’t what they used to be, so says Larry Sabato, a leading elections guru and professor of politics at the University of Virginia Center for Politics who publishes a weekly, closely followed politics newsletter called Crystal Ball.
Sabato writes that there are now just seven “super-swingy states” — Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia, all of which backed Bush and Obama twice each, and Iowa and New Hampshire, which have voted Democratic in three of the last four elections. “So it’s no wonder that these special seven states start as the only obvious toss-ups on our first 2016 Electoral Map. We don’t really have elections like 1960 and 1976 anymore.”
According to Sabato’s electoral map, 40 of 50 states have voted for the same candidate in all four elections since 2000.
Dem Path To Victory: Stick Together
If Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton next year as their presidential nominee, and virtually all election watchers forecast this will happen, she should start the election as at least a marginal Electoral College favorite over any Republican nominee. In light of that prediction, Sabato says the GOP candidate still has a 50-50 chance of winning.
Democrats can win with zero expansion of the blue map, he says, if they limit changes from blue-to-red states. “Assuming the lean, likely, and safe Democratic states remain loyal to the party, the nominee need only win 23 of the 85 toss-up electoral votes.” Republicans, on the other hand, “must hold all their usual states plus find a way to stitch together an additional 64 electoral votes, or 79 if they can’t hold North Carolina.” Sabato says the GOP candidate will have to come close to sweeping the toss-ups under most scenarios, a scenario he calls difficult “unless the election year’s fundamentals (President Obama’s job approval, economic conditions, war and peace, and so on) are moving powerfully against the Democrats.”
Sabato makes two predictions: One: if Republicans lose either Florida or Ohio, the nominee has no realistic path to victory. If GOP voters are thinking strategically during the nominating process, they will pick a candidate with a profile appealing to Sunshine and Buckeye state residents. Two: While there are credible Democratic paths to the White House without Virginia, anything other than a win or a loss by just a percent or two in the Old Dominion will signal the Democrat’s downfall.
Good and reliable national polling this far out from November 2016 shows Hillary Clinton topping Democrats and Republicans for president. For Republicans who want to capture Florida and Ohio, Jeb Bush, former two-term governor of the Sunshine State, is in good position even though he has not officially declared his candidacy but continues to raise big sums of cash.
Kasich Wasn’t A Firewall To Obama
Winning Ohio is always key, so it’s a factor that Gov. John Kasich, who coasted to a second term win last year, not only hasn’t declared yet but polls in the low single digits. Gov. Kasich continues to waffle on entering the fray as others, including Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, take the plunge.
It should also be remembered that even after 2010, when Gov. Kasich won and promised to be a firewall to a second Obama term, he couldn’t deliver on his campaign promise that year, and if voter turnout is up substantially next year won’t likely be able to keep Mrs. Clinton from carrying Ohio, which she did in the 2008 primary season.
The swing state of Ohio, where GOP candidates thrashed Democrats across the board in 2010 and 2014, can easily go blue in presidential years, when voter turnout is up dramatically from midterm elections. Gov. Kasich won big last year, but voter turnout was a dismal 36.2 percent. In 2008 and 2012, President Obama by a plurality in Ohio and the nation both cycles. Mrs. Clinton is the wiser from her loss in 2008, and can be expected to capture the same constituencies of women, students, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos and seniors who rely on social safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare Republicans vow to reform in ways that will make access to them harder and steeper.