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Romney Faces a "Blue Wall" -- But Is It Solid?

By Sean Trende - May 18, 2012

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Finally, let’s look at three states in the upper Midwest: Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin:

 

 

Most analysts agree that Michigan is the longest-shot for the GOP; it has been gradually trending away from the party, but not at a rate comparable to, say, New Jersey’s. In other words, it is still in the range where national forces can play a predominant role, and a good election could swing it toward Republicans.

If anything, Wisconsin and Minnesota have actually trended toward the GOP over the past eight cycles when controlling for national effects; the trend in Minnesota is particularly pronounced. Given recent polling showing Romney and Obama closely matched in the Badger State, it would be foolish to suggest these states might not be put in play by Romney.

We see a similar trend in Iowa, which is only technically excluded from the Blue Wall by virtue of Bush’s narrow 2004 victory. In 1984 and 1988 it had a significant Democratic lean, but since then it has been within a point or so of the national vote total.

Of course, these three states are some of the whitest in the nation. So it shouldn’t surprise us to see the GOP fare better there in light of the Democrats’ recent weakness among white voters.

Finally, we should consider the Mountain West. Four of the states -- Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico -- are considered part of an emerging Democratic area:

 

 

 

Obviously, New Mexico and especially Nevada are real causes for concern for the GOP in the next few years, although in the latter state it has less to do with the Latino population and more to do with California expats in Las Vegas and Reno. In Colorado the trend is less consistent, but it is nevertheless apparent. Of course, taken together, these states have only 20 electoral votes -- roughly the same number as Tennessee and Kentucky combined -- although analysts frequently lose sight of that trade-off.

Arizona, on the other hand, shows a much less consistent movement toward Democrats. If you take off four points from McCain’s 2008 total in consideration of his “home-team advantage,” it has been guided almost entirely by national forces since 1992. Barring some radical change in in-state dynamics, or an Obama win of the magnitude of 2008, it should remain red.

Which brings us back to my original article. A uniform swing toward the outer limits of what I see as a Romney victory -- four to five points -- would give Romney the Bush ’04 states, less New Mexico and Nevada, plus New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. The total would be 316 electoral votes.

None of the states Romney would be expected to win in this scenario have shown any substantial movement toward Democrats, outside of that brought about by national forces, and they should be expected to flip in the event of a decent-sized Democratic loss.

This is also, incidentally, congruent with what Obama would have achieved with a four-to-five-point win in 2008. A five-point win would have yielded 332 Democratic electoral votes, while a four-point win would have yielded 305.

If Romney were to run in an environment like 2008, propelling him toward a seven-to-eight-point win, we’d expect to see him approach Obama’s 359 electoral votes from 2008. He’d add Wisconsin and Nevada to his total, as well as Maine’s 2nd district. New Jersey would be close, much like North Carolina and Indiana in 2008. Romney would get between 332 and 351 electoral votes.

Of course, the anti-Republican trend in Nevada is significant, even controlling for national forces. So perhaps Romney would still not pull it in, even with a blowout win. Regardless, in a good Republican year, we should expect Romney to receive electoral votes roughly parallel to what the Democrats won in 2008.

Both parties are able to compete realistically for around 360 electoral votes right now. Republicans have had weak showings in four of the past five elections, but we should be cautious when reading too much into this: The odds of tossing four heads in five tries is actually about one-in-five.

If Romney and Obama head into this election on an even playing field, it will be very close, and both will have a few paths to 270. But if either candidate has more than a slight breeze at his back, the other will probably see very, very few paths to victory. 

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Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at strende@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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