What might a John Kerry victory look like? What might a George Bush victory look like?
This story is not an attempt to predict the outcome of the elections to be held on Nov. 2 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
It is a reasonable estimate, based on voting history, advertising buys, candidate visits and current polling, of how Kerry might plausibly reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to win, or conversely, how Bush might do so.
Before we go any further, yes, it is possible that the rivals might end up in a 269-269 electoral vote tie, which would send the contest to the House of Representatives to be decided.
A 269-269 tie would result if one assumes the Bush-Gore electoral vote outcome from 2000, but nudges two states, Nevada and New Hampshire, from the Republican column to the Democratic.
It is also possible, but not looking likely at this point, that the election ends in a momentous Republican landslide, as in 1984, or a Democratic one, as in 1964.
Our dueling scenarios presuppose the election will be as close a race as polls now indicate.
How Kerry could win it
Here’s the Kerry winning scenario. First, Kerry does not manage to win any Southern or border states, except for a big one, Florida.
He adds Ohio, for a combined 47 electoral votes.
Then he triumphs in three other states that Bush carried in 2000: Colorado, with nine electoral votes, Nevada, with five, and New Hampshire, with four.
All of these states are now within Kerry’s reach, according to recent polling, although Nevada looks like the toughest nut for Kerry to crack.
In the Mason-Dixon survey released Wednesday, Kerry lags Bush by 10 percentage points in Nevada. But Kerry pollsters and strategists appear to think both Nevada and Colorado are still winnable: they dispatched Kerry to campaign in those states Friday.
The bedrock of this winning equation for Kerry: He captures five states Bush won in 2000 and he wins in the Democratic bastions of New York, California, Illinois, and Michigan.
And despite Bush’s all-out exertion in Pennsylvania, Kerry scores a victory in that state as well, propelled by voter mobilization efforts by labor unions, Philadelphia Democratic chieftain Robert Brady and Gov. Ed Rendell.
New York, California, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania would give Kerry a foundation of 145 electoral votes, or 54 percent of what he needs.
He wins every New England state and the Pacific Northwest, which gives him another 52 electoral votes.
Not a Carter or Hoover landslide
This Kerry scenario, which gives him a total of 310 electoral votes, does not presuppose a visceral anti-Bush wave that sweeps the electorate, along the lines of the broad frustration that swept Jimmy Carter out of the White House in 1980, when he won only six states or as in 1932, when voters repudiated Herbert Hoover, who likewise carried only six.
A victory of this magnitude, 310 electoral votes, would be modest, smaller than Bill Clinton’s 379 electoral vote total in 1996 or his 370 votes in 1992. But a win would be a win, something the Democrats haven’t enjoyed in eight years.
This hypothetical situation also figures that the Bush field workers make some headway in the states the president narrowly lost in 2000: He would win Wisconsin and New Mexico.
We’re assuming that the Republicans’ massive “96-hour” effort to drive Bush supporters to the polls would work in some battleground states, but not in enough to make him the winner.
Now, let’s consider our scenario for a Bush victory. This map looks somewhat like the 1988 electoral map or the 2000 map: the Democratic candidate wins New England, the mid-Atlantic states and most of the states bordering the Great Lakes. He also takes the Pacific Coast states.
But as with Al Gore in 2000, Kerry fails to win any of the Southern and border states, not even Florida. The South would give Bush more than 60 percent of the electoral votes he would need to win.
In this scenario, Bush would not only hold Florida, but would pick up three states that Gore carried four years ago: Iowa, Wisconsin and New Mexico. Together these three states are worth 22 electoral votes, allowing Bush to offset the loss of Ohio and its 20 electoral votes.
Winning despite Ohio
In this scenario, everything could go right for Kerry in Ohio: a masterful get-out-the-vote effort, a wave of newly registered voters, disaffection with “outsourcing,” heavy voting by college males spooked by Kerry and Howard Dean telling them that Bush will impose a draft, and a large segment of Ohio’s elderly population frightened by the flu vaccine shortage and Kerry’s charges that Bush wants to undermine Social Security.
It is feasible for Bush to survive the loss of Ohio, if his ground forces in Iowa, Wisconsin and New Mexico are doing their jobs.
In this scenario, one assumes that Kerry gains not only Ohio, but another Bush state from 2000, New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes. Kerry would win a total of 261 electoral votes.
This scenario also supposes that despite Bush’s effort in Pennsylvania, in the end, the longstanding Democratic edge in that state prevails and Kerry wins it, even if perhaps by a smaller vote margin than Gore’s 204,840.
Note that in this scenario Bush also gets one elector from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.
Maine divides its electoral votes by who wins statewide and by who wins in each of the state’s two congressional districts. Bush came close to winning a Maine elector in 2000; we’re assuming he does it this time, although in our scenario that one vote would not be the difference between victory and defeat.
Also in our scenario, Bush carries West Virginia, but gets only four of its five electors, since “rogue” West Virginia Republican elector Richie Robb abstains, as he has warned he might do, in protest of Bush’s economic policies and the Iraq war.
Bush would finish in this hypothetical with 276 electoral votes, five more than he won last time, and in so doing would break the historical precedent that a Republican cannot win the White House without winning Ohio.
It is possible under this scenario that Kerry could rack up crushing margins in California, New York, Maryland, and other heavily Democratic states, thus winning more popular votes nationwide than Bush.
But to no avail. One wins the presidency by winning states and their electors, not by winning lots of votes in states in which your party is dominant.