Being (in no particular order) a financial adviser, a boss, a husband and a father means I get asked a lot of questions. Some I can answer easily, such as “Do you think returning to the gold standard is a good idea?” (No.)
But I also get asked questions like “Who will win the presidential election?” “Soothsayer” is not on my resume, so I can’t authoritatively tell anyone what the headlines will say on the morning of Nov. 7.
I do know this, however: The next president will be whichever candidate amasses at least 270 votes in the Electoral College. That answer is accurate, yet annoying.
I can put on my pundit hat and make myself sound like the professional fortune-tellers who clog the financial news shows with nuggets such as “The stock market will go up next week, unless it goes down, in which case it will eventually go up.” I find this at least as annoying as my Electoral College answer.
I am happy to tell you who is going to win the upcoming election - but you have to meet me halfway. I will pose a series of questions to you. If you answer those questions for me, I will opine on whether it will be Mitt Romney or Barack Obama who takes the oath of office in January.
First question: Which candidate will win Florida? Romney cannot realistically get 270 electoral votes without Florida, so if he loses there, the race is effectively over. If you tell me Obama wins the Sunshine State, I’ll tell you Obama will be re-elected. Otherwise, let’s move on.
Second question: Which candidate will win at least two out of three states in Virginia, Ohio and Wisconsin? I believe Romney can stay in the running even if he loses Ohio, despite the fact that no Republican has ever lost in Ohio yet captured the White House. But for Romney to have even a chance of accomplishing this, he has to take both Virginia and Wisconsin. Conversely, if Romney wins Ohio but loses both those other states, he is in deep trouble. Romney does not need to sweep these three states, but he had better win at least two. I am assuming here that both Pennsylvania and Michigan are now out of reach for Romney, an assumption that his campaign already appears to be making. If you tell me Obama will take at least two of these three states, I’ll go out on a twig and predict that Obama wins re-election, even though this is not 100 percent certain.
Third question: Will Romney win in New Hampshire or Iowa? If Romney passes the hurdle of question #2 in the best possible way, winning Ohio (18 electoral votes) and Virginia (13) but losing Wisconsin (10), he is still a few votes short of his goal. He could get to the White House just by winning New Hampshire (4 electoral votes) or Iowa (6). Losing Ohio but winning Virginia and Wisconsin means that Romney would have to win in both New Hampshire and Iowa, and even then, he would still be a couple of votes short, so we would have to move on to the next item. But if you tell me Romney will lose both Iowa and New Hampshire, his chances of winning the White House go way down. He would have to either sweep the Ohio-Virginia-Wisconsin trio, or he would have to do well in the West, as we will consider in question four.
Fourth question: Will Romney win in Colorado, Nevada or both? If Romney does well in the states mentioned earlier, he does not need either of the genuine swing states in the West. But if he comes up short, his only hope is to win Colorado (9 electoral votes), Nevada (6) or both. Losing Ohio would mean Romney must either sweep New Hampshire and Iowa, or win Colorado plus at least one of Nevada, Iowa or New Hampshire.
If you answered “yes” to my four questions, then my prediction is that Romney is going to be our next president. If you answered “yes” to the first two questions, “no” to the third and “yes” to the fourth, then Romney is still your man.
If you answered “no” to either of the first two questions, Obama will be back for another four years. I realize that a “no” answer to the second question could still, theoretically, be overcome by “yes” answers to the other three questions. The New York Mets might theoretically have been playing in baseball’s postseason right now, but I did not need to wait for them to be mathematically eliminated to know that was not going to happen. It’s pretty much the same for Romney. If he fails to take Florida plus two of the three states I listed in the second question, the writing on the wall will be clear.
A race this close is going to hinge on which side’s voters turn out in greater numbers, and on how a few undecided voters break (usually, away from an incumbent if the challenger presents a reasonable alternative) at the last minute.
We can watch tonight’s second presidential debate with this in the back of our minds. The president, who is a known quantity to every American, has spent months caricaturing Romney. Romney’s big gains in the first debate came because he defied the caricature.
Right now I see Romney winning Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado, with Obama taking Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. This would probably give Obama 271 electoral votes and a second term. (In Maine, where each congressional district chooses its own Electoral College representative, there is a chance Romney could peel off a single vote, which could still leave the president with the bare minimum he needs.)
As I said, I am not a soothsayer. If you want me to tell you the future, you have to meet me halfway.