Too close to call

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Print this page By Paula C. Squires

Twenty days before the presidential election, the race is too close to call, political analyst Larry Sabato said Wednesday night in Richmond.

Speaking to more than 300 people during an event sponsored by the Greater Richmond Association for Commercial Real Estate at The Residences at the John Marshall, Sabato said, “We are at the squeaker level of this campaign.”

Sabato, director of U.Va’s Center for Politics, has a long string of accurate election projections. In July 2008, he correctly projected that Barack Obama would win the presidency, even down to Obama’s 54 percent popular vote margin. This time around, Sabato’s crystal ball shows the president won’t have an easy time of it.

As of Wednesday—one day following President Obama and Mitt Romney’s second televised debate – Sabato’s projections show Obama winning enough states to collect 267 Electoral College votes compared to 235 likely votes for Romney. However, 36 electoral votes from four toss up states that could tilt either Republican or Democrat, could play a pivotal role in the election’s outcome. Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, is among the four battleground states. The others include: Colorado with 9 votes, Wisconsin with 10, and New Hampshire with 4.

Throw in a close race in Ohio (18 Electoral College votes) where polls are putting Obama ahead with 52 percent of the vote to Romney’s 48 percent, and it’s easy to see how close the race is in some states, Sabato said. “This is truly a competitive election. It’s not an election that you put to bed early.”
Tomorrow on his Crystal Ball website, Sabato said that he will lay out a “frightenly plausible” scenario of a tie, with each candidate getting 269 Electoral College votes. If a candidate gets less than the required 270 votes, then the election would be decided by the House of Representatives. The combined representatives of each state get one vote, and a simple majority of states is required to win.  “What a nightmare this would be,” said Sabato. “They can’t even get along to pass a Mother’s Day resolution.” 

Historically, incumbent presidents enjoy an edge. Since 1824, two-thirds of the incumbents have been returned to office, Sabato said. The fact that Obama had no challenges to his renomination bid and that this is the first term for Obama’s Democratic Party in the White House bode well for the president, he added. “Every president who lost in the 20th century had a renomination challenge … Every president who lost was a member of a party who had had control of the White House for eight or more years.”

He reminded the audience that there can be “October surprises or November surprises.”  For instance, a final jobs report is due out a week before the election. Also, little things matter in an election and can add up.  In Virginia, a bid by former U.S. Congressman Virgil Goode, who is running for president on the Constitution’s Party’s ticket, will drain votes away from Romney’s Republican pool of voters, he said. 

Overall, the real advantage for Romney, noted Sabato, is that “Obama is a polarizing president.” Historically, that fact alone has given a contender 48 percent of the vote, he said.

Will Obama be the next Carter or the next Clinton? “I don’t know which one he’s going to be,” Sabato said, “but the way he looks on Nov. 5 is probably the way things will turn out.”

He expects voter turnout to be high on Nov. 6. “We’re going to have another 60 percent plus turnout.” In the 2008 election, 62 percent of voters went to the polls.

While the presidential race is a toss up, Sabato expects Republicans to retain control of the House of Representatives while Democrats retain their edge in the U. S. Senate. 
In Virginia’s U.S. Senate race between former governors George Allen and Timothy Kaine, Sabato predicts that if Obama wins Virginia, fellow Democrat Kaine will be elected. If Romney wins by a narrow margin, Kaine could still win.  “There are a bunch of Romney-Kaine votes out there,” he said.

On the other hand, if Romney won by a large margin, that might create enough of a coattail effect for Allen, a fellow Republican, to gain victory.

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