Trading States to 270

The electoral college can get pretty confusing.  Many people want to know what Romney or Obama need to do, but there’s just so many combinations, it is hard to keep straight.  I’m going to try to put together as concise of a summary as possible as to what Romney needs to do to win. 

In order to keep things simple, let’s make some reasonable assumptions.  Missouri, Indiana, and North Carolina aren’t swing states.  Romney will win those.  And if he doesn’t, it is because he got slaughtered, so you don’t need a special guide to tell you who won the election.  Same with Obama in New Mexico, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.  If Obama can’t carry those, he got smoked.

That leaves us with 8 swing states. 

Red States:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Ohio
  • Virginia

Blue States:

  • Iowa
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • Wisconsin

The Red States are the swing states that Obama won by 9 points or less in 2008.  Bush won all of these states both times. 

The Blue States are all the ones that Obama won by at least 9.5 points in 2008.  3 of the 4 were won by Kerry (NH), Gore (IA), or both (WI)

If Romney wins the red states, he gets 275 electoral votes and becomes our next president.  While all of the states could go either way, this could be Mitt’s most likely path to the White House.

Having said that, there’s plenty of other paths that work, so let’s think of it in terms of trading states… if Romney loses X red state, which blue state(s) can he trade that for and still win the election?  The rest of this post will walk through the possibilities (from worst to best for Romney).

Scenario 1: Romney loses 3 or 4 of the red states – Game over. Obama wins.

Scenario 2: Romney loses Florida and any other red state – Game over. Obama wins.

Scenario 3: Romney loses Florida, but wins the other 3 – Romney must win all 4 of the blue states to win. 

Scenario 4: Romney loses OH and VA but wins CO and FL – Romney must win all 4 of the blue states to win. 

Scenario 5: Romney loses OH and CO but wins VA and FL – Romney must win WI, IA, and NV to win.  NH is completely irrelevant in this scenario.

Scenario 6: Romney loses VA and CO but wins OH and FL – Romney must win any 3 of the blue states to win.  The only catch is that if WI is the one he loses, that would yield a 269-269 tie, so Romney would likely become president, but Biden would be his VP.

Scenario 7: Romney loses OH but wins the other 3- Romney must win WI plus 1 other blue state OR the other 3 blue states besides WI.  Also, winning NV and IA but losing WI and NH would get to a 269-269 tie, as I mentioned in a previous post.  This scenario is fairly confusing, but reasonably likely.

Scenario 8: Romney loses VA but wins the other 3- Romney needs Wisconsin OR any 2 of the other 3 blue states

Scenario 9: Romney loses CO but wins the other 3- Romney needs any 1 blue state.  Doesn’t matter which… even lowly 4 electoral vote NH is enough

Scenario 10: Romney wins all the red states- None of the blue states matter.  Romney wins.


  1. Thank you, Ryan!
    You’re such a number-crunching wizard….awesome.

  2. Randy in Richmond says:

    Ryan, I ‘m sorry to report that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of The Democratic National Committee, disagrees with you. In this recent video she declares North Carolina to be a battleground state while defending the fact that Obama hasn’t been there. And she has an excellent reason for his absence:

    Yep. Now we know. This is a big country.