Trading States to 270 – Updated

I’ve updated my guide to the various Electoral College scenarios to reflect that Florida looks to be almost certainly going red (we have this poll and this poll in the last few days showing 5 point Romney leads).

Making this one change cuts down the number of scenarios, making this guide easier to read and more useful.

And yes, there are other places where Romney has a fighting chance in (PA for sure, maybe MI and CD-2 in Maine….some are even arguing MN, although I don’t buy that at all.) but the odds are slim that Romney will actually win in any of those places without already getting the Electoral Votes he needs to win the presidency.  So it should be safe to ignore them and focus on the states below:

That leaves us with 7 true swing states. 

Red States:

  • Colorado
  • 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 all 3 of the red states – Game over. Obama wins a 2nd term.

Scenario 2: Romney loses OH and VA but wins CO – Romney must win all 4 of the blue states to win. 

Scenario 3: Romney loses OH and CO but wins VA – Romney must win WI, IA, and NV to win.  NH is completely irrelevant in this scenario.

Scenario 4: Romney loses VA and CO but wins OH – 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 5: Romney loses OH but wins the other 2- 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 6: Romney loses VA but wins the other 2- Romney needs Wisconsin OR any 2 of the other 3 blue states

Scenario 7: Romney loses CO but wins the other 2- Romney needs any 1 blue state.  Doesn’t matter which… even lowly 4 electoral vote NH is enough

Scenario 8: Romney wins all 3 red states- None of the blue states matter.  Romney wins.


I would rank Romney’s chances in the various states as follows:

VA > CO > IA > NH > OH > WI > NV

Since I think Romney will win VA and CO, I would say scenarios 5 and 8 are by far the most likely.  And since I see NV as a longshot, the bottom line is that Romney will probably have to win either OH or WI to be our next president.


One last thing with pointing out is this article, which makes the point that because OH will likely be the deciding state and figures to have a lot of provisional ballots, there is a fairly high chance that we won’t know the winner on election night.


  1. Maine District 2 is worth 1 and is toss up. Also, I see it like this…


    Romney will get VA, CO, NH, WI, OH, IA. MICH and NEV Complete Toss Ups

  2. Randy in Richmond says:

    An observation:

    For a long time I’ve heard the ” a Republican has not won without Ohio”. That’s a true statement.

    But. In 1972 Nixon, in 1980 and 1984 Reagan, in 1988 GHW Bush, all would have won without Ohio. G Bush needed Ohio in 2000 and 2004.

    So it can also be said 4 of the last 6 Republican Presidents could have been elected without Ohio’s Electorial votes.

    Two ways to say the same thing with differing perspectives.

  3. Ryan Morgan says:

    Nate: Where does PA fall into your heirarchy? I don’t think he’ll win either, but I think Romney will do better in PA than MI.

  4. Friend of a friend sourcing here, but according to him, there’s some confusion in MN because all the internals show strong R returns for the state candidates even in districts where they historically have not been there, but still show Obama leading for the presidential race.

    Oh, I can not wait for this one to be done. I am so grateful for your enthusiasm on the matter! I’m afraid I won’t muster a final round, and I leave town in a few days to visit Mom.

    So you know. Carry on. 😉

  5. @Morgan
    Sorry, forgot about them


    Really….PA, MI, and NV are very razor thin. I think MI is the easiest to pickoff for Romney. NV was trending Blue before 2008 (which is an anomoly and should be thrown out in terms of historical trends). This is due to a lot of CA Democrats moving there because the Dems have run CA into the ground and there are friendlier tax policies in NV (oh the irony). MI was trending Red, much like WI, before ’08 and this might be the election that flips them. PA is stable and kind of in the middle of MI and NV. They have the Midwest thing going which in general has been trending Red, but they are also Northeast and connected with heavily Blue states. If I see some different trends I’ll come back and make some changes, but right now I think the safe call is:
    PA, MI, and NV to Obama
    IA, WI, CO, VA, NH, and OH to Romney

    Minnesota has the Red Midwest trend going for it as well, but it’s still an election cycle or two away. Michigan will fall first and then in 1 or 2 elections Minn will be the last Midwestern state to go Red because they’ve been the Dem stronghold for so long.

  6. Ryan Morgan says:

    “Minn will be the last Midwestern state to go Red because they’ve been the Dem stronghold for so long.”

    I’m certain you meant to say “second to last”.

  7. Illinois doesn’t count as Midwest. You’re right. Illinois is staying solid blue.

  8. Figure those “provisional” ballots in Ohio will be mostly Obama votes, so a “small” Romney lead on Election night likely will be an Obama win.

  9. In OH, Obama beat McCain by 4% in 08. I bet Obama has lost a little more than 4 in OH.

  10. @Nate, Obama is popular in Ohio because the auto bailout helped their economy at the expense of the rest of the country’s.

  11. He won by 4% last time. Most polls have him as even with Romney. He’s not popular enough to hit 50 or get more of the vote than he did last time. That’s the telling sign. Obama has never hit the 50% mark in Ohio, that equals an election day loss. Sorry.

  12. Randy in Richmond says:

    This morning I open my local paper and a page 2 headline reads, “Obama leads Romney in State Poll, 51 to 47 %. I suddenly wonder what has happened overnight and I see it is a WashPo poll. Since this is so different from other polling I check out the specifics and there’s the answer.

    The D/R/I polling voter sample is 31/27/35.
    What a joke to sample only 27 % Republican. The true D/R/I/ for 2009 when Bob McDonnell was elected was 33/37/30 and even in Obama’s election year of 2008 it was 39/33/28. Using a 27 % Republican sample is setting the results before the first call was made.

    Actually taking into account the inerds of the poll shows a +3 for Romney, all things being equal. Pollsters used to be able to get away with this crap, but those days are over.

  13. There’s nothing I enjoy more than the biased spinning of partisans whose “objective” analysis is largely predicated by a preferred subjective outcome. Seems like there’s a lot of that coming out of the GOP right now; the ages-old trick of “act like you’ve already won and maybe everyone will start to believe you.” Just talk about non-existent momentum like Joe Lieberman did in 2004 – who could forget his claims of “Joementum”? Didn’t work out so well.

    But I wouldn’t blame the GOP for pretending like it’s already won; it worked handsomely for the party in the month after the 2000 election.

    With the exception of Florida, Obama is even or ahead in every swing state; he’s been even or ahead in all of them since the beginning of the race. That leaves the GOP to hope for three things:

    1. A significant move towards Romney in the last week of the race. Given the saturation of political coverage and the increasing popularity of early voting, that’s probably not likely. This isn’t 1980. People’s minds are made up – this is all about getting your voters to the polls. To that end, Obama has a considerably larger and more experienced ground game. I talk to GOP friends in DC and every one of them will spot you that off the record. Romney better be 2-3 points ahead in Ohio because Obama’s ground game will erase anything smaller. Three times as many field offices means three times as many staff.

    2. That all of these state polls, when taken together, are wrong. This seems to be the preferred analysis of so many armchair bloggers who have no professional background in statistics – look no further than, a favorite site of the WND/Free Republic crowd that re-weights polls based on personal whim. There’s a reason that a bunch of scientifically conducted polls, when taken together and averaged, are hardly ever wrong. The pollsters typically know what they’re doing and averaging their results reduces outliers and any inherent bias that exists. Pollsters like Rasmussen and PPP spend much of the early cycle trying to make news; they spend the month of October trying to get it right. After all, it’s the end result that establishes their credibility.

    3. That national polls are somehow picking up something that state polls are not. Again, unlikely. State polls are historically far better predictors of outcomes in presidential elections. One need look no further than the Gallup poll, where enormous pro-Romney margins in the South (a region that neither side is competing) continue to project a result that does nothing to forecast what will happen in states that actually matter.

    And for the record, I’m a Gary Johnson voter in a state where my vote won’t matter anyway, so I’ve got no dogs in this fight. I never liked Obama, didn’t vote for him in 2008, but Romney’s “say anything to get elected” approach crosses him off my list. If he would’ve run the whole campaign as the pragmatic technocrat I suspect he really is, instead of pandering to the lunatic fringe up until the debates, he would’ve had my vote easy. As it is, I don’t trust him to stand down the know-nothing obstructionists in the GOP caucus in the Capitol.

    If I were a betting man, I’d bet on Obama. Probably not the house; maybe a car. A lot of what Romney-ites cast as “momentum” was nothing more than an overdue correction of polling based on an inaccurate perception of Romney generated effectively by the Obama campaign over the summer. But as it is now, we’ve merely regressed to the mean. It’s on Romney now to find that last 3-5 percent he needs in a lot of these states to get over the hump. We’ll see what happens.

  14. I’m positively giddy. I’m not used to the likes of THE Recess Supervisor showing up around here this often. That said, you sure sound like you are projecting a wee bit of wishful thinking into that analysis. Just some of the phrasing, I suppose.

    I sense the polls are off. I have no proof the polls are off. But here’s what I think:

    1) People are exhausted by the process and it’s taking thousands of calls to secure even one poll. Common sense suggests the sample is skewed by the time you finally find the people who will actually talk about politics, if only to press one, two, or three. A skewed sample always creates an inaccurate poll.

    I do wonder if polling has met a final end in this race.

    2) People are reluctant, still, to proclaim anything but Obama loyalty. While many voted for the man in 2008 to prove to themselves they are not racist, they have no problem with a different vote in 2012. They do have a problem making that decision a public declaration – even if public is only to a pollster.

    I’m not by any means an insider, but I have heard interesting stories of Minnesota polls clearly falling into Obama’s safe category but yielding internal district votes that have Republicans winning everywhere – even in districts normally considered Dem. No, that doesn’t make sense, but given the source of the information, I have no reason to doubt the information.

    Things that make you say hmmmm….

    3) Armchair anything is just poop right now. I peaked early and have been completely burned out for a week or so. And I’m conditioned for all politics all the time. What’s the rest of the world got to be feeling?

    4) Benghazi. Yeah, the impact of that story is an unpredictable ending for now. But the momentum is building to crest at exactly the wrong time for the incumbent. Combine Benghazi with consistent unemployment and a dig-in-the-heels attitude Obama takes towards what will obviously stay in at least part a Republican congress, and you have to think there’s a wee bit of hope for change by some.

    I won’t bet a thing. But I will celebrate for at least 24 hours if Romney pulls this one off.

  15. Does the storm have the potential to impact early voting on the eastern seaboard? I’ve already heard of one governor canceling it tomorrow due to weather predictions. (Which would hurt Dems more? I don’t know.) Weather geeks like to predict horrendousness, so hopefully all the pre-storm freaking over electrical outages, flooding and housing damage will not occur.

    I did catch one interesting tidbit on the Sunday shows today- that there were significantly fewer D early voters in Ohio this election versus last Pres. election. And I believe the R early vote count had increased.

  16. Um, I have a background in statistics…. is flawed, no question. But so are polls that consistently over-sample Democrats relative to the turnout that everyone expects (D+3 or D+4 nationwide, similar in most swing states).

    The fact that there are some polls that have way to few Republicans is understandable, but if it is truly random, you’d expect there would be a similar number that under-sample Democrats. But there seem to be hardly any of these. Given that this is the case, why is it so unthinkable that there might be systemic bias in the polls?

    In my view, the truth lies somewhere in between the raw data and Probably close to the raw data. But given the RCP average is within a couple points in no fewer than 7 states, the polls don’t have to be off by much to yield an electoral map where Romney is the victor.

  17. If the storm crushes Philly but is not too bad in the rest of the state, that would be a huge advantage for Romney. Obama’s strategy there is to run up such huge margins in Philly that overpower most of the counties in the rest of the state.

    Of course, even with that, Obama would still be the favorite there, but it would give Romney a chance of getting a state that would be a deathblow to BHO.

  18. Haha, regarding being sick of this election, you and me both Cindy. It’s why my blog has been quiet ever since I got back from Europe in September. In my mind, there’s just very little of interest to say about this race. So I chime in on a post here or there on the handful of right-leaning blogs I read.

    To my mind, the model is still 2004 – a relatively unpopular incumbent is challenged by a rich, out of touch New Englander with a gift for shooting himself in the foot. The debates roll around, the challenger shows America he isn’t the idiot they thought he was, the race is extremely close down the home stretch, and the incumbent uses structural advantages to eke out a win.

    Does anyone think Bush would’ve won Ohio in 2004 had it not been for a nicely timed gay marriage referendum that stoked evangelical turnout? I certainly don’t. But that’s an issue that’s dead and buried for the GOP now – one need look no further than your U.S. Senate race. 12 years ago, John Sharpless’ congressional campaign couldn’t stop talking about Tammy Baldwin being a lesbian, cutting ridiculous ads with people in shady voices talking about Baldwin taking money from West Hollywood. Now, it’s a total non-issue.

    Anyway, I would agree with the general sentiments expressed by a few people above that for the GOP to contend for the White House on a regular basis, it needs desperately to find a way to make the industrial Midwest competitive. Given certain demographic changes (Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado aren’t getting any more Republican on paper), the GOP has to find a way to put Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota into play. Otherwise, it’s going to be the same old stuff that Ryan has laid out – a GOP candidate that has to jump through a very specific set of hoops in order to win.

    And there, it seems to be the conundrum of finding a way to translate reasonably competitive environments at the state level over to the federal level. There certainly are Republicans in all of those states – Republican candidates just haven’t been exceptionally competitive in statewide races, and in particular statewide races for federal office.

    I don’t think 2010 is predictive of Republican strength any more than 2006 or 2008 were predictive of Democratic strength. Once again, I think what we’re seeing in 2012 is a regression back to the mean; a highly competitive presidential campaign and little to no change in the congressional power structure.

    Oh, and one final note: I don’t think Libya makes a difference because, to be blunt, Americans aren’t smart enough to understand foreign policy. The only reason most Americans even understand anything about economics is that they have the ability to perceive that topic through their own little lens; they know how they’re doing financially, how their company is doing, how their 401(k) is doing, how their neighbors are doing. Absent that personal connection, foreign policy issues are far too arcane for the average voter to consider. As I joked to a friend ten minutes into the foreign policy debate, “half of America is wondering why Romney keeps talking about this Molly (Mali) girl. Who’s Molly?”

    I don’t think a Romney win is impossible, by any stretch. I do think it’s improbable, given where the polls are now and the reality that the Democrats have a ground game in these swing states that is more robust and better developed. Unless, as you said, all of these pollsters are missing something, I don’t see it happening from Romney. I think a Romney win in the popular vote is far more likely than a Romney win in the electoral college.

    Then again, I’ve been wrong before. Heck, I thought Tommy Thompson would be a better general election candidate than Eric Hovde, and I will gladly eat those words now having seen old man Thompson in action. 🙂

  19. Randy in Richmond says:

    In 2000 the Republicans were not ‘pretending’ about Florida. Every ballot count/recount taken had Bush winning.

    And supporting someone who is gay is a totally different issue then supporting the changing of the definition of marriage. Combining Tammy Baldwin and the Ohio 2000 Marriage Proposition together to make a point is not consistent.

    It’s nice of you to stop by and explain foreign policy and economics to us ‘Americans’ as we “aren’t smart enough” to do so.

  20. Randy:

    Complete agree on the false equivalencybetween a politican being gay and giving marriage a definition it has never had in human history.

    I don’t think RS was saying that WE don’t understand foreign policy, just that there are a lot of voters out there who don’t. Not sure I disagree with him too much on that point.

  21. Don’t look now, but Rasmussen has Romney, in Ohio, up 2 and at 50%. Rueters then publishes an article stating that Ohio may not matter. It’s over. Pack your bags Barack. There isn’t one indicator in Obama’s favor, not one. He’s lost women, independents, and now Ohio.

  22. Oh, Nate. You sure know how to get a girl’s heart going!

    I’m not sure I’m going to survive this next week. Can I just sleep or something?

  23. Randy in Richmond says:

    You’re being nicer than I.

    I certainly agree that many aren’t aware of the issues but that doesn’t make them “not smart enough”. I find that concept along with the tone of other remarks condescending.

  24. I suspect you missed my point regarding Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin took a fair number of head-on anti-gay attacks in her 2000 congressional race against Sharpless from the candidate himself and ads that were put out by the candidate’s campaign. Twelve years later, Thompson doesn’t even make mention of the topic. Why? Because attitudes have changed so profoundly in the last 12 years that him bringing it up would undoubtedly be a net negative now, whereas 12 years ago the Sharpless campaign obviously thought it was a net positive.

    The Ohio gay marriage referendum was 2004, not 2000. Since then, the issue has entirely lost its punch as a successful wedge issue for the GOP, to the point where it’s likely that a number of pro-gay marriage state initiatives will pass on election day. That’s a huge change in eight years, when the GOP was using it as a last-gasp issue to try and motivate evangelical voters to show up and also cast ballots for an unpopular president. To their credit, it worked.

    And while Ryan got my remark, I will again say that I make no apologies for pointing out how clueless Americans are in regard to the world at large. They can’t identify countries on maps, they can’t identify world leaders, they can’t explain global issues with any accuracy. Look at study after study, poll after poll, taken in the last generation. When it comes to life outside America, Americans are mostly clueless. And it doesn’t stop there; most can’t identify Supreme Court justices, can’t identify the three branches of government, couldn’t tell me three of the first ten amendments to the constitution, on and on. The truth isn’t condescending; it’s just the truth.

    I suppose I was using “not smart” in place of “ignorant,” which is probably more accurate. Then again, most ignorant people are pretty stupid, and the latter typically begets the former, so I’m not so far off even if you don’t care for my phrasing.

    And again, to be clear lest Randy accuse me of saying something I’m not saying, I’m not saying stupidity or ignorance has anything to do with ideology.

  25. Dear Mr. Supervisor,

    Not all of us have the benefit of your long memory for politics in WI. (Although I have a small confession that involves you. I will be glad to tell you the whole sob story the day you buy me a beer.)

    No, no one’s talking about Tammy’s being same-sex publicly. Although if you’ve read this blog for anytime at all, I have brought it up before.

    Also, I suspect the gay thing isn’t a big deal while the financial world continues to collapse. If things were going well in our country? New game. We always need something to fight about.