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The electoral numbers— for now

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If the Kentucky Derby wasn’t enough horse race for you, the New York Times has produced a really interesting interactive tool for analyzing the 2012 presidential horse race— an excellent plaything for the electorally-obsessed.

The Times starts with the supposition that Obama’s a lock in states that yield 217 electoral votes, while Romney’s guaranteed 206 out of the 270 needed to win. You can quibble that Michigan may not be irredeemably blue, or that North Carolina could wind up in the D column, but the Times has been pretty fair in narrowing the true tossups to just nine:

Florida (29 electoral votes)
Pennsylvania (20)
Ohio (18)
Virginia (13)
Wisconsin (10)
Colorado (9)
Nevada (6)
Iowa (6)
New Hampshire (4)

If you’re a real political junkie (guilty), you go right to realclearpolitics.com (RCP) and start scouting the state-by-state polling numbers.

  • Florida: The RCP average still has Obama up by less than a percent, but the most recent polls show Romney in the lead. Put FL in the R column, though keep in mind this is a state where 537 votes can be a presidential mandate.
  • Pennsylvania: The RCP average is Obama by 7%, with a just-released Quinnipiac Poll giving the President an 8-point edge. PA, which backed Obama four years ago, stays blue.
  • Ohio: Quinnipiac still has Obama up 2%, but the lead’s narrowing. OH is too close to call.
  • Virginia: Washington Post poll released late last week found Obama up 7%, though other surveys are a little closer. VA’s in the D column, for now.
  • Wisconsin: Marquette University polling late last month show Obama +9%, while older polls give the Pres double-digit leads. WI stays blue.
  • Colorado: The polling firm Purple Strategies, in mid-April, found this state to be a dead heat, though earlier polls show Obama leading. CO’s too close to call.
  • Nevada: Rasmussen’s poll is the latest, and puts Obama in the lead by 8%, which is pretty consistent with surveys done over the last few months. Put NV in the Obama column.
  • Iowa: No polling since February. Too close to call.
  • New Hampshire: Polling done by the University of New Hampshire for the biggest TV station in the state pegs the Obama lead at 9%. NH leaning to Ds, right now.

So if we were to vote right now, and vote the way pollsters project, President Obama would get 270 electoral votes, the exact number needed for re-election, Romney would receive 235. Still in the “who knows?” category— 33 electoral votes in three states.

In truth, of course, the election remains a big “who knows”, with each week bringing new, potentially game-changing headlines.

For a while, Republicans were certain rising gas prices were the President’s Achilles heel. They decried his “half a loaf” authorization of construction of the Keystone Pipeline, and tried to pin predictions of $5 a gallon gas on him.

A just-released Lundberg Survey, though, shows gas prices dropping 7-cents in the last two weeks, with the nationwide average at $3.85 a gallon.

Last week, the furor over Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng looked like it might have serious repercussions for the Obama campaign; that the US had made a too-hasty deal that might put Chen and his family in peril. Mitt Romney was quick to pounce: "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom and it's a day of shame for the Obama administration" he told a campaign crowd.

Now, it looks like Chen may come to this country, and he’s complimented the role of American diplomats in making that happen.

Today’s headlines raise even more issues that could change the complexion of the race.

Both Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are saying they support gay marriage, which may put some pressure on their boss. “The president is going to have a very difficult time waiting until after the election to stop ‘evolving’ and declare his own views about comprehensive civil rights for gays and lesbians,” writes pundit David Hawking.

Indeed, Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney got flooded with questions about just where the President stands on the issue at his midday briefing.

Then there are the weekend election results from Europe. In France and Greece, voters repudiated parties urging budget cuts as a way to right the economic ship, a rough equivalent of Republican economic orthodoxy.

Will the European bailout of the Greek economy fall apart? Will France and Germany, who have been leading Europe’s austerity drive, start to bicker? Will Europe slide back into recession, and pull the US with it?

While it’s fun to play with the electoral vote numbers, they could change fast. This presidential horse race looks volatile right down to the wire.

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