Tight Presidential Race Makes Split Decision Possible

Tight U.S. Presidential Race Makes Split Decision Possible
Early voters fill out their ballots as they cast their vote in the presidential election on the first day of early voting on Oct. 27, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The presidential race resumes today with frenetic candidate schedules as polls show that the most costly contest in U.S. history could yield a split decision.

Some national polls give Republican Mitt Romney a slight edge in the popular vote -- although well within the margin of error -- while surveys show President Barack Obama ahead in a number of the most competitive states, which would hand him an Electoral College victory and a second term in the White House.

Don Kettl, dean of the school of public policy at the University of Maryland in College Park, said he anticipates a “very, very close” popular vote outcome and doesn’t discount the possibility of a split decision between the electoral and popular votes.

Obama returns to a full campaign schedule today with stops in Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado after spending the first part of this week focusing on the federal response to Atlantic superstorm Sandy. Yesterday he visited hard-hit New Jersey to survey damage with the state’s governor, Chris Christie, a Romney campaign surrogate who also was the keynote speaker at the Republican nominating convention.

Obama and Christie set aside their political differences to offer each other praise for their responses to the storm. Christie said Obama “has sprung into action immediately,” while the president said the governor had displayed “extraordinary leadership.”

Florida Focus

Romney, who had scaled back campaigning this week because of the storm, returned to a full schedule yesterday as he crisscrossed Florida, the largest electoral prize among the nine states both sides say are most likely to determine the outcome. He will be in Virginia today, another of the main battlegrounds.

The Washington Post/ABC News national tracking poll released yesterday showed Romney and Obama tied at 49 percent among likely voters, based on interviews conducted Oct. 27-30.

The picture looks different in state surveys, with a small but clear advantage for the president in these races.

Nine States

An aggregation of polls in the nine most closely contested states, compiled by the RealClearPolitics website, gives Obama the advantage in Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire. Wins by Obama in those states, as well as in the others across the nation most analysts have predicted he will carry, would give him 281 electoral votes, 11 more than needed for a second term. The website’s aggregation of polls for other swing states shows Colorado a virtual tie -- with Obama up by 0.6 percentage points -- and Romney ahead in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

A separate aggregation of polls on the Huffington Post, which in 2010 acquired the Pollster.com website that Mark Blumenthal helped create, shows Obama leading in seven of the nine states, with Romney having the advantage in Florida and North Carolina.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll published today shows Obama holds a 49 percent to 46 percent advantage in Wisconsin among likely voters, and a 49 percent to 47 percent lead in New Hampshire. In Iowa, the president is up 50 percent to 44 percent. The surveys were conducted Oct. 28-29 and have margins of error ranging from plus or minus 2.9 percentage points to plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Ohio Poll

A poll released yesterday in Ohio, the state where the campaigns are competing the most aggressively, showed Obama slightly ahead. The president was backed by 48 percent of likely voters in the Ohio Poll, which is sponsored by the University of Cincinnati, while Romney had the support of 46 percent. The survey was taken Oct. 25-30 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

A split verdict between the national vote and the Electoral College count has happened four times in U.S. history. The most recent instance was in 2000, when then-Vice President Al Gore won the popular ballot count by about 500,000 votes while then-Texas Governor George W. Bush eked out the win with 271 electoral votes after a U.S. Supreme Court recount ruling set the stage for him to carry Florida by 537 votes.

Could Happen

“The odds are strongly against it, although it doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” David Redlawsk, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, said of the prospects for a similar split this year. “The state-level polling seems to be putting Obama up and it would be somewhat surprising if the national numbers didn’t follow that.”

The chances it could occur would be enhanced if Romney establishes an “overwhelming lead in states that are voting Republican anyway,” Redlawsk said.

If there is a split decision, he said he doubts it will be because of depressed turnout in Democratic-leaning states, such as New York and New Jersey, because of the storm.

“Most people who intend to vote will find a way to vote,” he said. “I don’t subscribe to the idea that there will be a significant depression of turnout.”

Populous States

Romney has struggled to overcome an electoral map that works against him, in part because many of the country’s most populous states -- including California and New York -- lean Democratic. That gave Obama an opening edge in the electoral math.

In recent days, Romney and his Republican allies have plunged into traditionally Democratic ground, escalating their campaign efforts in a trio of states -- Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- they had largely ignored.

With polls showing Obama maintaining a lead in Ohio, Romney’s team may be searching for paths other than winning that state to get to the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the White House.

Romney aides say they remain confident about their chances in Ohio and see an opportunity to expand the number of states in play.

“We feel like we’re confident we’re on offense and that we’re in a great position to win on Election Day,” spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters on Romney’s campaign plane yesterday.

‘Tight Race’

Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, said the public’s discontent about the direction of the country and disapproval of Obama’s performance will affect turnout, giving the Republican just as much support as the president will have among his core supporters while boosting Romney’s backing among the independents who will decide the contest.

“You take a step back from this, you’ll see exactly what this is: a very tight race that is very far from being decided right now,” Newhouse said.

Obama’s political advisers sought to project confidence even as most national polls showed the race deadlocked.

“At this time next week, President Obama will have been re-elected for a second term,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said on a conference call yesterday.

“We have the map and they have the myths,” he said, referring to the fight for key states and assertions by the Romney camp that the race is turning the Republican’s way.

Early Voting

Messina pointed to the larger proportion of early votes registered Democrats have cast in some swing states, including Iowa and Nevada, and said Republicans would need upward of 60 percent of the remaining vote in those states for Romney to pull ahead. Nationally, almost 20 million people have already cast ballots, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

In Iowa, registered Democrats have cast 43.3 percent of the early vote, followed by Republicans at 32 percent and independent voters at 24.3 percent, data from the secretary of state shows. Almost 557,000 ballots had been cast there through Oct. 31, representing 36 percent of the total 2008 balloting.

“We feel very, very good about the numbers,” said Obama senior political strategist David Axelrod.

CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac University surveys conducted Oct. 23-28 and released early yesterday showed Obama leading Romney by five points, 50 percent to 45 percent, in Ohio; by two points, 49 percent to 47 percent, in Virginia; and by one point, 48 percent to 47 percent, in Florida.

Campaign Stops

In the campaign’s closing days, Obama is scheduled to make stops in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida and Colorado, before spending election night in Chicago.

While Romney’s travel schedule isn’t completely set, aides said he’s likely to use his final days campaigning in the main battleground states. They left open the possibility of a surprise visit to one of the three he is trying to put into play.

Romney plans to end his campaign with an evening rally on Nov. 5 in Manchester, New Hampshire, the state where he first declared his candidacy and where he owns a vacation home.

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