Let me stipulate to all the caveats right up front, put them behind me and then jump right in.
It’s quite possible that Barack Obama will be reelected president in two months with more or less the same the number of states he won in 2008. A plausible outcome (remember the caveats) would the the 2008 states minus Indiana and North Carolina. Without Indiana would be 354 electoral votes. Without North Carolina too would be 339.
Let’s flip the equation. Look at the electoral map at this moment. The current TPM Electoral Scoreboard puts 256 electoral votes to Romney’s 206. 5 states are in the Toss Up category. One is literally tied: Florida. Dead even. The remaining 4 have tiny Obama leads: Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia. And this is largely based on state polls which preceded the conventions, which had Obama at about his electoral floor.
Put it all together and Romney’s best case scenario is a Bush v. Gore, Bush v. Kerry style victory. Very close. But Obama stands a reasonable chance of a decisive electoral college win.
Yes, the debates and a lot more are still ahead of us. And these are feel good projections for the Obama folks up in Chicago.
But what will it tell us about the country if President Obama, with a still fairly shattered economy and unemployment over 8%, manages not only to win reelection but win it by a clear margin — perhaps even a decisive one in the electoral college?
Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, are already warming up an answer. Romney was a phony conservative and a terrible candidate. So it doesn’t mean anything other than we need to pick a better nominee next time.
But there’s another read. Even in a terrible economy a Republican still wins Oklahoma and a Democrat still wins Rhode Island. They’re just conservative and liberal enough that a rotten economy or a terrible candidate doesn’t sway enough people off their partisan moorings to shift things. Is the country moving in a direction where the Republican party is at an inherent disadvantage in a presidential election? Is the Republican message lack sufficient traction when the whole electorate is engaged?
Or as George Will put it yesterday, “If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics and find another business.”
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.