A dark forecast, with a guide to spotting rays of sunshine.
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Florida. In the Senate race, Republican Connie Mack was briefly ahead of incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in the summer, but Nelson retook the lead in mid-August and has held it since; he will likely be reelected (Dem. hold). In the presidential race, Romney has led in public polling averages for the past month; some Republicans looking at internal polls sound surprisingly nervous behind the scenes, but I suspect Florida will stay red even if it’s a closer shave than some of us were expecting (R+29). If I’m wrong: If Obama has Florida, he’s winning by a fairly comfortable margin.
About those internal polls, by the way: Because campaigns (and party committees and outside groups) will spend more money on polling than media outlets will — allowing pollsters to do things like target a particular geographical balance in a sample — the average internal poll is more accurate than the average public poll. But the average internal poll usually isn’t the one we see. Campaigns leak numbers that send the message they want to send, not numbers that accurately reflect the aggregate of the data they have access to, so internal polling released to the public is significantly less accurate than public polling. Yesterday Toby Harnden of the Daily Mail got an exclusive look at some internal polls that look very favorable to Romney — but there’s a very good chance that those numbers are outliers. I haven’t been shown any internal polls, but I have had informal conversations with people who have access to them; paradoxically, this is probably more informative than seeing the actual numbers (unless you’re seeing them every day). Those conversations influence some of my predictions.
New Hampshire. This one’s very, very close, but Obama has a slight lead in public polls, and GOP insiders with access to internal polling are pessimistic, so I’m calling it for Obama (O+4). If I’m wrong: New Hampshire can swing the election one way or another if, for example, Romney wins Virginia and Ohio but loses the states west of Lake Michigan that Obama won in 2008. That doesn’t align with my predictions, but it’s not a crazy scenario, either.
9:00 pm — Polls close in thirteen states. Among them are Arizona, where retiring Republican Senator Jon Kyl looks set to be replaced by Jeff Flake (Rep. hold), and Nebraska, where retiring moderate Democratic Senator Ben Nelson looks set to be replaced by Republican Deb Fischer (Rep. gain).
Polls also close in Michigan and Minnesota. The presidential race has at times looked close in these states, but not close enough to flip them; both will stay blue (O+16, O+10) Minnesota has really only been part of the race because its media markets overlap with parts of Wisconsin. And Wisconsin really is in play.
In fact, Republicans who’ve seen internal polling actually seem to feel better about Wisconsin than they do about Ohio, which isn’t what you’d guess from the public polls showing Ohio as the tighter race. I think Obama will probably hang on in the Badger State (O+10), but it isn’t certain. Tammy Baldwin beating Tommy Thompson in the Senate race is probably a somewhat safer bet (Dem. hold). If I’m wrong: As mentioned above, if Romney can win Virginia, he has a path to victory that goes through Ohio, and one that goes around Ohio; the latter path requires winning Wisconsin. As you might have heard once or twice or eighty times this year, no Republican has ever won the presidency without Ohio, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Romney were the first to manage it. Romney winning Wisconsin’s electoral votes could come in tandem with a Thompson upset in the Senate race, so watch the returns in both races.
Colorado is a coin flip. I say it comes up Romney (R+9). If I’m wrong: The path to victory for Romney that includes Virginia and Wisconsin but not Ohio does not work without Colorado.
10:00 pm — Polls close in Utah (which we’ve already covered), Montana, Nevada, and Iowa.
In Montana, Republican Danny Rehberg has already been elected statewide — he’s the at-large Representative — which makes him a formidable challenger to incumbent Senator Jon Tester. I think Rehberg wins (Rep. gain). In Nevada, Republican Dean Heller probably wins the Senate race (Rep. hold), but the Silver State stays blue at the presidential level; even the rosy internals leaked to the Daily Mail concede that Obama wins Nevada (O+6).
In Iowa, Obama underperformed his polls in 2008; the RealClearPolitics average had him up by 15.3, but he only won by 9.5. The RCP average currently shows Obama up 2.4. I think Romney pulls it off (R+6). If I’m wrong: As with Colorado, the scenario where Romney wins without Ohio does not work without Iowa.
11:00 pm — Polls close in North Dakota, where Republican Rick Berg looks poised to replace retiring Democratic Senator Kent Conrad (Rep. gain).
In the Senate, that comes out to a net gain of one seat for Republicans, yielding a 52-seat Democratic majority (counting Democratic-caucusing independents). In the presidential race, it comes out to 288 electoral votes for Obama and 250 electoral votes for Romney.
One last thing: It’s very likely that Romney narrowly wins the popular vote, especially if I’ve got a state or two wrong in the electoral vote forecast.
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