Larry Sabato's latest analysis of the electoral college map should give jubilant Republicans serious pause, because it suggests that, despite his manifest failures of leadership, Barack Obama is poised to win reelection. And, more ominously for the GOP, the Dems have what appears to be an increasing long-term electoral college lock.
Sabato counts 182 "safe" electoral votes for the Dems, with 14 "likely" and 51 "leaning" their way. That gives Obama 247 of the 270 electoral votes that he needs to win reelection. The comparable numbers for the GOP, by contrast, are 105 (safe), 65 (likely) and 10 (lean) for 180 electoral votes total.
Now, admittedly, it's very early in the campaign season. A lot can and surely will happen between now and Nov. 6, 2012.
Moreover, as Sabato himself points out, if you do not include the lean states, but just the likely and safe states, the race is much more tightly contested: 196 Democratic electoral votes to 170 Republican electoral votes.
Still, it's got to be disturbing to the GOP that even with the economy in the doldrums, unemployment at a sustained and near-record high, and a tsunami of debt set to explode, Obama remains the odds-on favorite to win reelection.
A big part of the problem is changing demographics, which clearly favor the Democrats. Sabato's tossup states, for instance, include former GOP strongholds such as Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida.
What do all of these states have in common? Large Hispanic and immigrant populations, which tend to vote Democratic. Young people under age 30 also tend to be far more Democratic.
The good news is that Hispanic voting patters are likely to change and evolve over time, just as political allegiance of earlier American immigrant groups changed and evolved over time.
Young people, too, can and do change politically, depending upon their formative life experiences. If, for instance, young people continue to suffer a weak economy and poor employment prospects, then they likely will be more receptive to the GOP.
Another wildcard is voter turnout. Hispanics, immigrants and young people all tend to vote in far fewer numbers than older white voters.
This is significant because older white voters tend to be more Republican, which is one reason the GOP won big in 2010. In 2008, by contrast, Obama and the Dems benefited from a surge in both the Hispanic and youth votes.
But what if, in 2012, Hispanics and young people revert to type as they did in 2004? The Republican challenger might then squeak out a victory as George W. Bush did over John Kerry.
Still, the fact remains: The Republican Party needs to do a lot more political spadework in Hispanic and immigrant communities and on college campuses. The party's political long-term survival depends on it.
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