By Carl M. Cannon Subscribe To This Blog
In this Post:November 3, 2008
One more day to go in the presidential derby. An historic election, to be sure, with some high moments, and too many low ones. We’ve had trivial debates over the flag pins (or lack thereof) on Barack Obama’s lapel, and snarky comments about the source of Sarah Palin’s clothes. We've listened to more discussion, it seems, about the candidates’ résumés than on how they would fix the economy—or bring the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a satisfactory result. Liberals complain about Republicans’ heavy-handed campaign tactics. The conservative rebuttal is that the elite media has been arrayed against them in an uncommonly partisan way. Neither complaint is wrong. As a journalist, the second criticism bothers me more, but tomorrow we will count the votes regardless. Obama is leading in all the national polls and in most of the swing states (here's the latest from Real Clear Politics), while there is a some evidence suggesting late, but minor, movement in John McCain’s direction. Here are four possible outcomes, with Loose Cannon adding whimsical footnotes to the first two:
Scenario 1: The nation experiences another relatively close election, its fifth in a row if you factor out the muddying presence of Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. In the end, Barack Obama wins a clear-cut victory. The Electoral College follows the popular vote, which most likely would mean that Obama wins in the neighborhood of 52-46, with Bob Barr and Ralph Nader picking up 2 percent between them, and with at least 350 Electoral College votes going to the Democratic ticket. In a gracious concession speech, McCain does not allege that media bias defeated him, and extends a hand of friendship to Obama. During the transition, President-elect Obama reciprocates by offering McCain a cabinet position. On Inauguration Day, Sarah Palin announces her 2012 presidential bid.
Scenario 2: McCain closes fast and nips Obama at the wire, say 49.5 to 48.5 percent, eking out narrow victories in Pennsylvania and Florida, and winning in Ohio by the same margin as George W. Bush did in 2004. Obama blames neither fraud, nor racism for his unexpected defeat. McCain, in his election night victory speech, publicly offers Obama the post of Secretary of State, which he defines as “Ambassador to the World.” Hillary Clinton, proclaiming that this happens to be her husband's unofficial title, announces her 2012 presidential bid before the polls have closed in Obama's native state of Hawaii.
Scenario 3: Obama, as Ronald Reagan did in 1980, attracts the passionate support of all those in his own party, nails down the late-deciding swing voters, and proves a magnet to first-time voters, many of them young Americans going to the polls for the first time. In addition, Obama attracts record numbers of African American votes, and minority support across the spectrum. The election returns offer further proof of the accelerated erosion of support for the Republican Party in New England and the Eastern seaboard, as well as among onetime "Reagan Democrats" in the Midwest. Conversely, it offers a rejuvenation of Democrats' fortunes in the bellwether western states such as New Mexico and Nevada, and demonstates Democratic Party inroads into previously difficult terrain ranging from Virginia to North Dakota. McCain even loses his home state of Arizona. The geographic map that emerges on Wednesday makes the Republican Party seem like a regional party, with appeal only in the deepest South and pockets of mountain West. Worse still, the returns reveal a demographic ghetto as well: The GOP has become the party of social conservatives and older whites—exclusively. Its future as a national party is called into doubt. That's the Republican doomsday scenario.
Scenario 4: Obama wins the popular vote handily, but loses narrowly in the Electoral College. This dichotomy has happened before, as recently as 2000, but this result would make that year's Florida recount look like a picnic. For one thing, Al Gore won the popular vote by 500,000 out of 151.5 million votes. This time, the numbers could be much more undemocratic, a result that would be disenfranching to a clear majority of Americans and would generate ill-will that would have an explosive potential. Some African Americans leaders, many conspiracy-minded academics, party activists, and the angry left-wing blogosphere would immediately proclaim the election stolen. The unrestrained—and more partisan—media of 2008 would trumpet these claims. The sheer size of Obama’s victory in the popular vote would undermine McCain's very claim to power. Here’s how this might happen:
Suppose Obama were to carry California, with its 55 electoral votes, and New York (31 electoral votes) by 1.8 million votes each, and his own state of Illinois (21 electoral votes) by 1 million. Based on 2004 election results, such numbers are easily imaginable. Meanwhile, McCain would eke out narrow victories in Florida, Ohio, Missouri, and Pennsylvania by margins ranging from 50,000-100,000 votes, while winning Texas by a comfortable—but not overwhelming—cushion of half-a-million. Those seven states would give McCain a slight lead over Obama in electoral votes 113 to 107, while the Republican ticket trailed the Democratic ticket by something close to 4 million votes in the popular vote. It would be hard to make up that kind of ground in the rest of the states. This is the Democrats' doomsday, and it has fallout that effects all Americans. It would engender, in addition to political chaos; a) four years of very, very hard feelings in this country: b) a steep loss of prestige for the United States in world public opinion; c) the demise of the Electoral College.
The Electoral College may have outlived its usefulness, but—whatever your political leanings—such a result would simply not be worth the cost of getting rid of it. So, lift a glass with me, and join me in a toast: Here’s hoping for a clean result tomorrow, one way or the other.