by Paul Goldman
The Republican Governor of Pennsylvania, where the GOP controls the State Legislature, is proposing to change the winner-take-all formula for allocating the state’s electoral votes. Next year, the Keystone State will have 20 electoral votes. In 2008, the President won Pennsylvania easily, but only carried half of the congressional districts. The GOP has little hope of winning a statewide majority in 2012. But a credible Republican ticket can carry 9 congressional districts.
Thus, the Republican Governor’s brainstorm: let’s copy Maine and Nebraska, where the electoral votes are allocated in a two-step fashion. For Pennsylvania, this would mean the statewide vote winner would get 2 electoral votes and, in addition, 1 electoral vote for every congressional district he or she carries.
ENTER THEN VIRGINIA: Assume the GOP wins the VA Senate this November. What is to stop Governor McDonnell, a rival of the Pennsylvania Governor for the VEEP spot, from moving to likewise change the Old Dominion’s winner-take-all electoral college system?
If one were calculating the odds from the standpoint of risk vs. reward, the winner-take-all formula makes little sense for VA Republicans. Right now, they have 8 members of Congress to 3 for Democrats. We have no 2012 redistricting plan yet, so both parties are in dueling mode.
But let’s assume whatever plan they develop would assure the GOP candidate wins six CD’s next year. Thus, if the GOP presidential nominee wins the state, he or she would get 8 electoral votes, guaranteed 6 if he or she lost.
Let’s do the math.
Based on the 2008 map, the President starts with 359 electoral votes. He figures to lose the usually GOP Indiana (11 electoral votes) in 2012, having barely won there the last time around. Ohio (18) would go the Republicans today, and given the Jewish revolt in New York City yesterday, Obama might not be able to repeat a narrow win in Florida (29), with the snowbirds from the Empire State now living in South Florida so riled up over Israel.
359-58 equals 301 electoral votes remaining, everything else being equal. North Carolina (15) went for the President in a photo finish. The pollsters say a mainstream, solid GOP conservative candidate carries the Tar Heel State today.
That leaves 286 votes. Assume Obama carries Pennsylvania (20) again, but the winner-take-all formula is replaced by the Maine/Nebraska model, then 286-9 leaves 275 electoral votes.
Now comes Virginia (13). Even if Obama wins it again, the adoption of the Maine/Nebraska model could mean a loss of 6 CDs. Result: 269-269, the first ever tie since the adoption of the 12th Amendment.
Meaning: The Game Theory move for the VA GOP is to go the Maine/Nebraska formula if they capture the State Senate this November, provided Pennsylvania takes similar action.
Why? Based on the numbers, this would give their candidate the Presidency if he or she carries Virginia, by a 271-267 margin. But if the GOP presidential ticket loses, it prevents Obama from winning an electoral college majority, all other things being equal.
There hasn’t been a Presidential race decided by the House of Representatives (the 12th Amendment procedure should the electoral college fail to produce a winner) since 1824. Under the Constitution, each state gets one vote, the winner needing a majority, the Senate picking the Vice-President. The House can choose from among the three highest electoral college vote winners.
Bottom line: This approach allows the GOP to win back the White House by reversing narrow loses in Indiana and North Carolina, assuming Ohio and Florida flip back Republican, generally the case when the incumbent is in difficult economic circumstances.
It keeps the GOP in the game even if it loses Virginia and furthermore, it changes the conventional wisdom, which believes no Republican can win unless they can take a state like Pennsylvania, as long as they can’t win Virginia.
What are the odds of this happening?
Zero if Democrats keep control of the State Senate. Otherwise, who knows.