Did Romney Lose by not Picking McDonnell for VP?

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    by Paul Goldman

    By now, it is clear the choice of Paul Ryan has not helped Mitt Romney in any significant way in terms of winning 270 electoral votes. True, Wisconsin is considered competitive now, but not because of Ryan being on the ticket (rather, the fallout from the first debate and the GOP’s successful effort to stop the recall of Republican Governor Scott Walker).

    As a national figure, Ryan has proven to be a non-entity: the supposed GOP “idea guy” whose ideas Romney dare not discuss if he wants to have any chance of winning!

    Right now, Romney seems safe in enough states to have 206 electoral votes in the proverbial bag, President Obama 237 unless there is a significant last-minute shift in voter attitudes in this final week. But assuming this isn’t the case, then the Electoral College hinges on the following states: Colorado (9 electoral votes) Florida (29), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4) Ohio (18), Virginia (13) and Wisconsin (10).

    To be sure, some of these states are closer than others, and these 8 are not 50-50 right now, they have a lean one way or another. But they are the last 8 seen as truly capable of going either way should one man or the other have the kind of closing surge that is possible without a sea change shift in the electorate or another polling debacle like say 1948 or 1932 due to a failure to anticipate flaws in the pollster’s voter model.  

    Mathematically, either guy could lose any one of these 8 states and still win the presidency by carrying the other seven. But as a matter of political logic, this isn’t true: some states, as George Orwell might have said, are more equal than others. For example, if Romney can’t win Florida, there is no reason to expect him to win Virginia – or Ohio for that matter given the demographics.

    If you crunch the numbers in terms of political reality, Romney will have to win Florida to have any chance to defeat the president. So let’s give the former governor the Sunshine State. This brings his running EC total to 235. Likewise, if the president loses Nevada it would suggest a serious coalition breakdown from 2008. True, Nevada is facing very rough economic times, but statistically, he should have it. So let’s give the President Nevada’s 6 electoral votes, bringing his EC total to 243.

    For the past month or two, Romney has been defying expectations in Colorado, which the President carried easily in 2008. My gut says Romney has a real chance of winning Colorado given the way the polls have been showing for a month. So let’s give Romney the Boulder State, raising the GOP nominee’s total to 244.

    Thus here it stands, Romney at 244, Obama at 243, with 5 states to decided the election: Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

    Once again, in theory, either man can lose any one of those states as long as he is winning the other 4.

    The most interesting aspect of these remaining states is this: the deciding voters seem to be listening to their own drummer. The Northeast is going solidly for Obama as it has for every Democrat since Clinton with one exception one time: New Hampshire in 2000. It would be a big upset for Romney to win the Granite State. But on the other hand, it only has 4 electoral votes. Thus it doesn’t play a significant role in all but a few of the various possible electoral math equations remaining.

    The same for Iowa. This Sunday, the Des Moines Register broke with 40 years of backing Democrats to finally support the GOP candidate for president. The demographics of Iowa suggest that if the logic of their editorial is in tune with the key swing voters in the Corn State, it could presage a Romney victory there by a narrow margin.

    Accordingly: Let’s give New Hampshire to the President and Iowa to Romney.

    This puts their running Electoral College totals as 250 for Romney and 247 for the President. This would mean the election comes down to three states: Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.    

    To win, Romney or Obama need to carry any two of the three.

    Last month, I wrote a piece for Politico. com suggesting that all the bashing of the Romney Team (then the conventional wisdom by the usual suspects) was misplaced, I outlined a strategy taking the usual heat for going against the politically correct crowd. In that regard, I pointed out the scenario where Wisconsin, long overlooked by the experts in DC, became a player in the 270 end game.

    Thus the pick of Ryan made sense from that point of view in terms of a generic analysis of someone from a key state who might help at the margins.

    But when you get down to a three state election – with the winner having to carry two of those listed above – the political math suggests McDonnell would have been the better choice.

    The swing voter this year in Virginia supported McDonnell in 2009 and in 2005: they like him. These voters in Wisconsin have never voted for Ryan. There is little evidence that Ryan is winning any Badger State “pride vote” in terms of having one of their own on the national ticket. But here in Virginia, given the state’s culture, McDonnell would pull 1% extra at least in my view given his standing with key swing voters.

    Moreover, the politics of Wisconsin, in terms of local boost to a national candidate, again stems from Wisconsin Governor Walker’s battles, which he has won and in the process galvanized a GOP constituency. Romney is benefiting from that at the margin.

    Bottom line: Winning Ohio is up to the presidential candidates, there is no local boy makes good thing going. So either Obama or Romney will have the right stuff, and the edge goes to the President.

    This means Romney is likely to need to win both Wisconsin and Virginia to have any chance at the magic 270 (in this scenario 273 to be precise).

    Net, net: As I crunch numbers, game theory says Romney would have a better chance of drawing to his inside straight by running with McDonnell over Ryan assuming it came down to one or the other.

    Indeed, in terms of political logic, it is difficult to see how Romney wins both Ohio and Wisconsin yet loses Virginia. Virginia seems to be a must-win for Romney.

    If that is the case, then not picking McDonnell could prove to be a fatal mistake if the outcome here is as close as the polls suggest given the margin of error in all of them and looking at them on a collective basis.

    The failure to pick McDonnell may also have been a very lucky break for Tim Kaine, since surely Allen would have realized that he had to hitch is star to VP candidate McDonnell as opposed to the strange strategy the former Governor and Senator has followed to date.

    I wrote in 2010 that the GOP in 2012 would likely have to choose between a McDonnell or a Christie in terms of a VP political approach. Instead they chose Ryan, a strange choice in terms of lining up with the GOP in the House. I still don’t get it on the macro basis, a Governor-Governor ticket makes more sense for me.

    Go figure: but good for Democrats in my book.

    Long story short: I believe a Romney-McDonnell ticket wins Virginia given how this campaign has unfolded and figuring into the mix the realistic effect, albeit small, of having one of our own on the ticket.

    Think about it: Romney announced his pick of Ryan in Virginia! This shows you the relative importance they placed on the Commonwealth.  

    In that regard, Team Romney had it right from jump street: Virginia figured to be a must0win for them. Logic therefore says, all things considered even the “transvaginal” mistake, they saddled up the wrong VP horse for the last sprint to the finish line.