One hundred days from today -- November 7, 2012 -- the national commentariat will either be analyzing why Americans chose eight years of President Barack Obama, or engaging in breathless speculating about President-elect Romney's transition team. In the interim, we'll dive in to numerous campaign controversies, from the profound to the picayune. We'll learn the identity of Mitt Romney's running mate, we'll watch four debates with baited breath, and we'll pore over polling data until our eyes glaze over. As the race stands today, it's a total toss-up. Gallup's daily tracker shows the race tied at 46 apiece, with Rasmussen giving Romney a two-point edge. The latest NYT/CBS survey has Romney up by a hair, with NBC/WSJ's pollster pegging Obama as fairly comfortably ahead. (Both polls rely on unrealistic partisan samples). With a month until the Republican National Convention in Tampa, national trends will bob up and down, but it won't be until mid-September -- when both conventions are over, and polling bounces fade -- that we'll really begin to grasp the true complexion of this race. As we impatiently await autumn's arrival, we'll keep an eye on President Obama's job approval rating, perhaps the best measuring stick for his re-election prospects. But ultimately, everything will boil down to electoral college math. Karl Rove's Wall Street Journal May column spells out the arithmetic plainly. Determining the president's fate is as easy as three, two, one:
To take the White House, Mr. Romney needs 270 votes in the Electoral College. A "3-2-1" strategy will get him there. None of Mr. McCain's states appear in real jeopardy for the GOP this year...After this initial hurdle, Mr. Romney's victory road starts with "3"—as in Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia, a trio of historically Republican states. In 2008, Mr. Obama won by narrow margins in Indiana (barely 1%) and North Carolina (0.32%). Next up is "2"—as in Florida and Ohio. They flipped from Republican in 2004 to Democratic in 2008. Both were close—a 2.8% margin for Mr. Obama in the former and 4.6% in the latter...These two states have a combined 47 electoral votes. If Mr. Romney wins them, the Electoral College would stand at 272 for Mr. Obama, 266 for Mr. Romney. Which brings us to "1." Mr. Romney then needs one more state—any state—and the White House is his.
At the moment, most projections give Obama a commanding electoral college lead, even with the national vote split evenly. Then again, most swing-state polling won't mean much for at least another six-to-eight weeks. Romney currently looks pretty well-positioned in two of Rove's first three must-wins (Indiana, North Carolina), and is virtually even in one of the second tier battlegrounds (Florida). Virginia is extremely close, and the president has a small lead in Ohio; both states where Obama has been heavily out-spending his opponent. In order to have a prayer, Romney must reclaim Virginia for the GOP and flip the always-decisive Buckeye State into his column. These are eminently doable tasks, but neither will come easily. As for that final "one," Iowa, Colorado, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are appear to be at least competitive -- perhaps in that order. The Republican House majority seems to be secure, but control of the Senate very much hangs in the balance. Ninety-nine days, and counting. Strap in tight; it's going to be a wild ride.