"Oregon, Oregon, Oregon." Yes, you read that right... Oregon. Tim Russert famously boiled the 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore to "Florida, Florida, Florida" but believe it or not, 2012 is shaping up to be all about the Beaver State.
The fact is, most states are already slotted into predetermined red or blue columns. The "swing" states that pundits always talk about are virtually non-existent. Hence, the presidential candidates must look beyond the usual suspects in order to secure the required 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. As such, I say, "Go West, young man." Oregon is rich with electoral opportunity.
Forget Ohio. Obama will win there. Governor Kasich has plummeting poll numbers reaching near 50% disapproval in the latest PPP poll. Combining sagging poll numbers with the likely reelection of Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Romney's position on the auto bailout, Ohio seems likely to kick Romney off his path to the White House. Not to mention The Buckeye State cannot be fond of a person claiming to be a native son of rival Michigan.
Forget Pennsylvania. Obama will win there too. The GOP candidate has lost The Keystone State in the last five presidential contests. With no compelling reason for Pennsylvania voters to buck this trend, and Senator Bob Casey facing minimal opposition, the pro-life Catholic swing votes will not be enough to tip the scales in favor of the pro-life Romney.
Nevada is always a gamble. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid survived a close reelection scare in 2010 in the face of the Tea Party and GOP landslide. Thus proving that Nevadans refuse to simply elect a person for the mere reason their name appears on a ballot. In 2010 the voters of Nevada chose Republican Brian Sandoval, the first Hispanic governor elected in Nevada, over the son of Senate Majority Leader Reid. The GOP further strengthened their position in Nevada, forcing the resignation of Senator John Ensign prior to his reelection bid; instead appointing a well-known face to Nevada politics in Dean Heller. Heller has been elected statewide (3 times) and is up for reelection in 2012. With the GOP governor campaigning full time, combined with the tremendous amounts of money the popular Heller will bring into the state to fund his well-oiled get out the vote (GOTV) machine, and the high Mormon population (4th highest as a percentage with 7.4%), it appears as though the odds favor Romney.
North Carolina goes Romney. Despite Charlotte playing host to the Democratic National Convention, Obama has upset his base in the Tar Heel state. With North Carolinians overwhelmingly supporting a gay marriage ban with 61% of the vote, the president showed political courage, rebuking the election results by coming out publicly one day after the successful constitutional ban in support of gay marriage. The president and his reelection team committed a political fumble. Obama should have shored up his political support nationwide with his position on the issue of gay marriage. Instead, the president sent a message to political allies in states like North Carolina that he is with them. The problem is that, his message arrived a day late. Furthermore, his position on the issue puts him at odds with a very evangelical and a very motivated 61% of NC voters. In other bad news for the president, the open NC governor race is trending heavily in favor of the GOP candidate. For these reasons, NC will swing red and Romney will win.
Colorado is trending blue and staying blue, Obama wins. With two incumbent Democratic U.S. Senators and not a single targeted congressional seat in the fall the momentum and ground game are clearly advantage Obama.
Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984; 2012 will be no different. Obama wins. The recent failed recall effort of Governor Scott Walker should not be indicative of a pro-GOP trend. Walker's victory was recall is evidence the people of Wisconsin do not want democracy by recall. Because Wisconsin's primary election is held so late (August 14) whoever emerges out of the GOP primary (Democrats have united behind former Representative Tammy Baldwin) could be damaged with little time to reinvent themselves and raise the funds necessary to be competitive in the fall. Should the GOP nominate former Governor Tommy Thompson combined with the popularity of Representative Paul Ryan amongst the GOP base, Wisconsin could be in one of the most pivotal states in 2012. Obama should win, but he cannot take the Badger State for granted.
Iowa goes to Romney. The GOP in Iowa is highly motivated, evidenced by Rick Santorum's surprising caucus victory. With popular Governor Terry Branstad back in the governor's mansion and not a single notable congressional or senate race in the fall, The Hawkeye State will be tough sledding for the president.
Missouri, like Wisconsin, is tough to call. However, with most recent polls suggesting Missouri voters are poised to unseat incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill, the battle boils down to the GOTV effort on the ground. Hence, should the senator lose, Obama will likely lose as well. The vulnerability of the president in Missouri is further evidenced by the fact Senator McCaskill recently indicated she will not participate in the Democratic Convention in September. Crossroads is playing heavily in The Independence Show Me State, hence Crossroads and Romney win Missouri.
Michigan goes for Obama. The "My father was governor" argument for Romney does not translate to victory come November. Romney's position on the auto bailout will come back to haunt him in November. Blue collar union voters, combined with the president's African American constituency, make Michigan a tough road to hoe for Romney. Ask John McCain just how tough Michigan can be. Senator Debbie Stabenow appears set for an easy victory in the fall as well.
The Sunshine State is not so bright sunny for Mitt Romney. The GOP is slogging through a tough primary election. Waiting in the wings is U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. Nelson lacks the charisma, pizzazz and charm of most Southern politicians. However, Nelson possesses the intelligence and work ethic required to do the job. Nelson's lack of campaign charisma may impede his ability to motivate the base, combined with the president's struggling with some in the Jewish community over his position on Israel, may prove to be a fatal weakness. Popular former governor and conservative favorite Jeb Bush and current Senator and conservative darling Marco Rubio are often tossed about as VP choices... duh. Both Bush and Rubio provide inroads to a much needed Hispanic community; however, one has said NO and the other may not be ready for primetime (can you say 'Sarah'?). In the end, the Sunshine State will be close, but in the end, not Florida, Florida, Florida, but Romney, Romney, Romney.
New Hampshire, yet another of Romney's "home" states, should go to him. George W. Bush was the last Republican to win the Granite State in 2000. However, the president's recent polling numbers show him struggling against Mitt Romney. New Hampshire voters gravitated toward Romney early on, giving him a resounding 39% victory in the primary election. Popular Senator Kelly Ayotte has been mentioned as a potential VP candidate to Romney. Obviously Romney is well aware of how important the four granite electoral votes will be come November. Romney wins.
Virginia is critical to a Romney victory in November. George Allen and Tim Kaine are locked in a dead heat for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Senator Jim Webb. In 2004, George W. Bush won 9 of 11 congressional districts. Virginia has voted Republican every year since 1952 with the exception of the 1964 trouncing and the Obama victory in 2008. Virginia 2008 was historic for the president, not the start of a blue trend. Allen wins the Senate seat and Romney squeaks out a victory as well.
And then there's Oregon....
In 1966 Oregon saw the election of Republican Senator Mark Hatfield. And for the next 42 years Oregon maintained a Republican presence in the U.S. Senate until the defeat of Senator Gordon Smith in the Democratic sweep of 2008. From 1968-1984 Oregon voted Republican for president. 1984 also saw the last election of a GOP governor. However, the 2000 presidential election showed a resurgence of GOP strength as Oregon went for Al Gore... by less than 1%!
The 2008 U.S. Senate election between Gordon Smith and Jeff Merkley was not decided until three days after the election with Democrat Jeff Merkley squeaking out a victory fueled primarily by absentee vote returns. The 2010 governor's race between GOP political newcomer Chris Dudley and former two-term Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber again saw a GOP election night victory evaporate with the counting of absentee voter ballots five days after the election. A superior GOTV effort by the Oregon Democrats (note to Romney) dismantled the GOP victory in both elections.
Oregon in 2012 will showcase a grassroots battle that could determine the presidential outcome. With the Oregon House of Representatives deadlocked at 30-30, the GOP is clamoring to regain control of the chamber they held until the Democratic landslide of 2006. Also in 2012, Oregon voters will see neither a race for senate or governor nor the money that goes with such elections for Party GOTV efforts. Furthermore, all five congressional districts seem locked in to reelect the incumbent due to a lack of credible challengers fielded by either side.
However, Oregon will see two statewide races, one partisan and one non-partisan: Secretary of State (SoS) and Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI). The SoS race features incumbent Democrat Kate Brown pitted against political newcomer Knute Bueller. Brown has had her share of political controversies, painting her as a partisan warrior in an increasingly independent-minded state. This race will be one to watch. The race for BOLI is very interesting; BOLI is a non-partisan position with two seasoned political veterans squaring off in Democrat Brad Avakian and GOP Senator Bruce Starr. Two current polls show Republican Starr leading the Democrat Avakian.
With such innocuous races for the Oregon legislature and an under the radar non-partisan race for statewide office, Oregon is the sleeper state up for grabs in 2012. The president's numbers are below 50% in a state he won by 17% in 2008. For these reasons, Oregon will prove to be the decider of the 2012 presidential election. Should such results prove accurate, the electoral count would stand at Obama 267 to Romney 264.
Go West, young man, go West!
Kitts is a former Oregon State Representative and House Majority Whip. Kitts was the 2006 GOP nominee in Oregon's First Congressional District. Currently he resides in New York City and works for msnbc.