Mitt Romney, the man I will vote for in November, has not had much good news lately. President Obama's persistently negative campaign, the natural advantages of the incumbency and Romney's own continued lack of a clear message all hurt him.
And, even with one state that went for Obama in 2008, Indiana, almost certain to go for Romney this time, polls and electoral college maps continue to favor Obama. And that's where Romney himself and the GOP are in real trouble long term: even if Republicans continue to offer a message and platform that appeals to roughly half of the electorate (something that Romney's pick of Paul Ryan for Vice President will help with), the electoral college increasingly favors the Democrats.
On one hand, things look pretty close: Obama leads by somewhere between two and three points in the popular vote, Romney is fundraising successfully, and Romney's choice of Paul Ryan for Vice President gives him the clearly articulated agenda his campaign has lacked to date. This is all well and good. But the electoral map still ought to worry every Republican. Of the 12 states in the electoral college top 10 (Georgia, North Carolina and New Jersey are tied for ninth place with 13 electoral votes each) 11 went for Obama last election and two of the three biggest -- New York and California -- are so solidly blue that Romney will not seriously contest them. Same goes for Illinois, New Jersey and thirteenth-place Massachusetts. Likewise Michigan, and Pennsylvania, although nominally in play according to most pundits, look like pretty safe Democratic states too and haven't gone Republican since 1988.
Only two of the big electoral jackpots, on the other hand, Texas and Georgia, both of which McCain won, seem like sure Republican states. This leaves only Ohio, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina as true major electoral swing states. Obama has lead consistently in Virginia and Ohio, Romney has mostly been ahead in North Carolina, and Florida is likely to come down to the wire.
And Romney almost certainly must win three of these four states to take the White House. Except for Ohio, which seems almost sure to continue shedding electoral votes thanks to sluggish population growth, all of them have demographic trends that favor Democrats. Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina (which saw an amazing 111 percent Latino population growth) are both adding younger people, college graduates and increasingly democratic-leaning Latino voters at a rapid rate. Cultural shifts and urbanization, likewise, are skewing once "purple" Northern Virginia suburbs and North Carolina's Research Triangle area into strongly blue areas. If any of these states turn solidly blue at the national level over the next few cycles (Virginia seems particularly likely), the calculus will turn even more against Republicans to win the electoral college.
Indeed, if one counts Pennsylvania and Michigan as safe "blue" states in Presidential years, Democrats are already starting with 237 electoral votes to Republicans' 191. Adding Virginia to the mix brings the Dems' total to 250 and assuming Florida becomes a strongly-democratic-at-the-national-level state would assure Democrats a lock on the presidency.
None of this is going to happen in the current electoral cycle and, although Obama seems likely to win, Romney still has a chance of pulling it off, particularly now that Paul Ryan has added real intellectual heft to the campaign. But, in the long term, the GOP has to change if it wants to remain competitive for the White House.
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