For those of us living in California, especially in the Bay Area, where the outcome of the presidential election in the Golden State has not been in doubt since 1992, we are like the child whose face is pressed against the glass at the candy store. The only reason for a campaign visit to California by either Republican nominee Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama is to add to their campaign coffers.
California is hardly alone; a mere 12 states will decide this year's election. But any honest assessment would most likely conclude that number has been reduced to eight -- New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa and Colorado.
We can mull national polls, listen to pundits' analyses (including mine), or we can look at a single number -- 270. That number represents the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
When we combine the 270 electoral votes with the aforementioned competitive eight states, there are long- and short-term challenges for the Republican Party. The immediate short-term challenge reveals that the president can lose Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and still win re-election. The map is not so generous to Romney.
The second short-term challenge lies in the changing demographics. The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicates Romney holds a 53-40 lead over the president among white voters. But the president maintains a small lead over Romney because of the nonwhite vote and its growing influence.
In 2000, the percentage split between the white vote and nonwhite vote was 81-19. In 2008, that split had fallen to 74-26. The 2012 split is expected to be in the neighborhood of 72-28.
The significance in this election is that Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Nevada all have non-white electorates that exceed the projected 2012 average. Moreover, Ohio, long known to be a bellwether state, may be relinquishing that title to Virginia.
This does not suggest that the election is over -- far from it. There remain unforeseen forces that may dictate the outcome, such as the recent tragic attack in Libya that cost the life of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Even if Romney is able to overcome the challenges presented by the 2012 electoral map, the long-term implication may present an even grimmer scenario.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham may have best articulated the long-term challenge for the Republican Party, "The demographics race we're losing badly. We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."
Graham's crude assessment captures publicly what Republicans know internally. Virginia and North Carolina had long been states the GOP could count in its ledger; because of changing demographics, they are now tossup states. Texas, with its 38 electoral votes, remains the largest state that is safely in the Republican column, but it is possible within two general election cycles the Lone Star State will go from deep red to purple.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush repeated his frequent warning before the Republican Convention this year that his party must change its tone -- its hard-line position on immigration.
"The future of our party is to reach out consistently to have a tone that is open and hospitable to people who share values," he said, adding "the conservative cause would be the governing philosophy as far as the eye could see ... and that's doable if we just stop acting stupid."
It is understandable that a political party focuses on the immediacy of the upcoming election. But the Republican Party has taken its eye completely off the future, painting itself into a corner that if it continues, it will be unable to escape the inevitable outcome.