David Plouffe, the architect behind President Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign, thinks Hillary Clinton will sail to victory in November. But he's setting the bar awfully high.
Plouffe, now an adviser and board member at Uber, expects Clinton to wrangle more than 350 electoral votes. A candidate only needs 270 out of the 538 total Electoral College votes to win. The last time a candidate won more than 350 was in 2008, when Plouffe’s strategy guided the Obama campaign to a victory with 365 electoral votes, with just under 53 percent of the national popular vote.
To achieve that supermajority of electoral votes, Obama won every battleground state in the country, from Nevada and Colorado in the West to North Carolina and Virginia on the East Coast. He also won both Florida and Ohio, states that carry a large chunk of electoral votes and are often viewed as critical to a candidate's success.
In 2012, Obama won 332 electoral votes and 51 percent of the popular vote. The only states he lost in 2012 that he didn’t in 2008 were North Carolina and Indiana. That provides a good idea of what it would take to win nearly two-thirds of the electoral vote.
Let's assume Democrats start with a baseline of 217 electoral votes, or all the states that traditionally go Democratic in presidential elections. Let's also give Clinton all of the battleground states -- the ones that can reasonably be expected to swing in either direction. That brings her total to 347 electoral votes. In other words, if Clinton wins Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada, that still doesn’t get her to 350. She would need to flip Indiana back to blue, or pull enough Latino support to win in Arizona or Utah, in order to top 350.
Getting above 350 could be more difficult in 2016 than it was in 2008, when an economic disaster about two months before the election helped swing the map toward Obama’s landslide Electoral College victory. Democrats also benefitted from President George W. Bush’s deep unpopularity. This time, even though Obama is fairly popular, Democrats represent the status quo in a year when many voters have indicated strong dissatisfaction with politics as usual.
On the other hand, polls in battleground states thus far show reasonably strong Clinton leads. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump isn’t leading in any of the HuffPost Pollster battleground state polling averages, and the race is closer than expected in the traditionally red states of Arizona and Georgia. But it’s also looking closer than usual in Pennsylvania, and a loss in that state would likely prevent Clinton from getting to 350.
There haven’t been very many polls at the state level, though. The general election contest is just beginning to heat up and not a lot of information is available yet. So while things seem to be looking good for Clinton, it’s probably a bit early to say whether she could win 350 or more electoral votes.