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The General Election Begins--Advantage Obama
The early numbers are in for the beginning of the general election, and they show a substantial financial, organizational and electoral advantage for President Barack Obama.
The financial edge Democrats have over Republicans is the easiset to summarize. For a number of reasons (i.e. the advantages of incumbency, a vast network of donors already assembled from the 2008 campaign, the fact he has had no primary rival to drain his coffers), Obama has already amassed a 10-1 cash advantage over his GOP foe. Obama for America, the re-election team of the President, had $104 million dollars as of the end of March, while Mitt Romney's fledgeling general election campaign reported just over $10 million.
Of course, this gap will narrow considerably. Mitt Romney is just beginning to tap into the network of GOP donors, and having the Republican field to himself for the first time will save him many precious resources. Still, it will be difficult for him to reach parity with the President, who is benefitting from wealthy Democratic bundlers and has a national network of 1.3 million donors, most of whom have only ever written checks for him of under $100, and can easily be presuaded to chip in again as Election Day nears. Neither candidate will be hurting for money, but it seems safe to expect Obama will have more of it.
Barack Obama's organizational advantage is also intuitive and expected, but nonetheless a very real and serious problem for any opponent hoping to defeat him. In many ways Mitt Romney has just suffered a grueling, drawn-out primary race--but it's short and quick compared to the Clinton/Obama contest that forced the President to establish offices and campaign teams in states that had long been off the radar, like Indiana and Georgia. The President has an established presence, including campaign offices and paid campaign workers, in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Indiana and North Carolina that will be crucial to his get-out-the-vote operation. This powerful Democratic machine is seen by most political observers as having tipped the balance in states Obama narrowly carried like Indiana and North Carolina, and may yet be decisive in 2012. Once again, this lead isn't insurmountable, and Romney may well catch up. However, the Republican can't count on any real help from the remnants of the McCain campaign on this--McCain was so outgunned organizationally by Obama that Romney will have to assemble a national machine more or less from scratch.
And finally, there are electoral considerations. The poll numbers and financial details are important, but any close observer knows that the only number to really matter is 270. Seven months away from election day, the battle lines of the electoral map are being drawn, and the Obama team is significantly closer to the touchdown.
Anyone who is surprised by this has only to remember the 2008 tally, when Obama won well over 270 electoral votes, prevailing by 365-168. He did this by winning all three of the coveted swing states of 2000 and 2004, sweeping the smaller tossups and pulling off surprises in states no one had been watching in the previous two cycles. When you've won 365 EVs, you can afford to lose almost a hundred next time around and still squeak out a victory. All of this is to say that Obama could experience a massive drop in electoral vote support, and still squeak by to reelection. The onus is on Romney to reclaim many Obama states for the Republicans in 2012.
Of the states Obama flipped from red to blue, Indiana seems the surest to return to Republicans. That's ten electoral votes. In the other seven Bush states, however, Obama is seen as even money or slightly favored. Polling has found small leads for Obama in states like Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Iowa and Ohio. Meanwhile, the Democrat typically is seen as having a double-digit advantage in the Bush states Colorado and New Mexico. In both of those states, he is helped by transforming demographics, especially the explosion in the Hispanic population. In fact, in 2008 Obama prevailed in New Mexico by the same margin he achieved in reliably Democratic New Jersey. It's hard to see those five electoral votes, important in a close contest, returning to the GOP fold.
What this means, according to an AP report, is that President Obama starts with about 232 electoral votes in his corner, while Romney has only about 178. Of course, we can debate the gap--arguments can always be made that one candidate is stronger or weaker in one state than he appears. But the overall picture is clear; Romney has a steeper hill to climb. Obama doesn't really need any one of the eight or nine states in play, but if Romney loses an one out of the four states Ohio, Florida, North Carolina or Virginia, the game is probably over for him. Meanwhile, he also can't really afford to lose Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico combined, barring some surprise elsewhere on the map.
So as the general election begins, the President enjoys three important advantages. If the election were held today, I think he would win, albeit by a smaller margin that in 2008. of course, the election is not today but in seven months, and only a fool would claim to know any outcome in politics seven months in advance. A lot can happen; surprises will materialize. But on April 20, President Obama has to be feeling better about his chances.