It’s funny, really. Somebody like Mark Halperin sees this:
Barack Obama’s decision to base his re-election campaign outside of Washington seems to be working pretty darn well. The campaign’s massive, high-rise headquarters in Chicago’s Loop achieves a fine balance between 2008’s hip-casual dorm room (there’s a Ping-Pong table and cheeky homemade signage) and 2012’s systematized Death Star (there are more employees than I have ever seen in a political campaign, with work stations subdivided as ever more employees are added). The place hums from early morning until late at night, designed for maximum efficiency and manifest focus.
and thinks “Success!” I see it and think “High burn rate.” Also: “Hubris.” Let’s talk about why.
Visualization of the Electoral College totals will be helpful, so I’m going to show a series of maps (via 270toWin) and give my explanation of what I think each one represents. A lot of this is subjective, so if you think that I’m generally full of it anyway you have my permission to keep thinking that. Anyway, let’s start with the baseline:
These are the 2008 results, adjusted for Electoral College changes (which cost the Democrats 6 Electoral Votes (EVs) right there). This is the ceiling for Barack Obama. I know that they claim that Arizona is in play for them, but I suspect that even Team Obama’s leadership sees that as a morale-keeping exercise. So… 359 EVs. Good number, right? 89 EV margin. And yes, it was… and then the administration started to, well, govern.
This is Fallback Map #1:
It shows Indiana switching sides – which pretty much everybody in the business has already conceded – Nebraska going fully Republican, and both North Carolina and Florida becoming toss-ups. This is a map that obviously Team Obama would like to see being the reality on the ground in September of 2012… and, indeed, it was probably the reality on the ground in September… of 2010. I’m showing this map partially because I do think that it was expected by the Democrats that this would effectively be their 2012 map, and partially because it bears noting just how volatile a lead of 89 EVs can be.
This is the Fallback #2 map:
And this is the map that should be front and center at the Democratic party’s HQ right now, because it should alarm the heck out of them. With NC flipped (and the NC Democratic party is in freefall right now), and IA, NH, & OH added to FL as the states in play the Democratic margin is down to 6 EVs. Which is to say, the 89 EV lead that formerly existed has been reduced by over 90% at this point. This should not fill the Democrats with confidence, given that there’s this map:
This is a representation of the last Cook Political Report snapshot (May 10, 2012) of the race. Toss-up states are CO, IA, NV, OH, PA, & VA (note that NC & NH are conceded to the GOP). Now, obviously some of those states will go to the Democrats… but not all of them. And there aren’t that many combinations to make the numbers come out right. Here’s the best firewall that I could come up with on the Democrats’ behalf:
…and even then it requires a Hail Mary play: write off OH, FL, & VA (all three of which have gone strongly for the GOP on the state level since 2008); retain CO, NV, & PA (that last one will be a bear, but they could do it). Also retain IA… and somehow suck two EVs out of NE. That keeps the EV at 270. A bare win. That is the Democratic firewall. That, to use a pop culture phrase, should be the Democratic party’s zombie plan.
And here’s the thing: I don’t think that the kids overpopulating Central Obama Hive #1 in Chicago really understand this. I think that they’re still operating under the assumptions of the Baseline map, with the avant-garde feeling all transgressive by embracing the Fallback #1 map and the IT guys in the basement morbidly looking at a variant of Fallback #2. It has perhaps not occurred to them yet that there are implications to the way that Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all went severely Republican in 2009 and 2010; or that the Virginia and North Carolina state Democratic parties both decided to shoot themselves in the head, just in time for the 2012 elections*. If it had sunk in, then their unofficial motto wouldn’t be “Be confident, but take nothing for granted.” It’d be “Hold the line! Make the [expletive deleted] fight for every inch.”
Mind you, the fact that they haven’t a clue? Great news.
PS: Some of you will probably now want to argue that Mitt Romney does not have a notably rosier electoral strategy at the current time. So noted, and I agree with you: both candidates have a hard row to hoe this election cycle. Fortunately: from what I’ve seen of and heard from the Romney campaign, they grimly understand this. Even more fortunately: from what I’ve seen from the Obama campaign, they do not.
*Admittedly, Virginia’s Democratic party did this in 2009, which hides the symptoms a bit – but they haven’t exactly recovered from their statewide losses in 2009 and 2011, either. And that will make a difference when Obama tries to campaign there this year.