Michael Barone's prediction: Romney 315, Obama 223

I can’t find an electoral-vote prediction from him in 2008 but on October 30th of that year he acknowledged that an Obama victory was “likely but not quite certain.” Karl Rove did, however, make an EV prediction: Obama 338, McCain 200. This year Rove has Romney winning at least 279 electoral votes and Barone has him catching a red wave in the midwest and surfing all the way to 315.

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Ohio, oh my:

Ohio (18). The anti-Romney auto bailout ads have Obama running well enough among blue-collar voters for him to lead most polls. But many polls anticipate a more Democratic electorate than in 2008. Early voting tells another story, and so does the registration decline in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County. In 2004, intensity among rural, small -town and evangelical voters, undetected by political reporters who don’t mix in such circles, produced a narrow Bush victory. I see that happening again. Romney…

Pennsylvania (20). Everyone would have picked Obama two weeks ago. I think higher turnout in pro-coal Western Pennsylvania and higher Republican percentages in the Philadelphia suburbs could produce a surprise. The Romney team evidently thinks so too. Their investment in TV time is too expensive to be a mere feint, and, as this is written, Romney is planning a Sunday event in Bucks County outside Philly. Wobbling on my limb, Romney…

Wisconsin (10). Recent polling is discouraging for Republicans. But Gov. Scott Walker handily survived the recall effort in June with a great organizational push. Democrats depend heavily on margins in inner-city Milwaukee (population down) and the Madison university community. But early voting is down in university towns in other states. The Obama campaign is prepared to turn out a big student vote, but you don’t see many Obama signs on campuses. Romney.

Ace’s resident poll-cruncher, ConArtCritic, puts Romney at between 271 and 277 EVs, which is in line with Rove. The argument against Barone is that, as of this writing, Romney isn’t ahead in a single independent poll tracked by RCP in any of the three states listed above. Rasmussen had him ahead by two in Ohio earlier this week but Ras now has that race 49-49. Apart from Susquehanna’s poll for the state GOP a few weeks ago, he’s never led in either Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. The argument for Barone is that all of this is predicated on certain turnout models that have Democrats maintaining just enough of an advantage to push O over the line. If those models are wrong and the electorate proves redder than expected, with independents breaking hard for Romney, then Mitt’s on his way — maybe not in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin but in Ohio and New Hampshire or Iowa, which is enough for 270.

But wait. Aren’t those Romney-loving independents really just Republicans who have dropped their party affiliation? Mitt’s just picking up elements of Bush’s 2004 voters who have since become disaffected enough with the GOP brand to drop it, right? Nope, says Dan McLaughlin. Lots of indies are true independents, and they’re going to pad Romney’s totals:

If it was true that success with independent voters was the result of defectors from the party, you would expect recent and longer-term history to show an inverse relationship between success with independents and partisan turnout – that is, you’d expect to see Republicans doing better with independents when GOP turnout is low, and Democrats doing better with independents when Democratic turnout is low. There is, in fact, some evidence that that was true before 1984, when a lot of independents and “Reagan Democrats” started self-identifying as Republicans. But since then, if you look at the presidential election years and the last two off-year Congressional elections (2006 and 2010), what you see in general is more like the opposite relationship: parties tend to do better with independents when they are turning out a lot of their own partisans

[A]s Ed Morrissey notes, a recent study shows voter regstration across 8 states that register voters by party (FL, NC, CO, NV, NM, IA, PA & NH; states like OH & VA don’t) shows a net 1.3% increase in Republican registration since 2008 and a net 2.5% decrease in Democratic registration, while independent registration has boomed, up 14.4%. You can read that registration data to show that being an independent is still a lot more popular choice than being a Republican these days; you can’t sensibly read it to show that the growth of independent voters is the result of a decreasing base of Republican voters, and you can’t possibly read it to show that the total share of Republicans and independents is holding steady or declining relative to the Democrats.

Even if you assume that many of these indies are Republicans in disguise, the fact remains that (a) there are a lot more of them out there this year than last time, (b) they’re not cannibalizing Republican registrations, and (c) most polling shows Romney winning them. O needs his midwestern Democrats to turn out in force to deal with them. If they don’t — and some of the early indications from Ohio and Iowa are promising — then the red wave Barone imagines isn’t far-fetched. And one more thing: It may be the case that Obama’s gotten a very small bounce the last few days from the aftermath of the hurricane. (That could explain the tie that Rasmussen’s seeing in Ohio.) If so, it’s almost certainly going to fade by this weekend, especially with stories of starving Staten Islanders trickling into big media sources like ABC. Tonight’s new ABC/WaPo tracker has Romney gaining a point since yesterday, in fact; he’s now back out to a 49/48 lead nationally. If I’m right about a fading bounce then you might see some of the midwestern state polls tighten a bit by Monday too.

Exit question: Which state is the subject of this sentence in the NYT? “But there is a tangible sense — seen in Romney yard signs on the expansive lawns of homes in the well-heeled suburbs, and heard in the excited voices of Republican mothers who make phone calls to voters in their spare time — that the race is tilting toward Mr. Romney.” Answer here. And they’re not alone.