Just something I’ve been thinking about, sitting here playing with the RSLC’s new 2016 electoral map widget and drinking heavily. “Create Your Own Path to 270 Map,” the widget beckons. Yeah, go ahead. You go find yourself a path to 270.
Here’s what I’ve got.
Each blue state you see there has been blue in every presidential election since 1992, with the sole exception of New Mexico — which has been blue in every election since 1992 except for 2004. Obama won the state by 10 points three years ago against Romney and by 15 points seven years ago against McCain; if Hillary can’t protect an advantage like that and ends up losing the state next year, it would mean some sort of catastrophic national failure of her campaign that would make NM’s electoral votes irrelevant anyway. So let’s assume that she’s not a total disaster and manages to hold all of the states that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama have held (plus New Mexico). That’s … 247 EVs versus 206 “safe” EVs for the GOP, meaning that the election will boil down to just the seven gray states above. And if you can add at a second-grade level, you’ll realize that Florida’s 29 electoral votes would, in and of themselves, be enough to push Hillary over the top at 276 EVs. Myra Adams calls this the “1992 + 1988 + Florida” path to 270 for Democrats since it includes all of the states that have been blue in White House races since 1988 and 1992 plus the Sunshine State. (You don’t even need New Mexico’s five EVs to clinch the White House in this scenario.) In theory, Hillary Clinton could campaign exclusively in Florida for the next 18 months and still be the odds-on favorite to win the presidency.
An obvious lesson from that: The GOP’s almost certainly going to need a candidate from Florida on the ticket next year to maximize its chances of winning the state. Nominating Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would achieve that. If neither one ends up as nominee, it’s almost a cinch given the math that Rubio will be the VP nominee. He and Susana Martinez are the obvious frontrunners since Republicans would love to have a Latino candidate on the ballot to blunt HIllary’s edge with that group, but Martinez comes from small, deep blue, probably unwinnable New Mexico whereas Rubio comes from large, purple, entire-election-hinges-on-this Florida. It’s a no-brainer. The other obvious lesson you draw is that it’d be awfully nice to have a midwestern candidate on the ticket, to give Ohio and Iowa an extra reason to tilt red. That means Scott Walker, a guy who could, in theory, expand the map by putting Wisconsin in play too. Even losing Wisconsin and winning Iowa would be a moral victory of sorts since Iowa, like New Mexico, has been reliably blue in every presidential contest since the late 80s except for 2004. I’m not lumping it in with NM as a safe blue state, though, partly because the Democrats’ margins of victory there have been smaller (Obama won it by just five points in 2012) and partly because the GOP has so many strong midwestern candidates potentially in the mix this year — Walker, of course, but maybe Kasich and Rick Snyder too — that it might be in play. Long story short, a Walker/Rubio or Rubio/Walker ticket would check lots of regional boxes, theoretically delivering Florida, Iowa, and Ohio and pushing the Republican EV totals on the map above to a healthy 259.
But that still leaves us 11 electoral votes short with just four states left on the table. Virginia alone, with 13 EVs, would do it. So would Colorado plus either Nevada or New Hampshire. And if you think having a hometown boy on the ticket would finally tilt Wisconsin back into the GOP’s column, then all bets are off: Adding Walker’s home state would put the GOP at 269, clinching no worse than a presidential tie and forcing Hillary to run the table in the remaining states just to get the election to the House of Representatives, which would of course decide it for the Republicans. There’s reason to think Wisconsin is winnable, too. Obama won it by 14 points in 2008 but Romney cut his margin in half in 2012. Putting Walker on the national ballot might be enough to win a close race there, a devastating blow to Hillary’s chances. Again, though, this assumes that the GOP is also winning Florida, Ohio, and Iowa, something that’s happened exactly once since Reagan stomped Mondale in 1984. (And the one time it happened, in 2004, was defined by the fallout to the biggest terror attack in American history.) You can safely say two things from all this. One: Walker and Rubio are probably your best play, in whatever order. And two: Hillary Clinton is still a strong favorite to win because that’s just the way the map is.