Advancing a Free Society

Re-Elected, But Not Popularly Selected?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Barack Obama made my life miserable last week – twice.

First, he landed at San Francisco International Airport at the same time my departing flight was supposed to leave the gate. So . . . we sat and waited for Air Force One to land, and for the President to de-plane (ironically, so he could catch a helicopter flight that landed on the Stanford campus, about a par-four from my home).

It seems there are two times when Americans of all political stripes come together: the nation under attack; and a flight delayed.

The following day, I had to make an early out of the Southland, to avoid another Obama visit – which, in Los Angeles means afternoon gridlock on the city’s freeways (for security reasons, surface streets are closed, sending motorists onto already-overused freeways).

Why do I mention this? Because, in a roundabout way, it works into a scenario whereby Obama is re-elected, but manages to lose the popular vote.

Here’s how it plays out:

First, let’s give the President the same states he carried in 2008. That’s 359 electoral, 89 more than necessary (Obama actually earned 365 electoral votes in 2008; his “blue” states lost 6 EV’s in the most recent reshuffling of the Electoral College). But take away Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico – all competitive states – and the President’s take is down to an even 300.

Now, take away Florida and its 29 electoral votes. That makes it a 271-267, the same as Bush-Gore.

The popular vote’s a little trickier.

Obama defeated John McCain by a shade more than 9.5 million votes. But that’s with the President earning nearly 53% of the vote.

Obama defeated McCain by 1.8 million votes in New York and 1.3 million in Illinois – nearly one-third of the national margin. He carried Michigan by 800,000 votes and Pennsylvania by 500,000 votes. That’s another 1.3 million, taking our total to 4.4 million. Throw in Florida, Virginia and Colorado – another 600,000 votes – and now we’re up to 5 million votes.

That leaves one big state and one enormous margin of Democratic victory – California, which Obama carried by 2.9 million votes. Add this to those aforementioned states and we now have five-sixth of Obama’s margin of victory – 7.9 million votes, 8 states.

So how do the Republicans close the gap? A lower turnout nationwide, obviously, and independents less supportive of Obama the second time would chip away at that 7.3% margin.

California also would have to provide an unusually small margin of victory – made possible, in part, by the mayhem that results every time the President comes to Southern California to raise money. Last week was no exception, with stories like this of presidential-induced gridlock. Commuters were inconvenienced, schools closed early, soccer practices were cancelled, restaurants lost walk-up business – just as they did last August, during another presidential ATM stop on L.A.’s Westside. Life was especially rough for the parishioners of Culver City’s St Augustine Church, which had the misfortune of trying to hold Holy Thursday services while the President was across the street at Sony Pictures, raising money for his re-elect campaign.

Let’s assume that this kind of misery convinces a goodly number of independents to part company with the President – maybe a lot of them, if he keeps returning to the ATM over the next 18 months. As far as California goes, it’s not a big deal. Obama carried Los Angeles County by 1.2 million votes in 2008. I’m guessing his campaign has come to the conclusion that the President can afford to shed a few thousand votes in California if the payoff is millions in campaign donations – not a game, by the way, you’ll see him playing in Ohio or Florida.

But add a weaker-than-usual California to a suppressed vote nationwide, and we might be looking at a rarity: a re-elected president who lost the popular vote. Which would raise a legitimacy question far more interesting than anything having to do with birth certificates.