What if November 6 is an early night? What if the networks, essentially, call the presidential race even before polls close in much of the country?
The premise of an early victory is becoming a real possibility because President Barack Obama’s poll numbers continue to improve, while Gov. Mitt Romney’s decline.
The Real Clear Politics Average – a mix of all the major national polls – shows that Obama at 48.9 percent and Romney at 44.9 percent. Only one of those polls, Rasmussen Tracking, which tends to favor Republicans, has the race even. And four of the polls, Gallup Tracking; Politico/George Washington University/Battleground; National Journal; and NBC News/Wall Street Journal, show support for the president’s re-election bid at 50 percent.
However this is not a national election. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 only to lose in the Electoral College.
But the state-by-state map is showing the same widening gap as the national polls. Two Florida polls show Obama up by 3 and 9; in Ohio CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac pegs that spread at 10 points. If Obama wins Ohio and Florida, it’s game over, he will be well over 270 electoral votes.
Team Romney’s fading hope is that the debates will turn this around. Or somehow, suddenly, their themes will connect with voters in a way that has not yet happened. The other hope is that all the polls are all within their error of margin; that Obama has less support than is reflected in the polls and at the same time, Romney has more.
(One fun twist on the polls: They are awful close to the Obama-McCain race in 2008. Four years ago today, Obama stood at 47.9 percent support (about 1 percent weaker) while John McCain was at 43.6 percent (about 1.3 percent less than Romney today). On November 4 Obama had 52 percent of the vote, compared to McCain’s 44.5 percent.)
The point here is that Obama has a growing potential for an early win. The most important swing states this year are on Eastern Time. Polls close in Virginia and Florida at 7 p.m. and in Ohio at 7:30 p.m. But Florida has two time zones, so the real closing time is 8 p.m. eastern, 7 central, 6 in the Mountain states and 5 o’clock in the far West.
The networks will call those states after the polls close locally. So if the networks call those states for Obama (even if they don’t call the election as a whole) the drama is over.
This is important because people are still voting. An early call could change the outcome in Senate and House races. This happens because voters see the results from Florida and Ohio, know the election is over, and stay home.
Former NBC News Chief Larry Grossman put it this way: “On any given election day, anyone who listens to what reporters, analysts, anchors, and campaign staffs say on the air can figure out well before the polls close who’s ahead, who’s behind, and how close a race is. The only way not to get an early peek at the voting trends and results is not to turn on any television, radio, or computer.”
In the West, an early Obama win would mean Democrats would be more likely to vote and Republicans less likely.
In campaigns for Congress there are four races in California that are considered “toss-ups.” One more in Colorado, Utah and Washington. In addition there are five more states that lean Republican. In those cases a few people staying home, could shift the race to the Democrats.
Even beyond an early election call, Democrats running for the House and Senate are helped by Obama’s strength.
As the liberal American Prospect said in July: “...the Republican Senate majority depends entirely on Mitt Romney’s performance in November. If Romney wins with even a slight majority, then—given the decline of split-ticket voting—odds are good that Republicans have picked up a seat (or two) in either Montana, Wisconsin, or Virginia. By contrast, an Obama win—which would imply high minority turnout—would likely result in a narrow Senate majority for Democrats, and a smaller House majority for Republicans. In other words, we would have a variation on the status quo.”
But a big Obama, an early Obama win, could change that scenario. Democrats need to capture 25 seats from the Republicans to put Nancy Pelosi back in the Speaker’s Chair. That wasn’t considered even a possibility until a couple of weeks ago.
William Kristol, a conservative, wrote in The Weekly Standard this week, that “IF the polls are right, and IF nothing much changes over the remaining six weeks, the House could well be in play. Maybe things will move in a Republican direction. Or maybe Republicans will hold on in an even popular vote election with the help of incumbency advantages and post-2010 redistricting. But it's also possible that an Obama +3 victory on Election Day would drag the Democrats to an edge in the congressional vote—and control of the House. In any case, based on current polling, I don't think one can say that it's now out of the question that we could wake up on the morning of November 7 to the prospect of ... Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
The answer could come at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.