Much has been made about North Carolina being a “competitive, battleground” state, and certainly the attention the state has been getting makes it seem that way.
But in looking at the Electoral College game, it’s easy to mistake “battleground” status for “the cherry-on-the-top” status.
In looking at the 2008 electoral vote, Obama won with 365 votes to McCain’s 173. This outcome landed him below Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 landslide of 486 electoral votes and Bill Clinton’s two successful runs (370 and 379, respectively), but above Kennedy’s and Truman’s 303 electoral votes.
One of the key things to remember, though, is that 2012 won’t be 2008 in one key difference: the shift of electoral votes to Republican base/leaning states and away from Democratic base/leaning states because of redistricting.
If we take the same states that Obama and McCain won in 2008 and apply their 2012 electoral vote numbers, Obama would lose six electoral votes (going down to 359), with the 2012 presumptive Republican nominee Romney building on McCain’s base and starting with 179 electoral votes.
To win the White House, the magic electoral number is 270, so Obama has 89 votes that he can loose and still win.
In breaking apart both candidates’ electoral strategies, you can look at different “types” of states, most notably the “base” states that each candidate won with a 10 percent or greater margin of victory (M.O.V.).
Taking these “blue base” states from Obama’s 2008 win, the president starts at 243 electoral votes, just 27 vote shy of the requisite 270.
Taking these “red base” states from McCain’s 2008 win and recalculating due to reapportionment, Romney could be starting at 179 electoral votes, with 91 more needed to capture the White House.
If you were to combine both of these base state maps, you would find a pretty good filling in of the nation’s electoral map.
States like South Carolina (McCain M.O.V. at 8.97 percent) down to Georgia (McCain M.O.V. at 5.2 percent) are likely to be colored red, along with Indiana going back to its historic Republican roots (Obama’s M.O.V. was 1.03 percent in the Hoosier State).
Two of the most closely contested state, North Carolina (Obama M.O.V. at 0.32 percent) and Missouri (McCain M.O.V. at 0.13 percent) are certainly a focus of commentators, but are they really necessary for either Obama or Romney to claim victory?
For Obama, North Carolina was the cherry on top of a rather large and sweet cake. If you take the states/areas with the largest Obama M.O.V. (District of Columbia at 85.9 percent and Hawaii at 45.2 percent) and rank order them up to 270 electoral votes, you’ll notice that Obama would reach the magic electoral number with Colorado (where the president had a M.O.V. of 8.9 percent)—and could lose Ohio, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina and still win.
Granted, Tar Heel voters have already seen a substantial amount of interest by the Obama campaign in the state, and with the DNC coming up in a little over two months, more attention will certainly be cast our way.
But if the president secures re-election based on repeating 2008, he may not necessarily need North Carolina in his “W” column — but I’m sure he would welcome it, like a cherry on top.