As of now, AE has gotten access to the ballots in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming. They have the money, drive, and organization to possibly gain access in the other 28 states.
All of this poses real political problems for both President Obama and presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney. As of now, we don’t know which candidate will benefit or lose more from the inclusion of AE. Much of AE’s success will be based on name recognition (which will lead to inclusion in debates and possible allowance for federal funds). Below I will outline the possible scenarios in which AE could affect the outcome of the election.
1.) AE Hurts Obama
Under this scenario, the candidate nominated by AE would likely be a social progressive. Ironically, despite this election probably hinging on the state of the economy, the candidate’s economic views wouldn’t matter much. This is because there are some socially liberal Republicans and even some Democrats who don’t line up with the President on other issues. Further, these types of voters probably wouldn’t vote for Mr. Romney anyway, as they would see him as much too socially conservative.
Granted, in 2012, these voters will not make up a huge sector of the electorate, but it is enough to swing the vote towards Romney in very close states. The states currently listed by NBC as “battleground states” include Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Of those, I would disagree with Pennsylvania, as it has consistently voted Democratic by wide margins and has a massive Democratic to GOP voter registration disparity.
However, even assuming Pennsylvania were to vote for Obama, Romney would still hit the magic number of 270 electoral votes (assuming he picked up the aforementioned states). Of course, it would be unlikely that each of those states would fall towards Romney, giving him a clean sweep. However, his margin is large enough (291 v 247) that he could lose a couple and still win (albeit by a very small margin).
2.) AE Hurts Romney
In some ways, this could be the more likely scenario, given the assumption that the 2012 race will be based on the state of the economy. Under this scenario, the nominee from AE would likely be a “problem-fixer”, something Mr. Romney is currently attempting to brand himself as. One could easily see a Mike Bloomberg fill this role, with countless other business-oriented candidates as other possibilities.
Further, because President Obama’s personal approval ratings are much higher than Mr. Romney’s, the election for many swing voters could come down to choosing between the President and the Romney alternative. This is something Romney would fear even more if his unfavorability ratings were to fall even further.
Another option that would be as equally beneficial towards the President is if AE nominated a social conservative. There is certainly enough (perceived) room on Mitt Romney’s right to run against him on social issues on the AE platform. In this case, it would seem as though AE was hijacked by the far right, instead of attempting to remain in the center of the electorate.
Between these two scenarios (focusing more on the first), Romney would likely lose the Presidential Election. Nearly all of those swing states mentioned above would be won by the President, even if Obama didn’t claim a clear majority. The President would win the Electoral College at least 341 – 197, nearly matching his haul in 2008. Further, a couple more states would likely be in play, including Arizona, Iowa, Missouri, and Indiana. If Romney were to lose those in addition to the normal swing states, the margin would be 379 – 159, the tying largest gap for a Republican losing (with Bill Clinton in 1996) since 1964 when LBJ crushed Goldwater (486 – 52).
3.) AE Doesn’t Matter
It is quite possible that AE will not draw a significant portion of the vote in any state to make a difference. In order to truly compete, they must first get name recognition. To do this, they must either advertise heavily (which they probably don’t have the funds to do) or nominate a candidate who is already very well-known with the American public.
Further, the candidate would need to have a large enough share of the vote in the polls to be allowed in the debates. Essentially, it’s a catch 22: AE will not be included in the debates because they don’t command the required percent of the vote, but AE cannot get the required portion of the vote without the free media that debates would give.
All three outcomes are possible, and that is why the Obama and Romney campaigns will be fighting to make sure their side benefits the most if AE becomes a force in the 2012 elections. In short, each campaign will hope (and try to influence) that the nominee does not have the same strengths as themselves.