Larry J. Sabato: The 2012 Election Will Come Down to Seven States

Straw polls, real polls, debates, caucuses, primaries—that’s the public side of presidential campaigns 14 months before Election Day. But behind the scenes, strategists for President Obama and his major Republican opponents are already focused like a laser on the Electoral College.

The emerging general election contest gives every sign of being highly competitive, unlike 2008. Of course, things can change: Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were both in trouble at this point in their first terms, and George H.W. Bush still looked safe. Unexpectedly strong economic growth could make Mr. Obama’s re-election path much easier than it currently looks, as could the nomination of a damaged Republican candidate. But a few more weeks like the past couple, and Mr. Obama’s re-election trajectory will resemble Jimmy Carter’s.

Both parties are sensibly planning for a close election. For all the talk about how Hispanics or young people will vote, the private chatter is about a few vital swing states. It’s always the Electoral College math that matters most.

Voting is predictable for well over half the states, so even 14 months out it’s easy to shade in most of the map for November 2012.

Barring a Carter-like collapse, President Obama is assured of 175 electoral votes from 12 deep-blue states and the District of Columbia: California (55 electoral votes), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), New Jersey (14), New York (29), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington state (12) and Washington, D.C. (3). Three more states are not quite as certain, but still likely Democratic: Maine (4), Minnesota (10) and Oregon (7). Even though Minnesota is competitive enough to vote Republican under the right set of conditions, it is the state with the longest Democratic presidential streak, dating to 1976.

Read more atWSJ.com.

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