With eleven days to go until the 2012 election, it is beginning to seem likely that Mitt Romney has a strong chance of winning the popular vote, but that the electoral college will be a more difficult challenge. Likewise, the Republicans have a strong chance of narrowing Democrats’ majority in the Senate, but will have to show very strong turnout to win outright control. (The House will almost certainly remain in Republican hands.)
That leaves four scenarios. One is the Democrats’ best-case scenario, in which the president holds onto enough swing states to win a narrow electoral victory, and the Republicans only manage one or two pickups in the Senate. Obama would return to office with diminished power, and would face a more divided nation than ever before, but would secure his big government policies and press Republicans to raise taxes.
There are two middle scenarios in which Democrats would lose the White House but retain the Senate, or vice versa. It is unclear how a second term for Obama with the Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress would be much of an improvement over the current gridlock, given Obama’s refusal to compromise. Republicans might be able to prevail in budget negotiations but would yield on Supreme Court appointments.
A Romney victory with Democrats could be more promising, given his record of working across the aisle in Massachusetts. In fact, the country may actually be in the mood for divided government. The downside for Republicans is that repealing Obamacare and Dodd-Frank might not be completely possible; the upside is that Republicans would exert far more leverage in budget negotiations and prevent a liberal Supreme Court.
And then there is the Republicans’ best-case scenario, in which Romney manages to win the electoral vote and the party picks up three or more Senate seats. That would enable the repeal of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, allow the passage of entitlement reform, and prevent a liberal Supreme Court. Democrats would still exert leverage through the Senate filibuster, moderating GOP proposals slightly, but not blocking them.
The key are two swing states, Ohio and Wisconsin, where the presidential race is close and where Senate races are just as tight. Ohio is a perennial bellwether; Wisconsin has become more competitive since the nomination of its own Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate. The Ohio race for Senate is tight, with incumbent Sherrod Brown (D) slightly ahead of State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R); in Wisconsin, former Gov. Tommy Thompson and Rep. Tammy Baldwin are neck-and-neck for an open seat.
Both states have been in the forefront of the battle over public sector unions and state budgets. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms survived protests, judicial elections, recall elections and court challenges. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich’s plan–which did not exempt police or firefighters, as Walker did–were reversed in a 2011 referendum.
Obama likely needs to win both Ohio and Wisconsin to retain the presidency, while Republicans likely need to win at least one of the two Senate races to take control of Capitol Hill, assuming they win two seats elsewhere. Ohio is in the spotlight, but it could come down to Wisconsin, a state that has produced so many new conservative leaders, fresh ideas and unlikely victories. Perhaps Ryan can inspire yet another win.