Last week in the New York Sun Conrad Black made the historical case for why Republicans should win back the White House this year—namely, that it is very difficult for a party to hold the White House for a third term. It has happened several times, but usually requires above all else a popular and successful incumbent, and that doesn’t describe Obama:
The Republicans should win. Since the big Republican series of victories through and after the Civil War, ending in Cleveland’s first election in 1884, a party has won three consecutive presidential elections only when the incumbent was very popular at the end of the second term or when there were unusual encumbrances to a change. . .
I think the country wants a change, and if the Republicans nominate a worthy heir to the wide vote-attracting talents of Eisenhower, Reagan, and, at his best, Nixon, and not the foot-in-mouth disease of some of the blunderbuss candidates interspersed around and after them, it should be their year again.
Sounds sensible enough on the surface, but when you look at demographics and vote splits of the last two presidential elections it still looks like a very tough road for Republicans. Depending on winning Florida, Ohio, and Virginia is the electoral college equivalent of an inside straight. Republicans need to be able to threaten to flip several blue states—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, for example—to have winning hand.
The data mavens at fivethirtyeight.com have put together this splendid interactive tool where you can play around with vote shares and turnout expectations among the major voting blocks to see how it would affect the electoral college. My hunch is that if the Republican nominee has the campaign and message to flip some states like Wisconsin and Michigan, they’ll get Ohio and Florida easily. But the 538 tool here shows that it won’t be easy.