One of the most fascinating “what if” scenarios dreamed up by political scientists about the 2012 election is the possibility that it could end in a 269-269 tie in the electoral college. The most likely situation would be one where President Barack Obama won New Hampshire, Virginia, Michigan, Colorado and Nevada, while Republican Mitt Romney won Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin and Iowa.
This is a situation that is more possible than you think, and it would undoubtedly set off political Armageddon.
What if Obama won the popular vote, but the House of Representatives — which chooses the president in the event of a tie and will likely remain Republican — chose Romney as the next president?
What if Romney wins the popular vote and was chosen by the House, but the Senate remained in the hands of Democrats? The Senate would have the right to choose the vice-president in this hypothetical case, and they would likely choose Joe Biden. Can you imagine a Romney-Biden administration?
What if — and this is probably the most likely eventuality if a tie were to happen — the electors themselves revolted, and the tie was broken by a handful of “faithless electors” who voted for someone other than who they were supposed to. Even one faithless elector (and there was one in 2004 from Minnesota, so it happens) would throw the entire system into chaos and likely set off a rather disgusting display of political bribery and backroom deal making.
All of these situations are deliciously fun to think about for a political scientist such as myself but would be terrible for the Republic. I much prefer to think of another scenario. A scenario where Maine decides the election, even though no one paid it any real attention all year.
This week we learned that the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, has purchased $300,000 worth of advertising in Maine, targeting the 2nd District.
Democrats were quick to point out that a good chunk of the buy was in the Portland-Auburn media market, which touches not only the 1st District but also parts of New Hampshire. While this is true, the market also touches a great deal of the 2nd District, so in all likelihood at least two-thirds of that buy will make it to central and northern Maine.
The Romney campaign proper has also been flirting with the idea of getting involved by sending resources and spending money in the 2nd District. He is leading or tied in six of the last seven national polls conducted and is now marching into states that would have been unheard of only a month ago. States like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan are all getting attention, while Obama has been pulling resources out of places like North Carolina, Florida and Virginia.
The reason for buying ad time in Maine? As most of you probably know, Maine awards its presidential electors differently than most other states. Two are awarded for the overall winner of the state, and one vote is awarded to each congressional district, for the winner of that district.
Maine’s 2nd District is the more conservative of the two, and while Maine is generally seen as a safe Obama state, the second district has quietly been within about five points for months. Two weeks ago, a poll from NMB Research showed Romney with a five-point lead on Obama in the 2nd District, which immediately touched off Romney-land’s interest.
Thus gives rise to an interesting possibility. What if the presidential election was decided by a single electoral vote, and what if that vote came from Maine? What if the race would have ended up in a 269-269 tie, but the single vote from oft-ignored northern Maine made the difference and chose our next president?
As intriguing as the idea of this happening is, and despite the fact that an electoral tiebreaker is more likely this year than it has ever been before, we still probably won’t see it happen.
The most likely result on election night is one of two things. Either Obama narrowly wins re-election by carrying Ohio and protecting his lead in places like Nevada, or Romney’s momentum will translate into a rather large electoral win.
We have less than two weeks to see how it turns out. For me, I’m still hoping Maine decides it all.