In my recent columns on Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate selection, I said the following regarding Paul Ryan:
“As for Paul Ryan, I have tremendous admiration for his courage and integrity, and I actually find great merit in his proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare. Yet Social Security and Medicare together still constitute the third rail of American politics, and Ryan’s presence on the ticket could constitute political suicide for Mitt Romney.”
I certainly hope I am wrong. I have been wrong before. Just ask Chris Christie about my columns during his 2009 campaign criticizing his campaign strategy.
Let me also emphasize that I think Paul Ryan would make an excellent vice president and, if elevated to the presidency in the event of a tragedy occurring to a President Romney, a superb President of the United States. Furthermore, the choice of Ryan may give rise to a real substantive debate about government tax and spending policies.
In order to give a preliminary assessment of the effect of the Ryan selection on the Electoral College math, let’s go to my current Electoral College projections.
The candidate who wins 270 or more electoral votes is elected President of the United States. I currently project Barack Obama as the likely winner of the District of Columbia and the following states, for a total of 257 electoral votes:
California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), District of Columbia (3), Hawaii (4) , Illinois (20), Maine(4), Maryland (10) , Massachusetts (11), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), New York (29), New Jersey (14), New Mexico (5), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington (12), Wisconsin (10)
I currently project Mitt Romney as the likely winner of the following states, for a total of 206 electoral votes:
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arkansas (6), Arizona (11), Georgia (16), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (8), Mississippi (6), Missouri (10), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), North Carolina (15), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Texas (38), Utah (6), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3).
I do not think the Ryan selection will have any impact on the outcome any of the states where I currently project either Obama or Romney as a winner. That includes Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, where Obama has a comfortable lead.
The election of 2012 will be won or lost in the following five toss-up states, holding a total of 75 electoral votes:
Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6,) Ohio (18), and Virginia (13).
In order for Romney to be elected, he must win all three of the states of Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, plus either Colorado or Iowa.
The Ryan selection may prove to be positive for Romney in Virginia. The candidate who best motivates his base should win that state. There is no doubt that, Ryan will positively motivate the conservative Republican base in Virginia and possibly give Romney the edge in the Old Dominion State.
Florida is another matter. The senior citizen vote is perhaps the critical factor in the outcome of the Presidential race in the Sunshine State. Ryan’s past positions on Medicare and Social Security, however meritorious they may be, may well cost Romney Florida, a state he must win in order to be elected.
You can expect the Obama campaign and his super PAC, Priorities USA Action to run in Florida within the next two weeks commercials distorting Ryan’s past positions on Medicare and Social Security. These commercials no doubt will be as offensive and misleading as the Priorities USA Action “Joe Soptic” commercial, which disgracefully implied that Romney was responsible for an unemployed steelworker’s wife’s death. Unfortunately, like the Joe Soptic commercial, these commercials may well prove to be effective, frightening senior citizens into voting against the Romney-Ryan ticket.
None of Paul Ryan’s Medicare or Social Security proposals would cost any current senior citizen recipients any benefits. That does not matter, however. Senior citizens reflexively react most negatively against any proposed modifications of these two programs, regardless of how many times a candidate emphatically tells them that their benefits will not be affected.
These are my current assumptions, and they may or may not be borne out by poll data over the next month. As I often say in closing a column, stay tuned.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.