Posted on October 30, 2000 in Washington Watch

To understand the comings and goings of the presidential candidates during the final days leading up to the November 7 election, it is important to understand the exact nature of the process by which we in the United States elect our presidents.

According to the U.S. Constitution, presidents are not elected by the popular vote but rather by what is called the electoral vote.
Each of the 50 states has an assigned number of electoral votes, or electors. States have as many electors as their combined number of congressmen and senators. Every state has 2 senators, but the number of congressmen is determined by each state’s population.

Thus, the most populous state, California, has 52 congressmen and 2 senators for a total of 54 electoral votes. A less populous state, such as Vermont, has only one congressman in addition to its two senators; therefore Vermont has 3 electoral votes.

The popular vote is not counted on the national level. Rather, it is counted on a state-by-state basis. The winner of each state receives all of that state’s electoral votes.

There are a total of 538 electoral votes (435 congressmen, 100 senators plus three electoral votes for the only non-state, the nation’s capital, Washington, DC). In order to win the election, a presidential candidate must win enough states to win at least 270 electoral votes, or one half of the total plus one.

This complex system has produced presidential campaigns which are run not as national efforts, but as individual state campaigns.

And so in the closing days of this election, the candidates are refining their strategies to focus on winning enough key states that will guarantee them at least the 270 electoral votes they need to be elected.

Between 1968 and 1988 the Republicans had what was called a “lock” on the electoral vote. Because their message and programs appealed to so many diverse constituencies and regions of the country, Republicans were virtually guaranteed victory in 21 states with a total of 191 electoral votes. They won these states all six times. In five of the six elections, they also won another twelve states with a combined total of 138 electoral votes. Together, these 33 states gave the Republicans an almost certain 329 votes.

In 1992 and 1996 Clinton shattered this Republican “lock” winning back enough states to give him 379 electoral votes and 370 votes in these two elections.
This year’s election is quite different. From the beginning it was clear that neither Bush nor Gore could count on a “lock”. The contest has thus been close not only in the popular vote but in the projected electoral vote count that is calculated based on the states the two candidates are expected to win.

At this point the election in several states appears to be decided. George W. Bush will most likely win in Texas, which has 32 electoral votes. Gore will most likely win New Jersey, New York and California with a combined total of 102 electoral votes. Gore will win most of the New England states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut) with 31 Electoral votes. At the same time Bush holds a clear lead in the western mountain and prairie states (including Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska) with a total of 46 Electoral votes. Bush is also leading in many southern states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky) with a total of 41 votes.

This gives Gore a preliminary total of 133 Electoral votes and Bush a total of 119 Electoral votes.

The remaining states remain what are called battleground states–that is states where the candidates will complete until November 7.

Some of these states are surprising. For example, Democrats were expected to easily win in Washington State and Oregon. This year, however, Gore is being challenged in both states by Ralph Nader, an Arab American running as a Green Party candidate. Nader has drawn enough Gore support in both states to make their 18 electoral votes too close to call.

Similarly, Bush was expected to win easily in Florida. After all, his brother Jeb is the Governor of that state, the nation’s fourth largest with 25 electoral votes. Recent polls now show Gore with a slight lead in this critical contest. As Gore can not afford to lose Oregon and Washington, Bush cannot reach 270 without Florida.

Most of the remaining “battleground states” are in the Midwestern belt including: Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania. These are the key states that will decide the 2000 election. They are all states populated by large numbers of ethnic immigrants, mostly from central and Eastern Europe but also including a large number of Arab Americans.

When Gore, last week, lashed out at George W. Bush’s proposal to pull U.S. troops out of Kosovo and the Balkans, it was not only because he disagreed with the policy, Gore also knew that Bush’ proposal would not be supported by the 15 to 20 percent of the population of these Midwestern states who are central European Americans and care deeply about the U.S. mission with NATO in the Balkans.

Similarly, when Bush addressed the issues of profiling of Arab Americans and secret evidence he had an eye on Michigan’s Arab American voters who are four percent of that state’s total. Since only two percentage points divide Bush and Gore in Michigan, the Arab American vote looms as a factor in the election. That is why Gore visited with Arab Americans in Michigan on Sunday and his campaign has decided to press hard to win back the community’s vote.

And so the strategies of the two candidates will shift from the wholesale or macro approach of campaigning focused on general themes to a more focused approach designed to win the votes of specific groups in targeted states.

At this point, the most optimistic counts made by both campaigns give each of the two candidates no more than 220 to 230 electoral votes. With only one week remaining to the 2000 elections, they will be focusing all of their energy on the handful of states they each need to win the 270 votes required for victory.

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