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If the election were held today, who would win?

August 13, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


With the general election heading into overdrive after Labor Day, it’s time to benchmark where the presidential candidates stand and which party could control Congress after November.

On November 6, American voters will hit the reset button on the presidency, the House of Representatives, and the Senate.

With the Republicans and Democrats proposing or defending big social and economic changes, a lot is at stake in the general election.

To set that benchmark, let’s look at who would win all three elections if they were held on Tuesday, August 14, instead of Tuesday, November 6.

Our assumptions will be composite polling numbers gathered from the website Real Clear Politics and other sources, such as Gallup.

Contest One: Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney

With Paul Ryan’s selection as the GOP vice presidential candidate and the Republican convention starting in two weeks, the presidential election is now heading into overdrive.

The current polling data still gives President Barack Obama an edge in national voting. The Real Clear Politics consensus poll number puts Obama ahead by 4.1 percent in national voting. Polls vary from a close election (Gallup) to a 9 percent win for Obama (Fox).

But the popular vote doesn’t decide who becomes the next U.S. president. It takes 271 votes in the electoral college to win the election.

In most estimates, Obama hasn’t clinched the electoral vote yet. With eight swing states in play, and new questions about Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the Romney camp has openings.

And in a recent analysis by Constitution Daily, two GOP candidates who trailed in the national polls in summertime, George H.W. Bush (1988) and George W. Bush (2004), were able to gain momentum after convention season and win the election.

But since 1948, candidates who led in early to mid-July polling have won 13 of 16 presidential races in November.

Analysis: If the election were held today, Obama would have the edge, based on current polling data. For November, the winner is far from certain.

Contest Two: The Senate

The race to control the Senate has been downplayed in the national media, but it is heating up at the grassroots level.

Currently, the Democrats would have a 47 to 44 advantage, with nine elections as toss-up races if the election were held today. That advantage comes from three independent Senators who caucus with the Democrats.

If there is a tie, the party who has the vice president in office (who the Constitution designates as president of the Senate) would control the Senate. Neither the Republicans or Democrats have a shot at a veto-proof majority.

The current polling numbers for the nine toss-up states are very murky. In the Real Clear Politics consensus numbers, the race would wind up a tie, with 50 seats on each side of the aisle.

However, unlike the presidential election, there is very little public polling data for the nine toss-up Senate races, and most of it is from Scott Rasmussen, the conservative pollster.

And given the closeness of these local races and any legal issues arising from voter identification laws, some Senate races will be decided after November 6.

Analysis: If the election were held today for the Senate, the race could be a tie. For November, look for the Senate race to head to overtime, as seven toss-up states have voter ID laws and provisional ballots to be counted.

Contest Three: The House of Representatives

The outcome of the fall race for the House of Representatives seems clearly in the control of the Republicans, with the final margin just a formality.

Currently, the GOP has control of 231 seats in the fall and the Democrats have 183 seats, according to Real Clear Politics, with 21 seats as toss-up elections. Only 218 seats are needed to control the House.

If the Republicans take half the toss-up seats in the fall election, they will retain their current strength in the House.

Analysis: If the election were held today for the House of Representatives, the Republicans would win. They should also easily win in November, unless there is an historic collapse.

What Happens after November

The vice president becomes critical if the Senate election ends in a tie, or there is slim majority for either party.

Back in the 107th Congress, which started in 2001, power changed hands in the Senate three times due to the changes in the vice presidency and the defection of Jim Jeffords from the GOP.

So Joe Biden or Paul Ryan would have an important role to play if control of the Senate swings on just one or two votes.

If President Obama wins, his role could be diminished if the GOP controls both the House and the Senate. But President Obama would have his veto power, which would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House to override.

So the Republicans likely wouldn’t be able to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The best-case scenario for the Obama camp is to retain control of the presidency and the Senate.

If Mitt Romney wins, and the GOP controls the House and the Senate, then the Republicans would start a massive legislative overhaul.

Without a Democratic president, the Republicans wouldn’t have the threat of an Obama veto to overturn any new laws or to block the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But Romney could also be in a situation where the Democrats control the Senate, which could lead to a lot of complications passing legislation.

Scott Bomboy is editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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