In a sign that the presidential race may come down to a near tie, there are reports that Mitt Romney’s campaign has targeted a section of rural Maine that has its own electoral vote--instead of vote-rich Pennsylvania.
The spending in Maine shows that the GOP thinks its chances of getting one extra electoral vote in New England are better than 20 votes in the Keystone State, although polls show the same relative gap between Romney and President Obama in both regions.
There are several scenarios in play that could end in a one-vote win for Barack Obama or a tie election in the Electoral College. So that one vote could be crucial.
A presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win outright and 269 votes to force the election into the House of Representatives. And for Mitt Romney, a tie is as good as a win in the race for president, since the Republicans control the House. (For Paul Ryan, it is a different story, because Joe Biden would remain vice president in a tie election.)
That is, unless Obama or Romney can pick up an extra electoral vote in Maine or Nebraska, the two states that aren’t winner-take-all Electoral College states.
Maine awards one electoral vote to each of its two districts. Nebraska awards votes by congressional districts, too, and has five votes.
In each state, their 2nd Congressional District is in play for both candidates. In Nebraska, the Obama team can use its TV money in Iowa to extend its campaign into Nebraska. Maine is a different story. The GOP was only advertising against the independent gubernatorial candidate, Angus King, and not running Romney ads.
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The population in Maine's 2nd District is mostly rural and white, a demographic that tends to lean more toward Romney and away from Obama.
The move is interesting in that the Romney team sees Maine as a higher-value target than Pennsylvania. Polls in Maine have put Romney within five points of Obama in the 2nd District. Another put the gap at 6.7 percent.
The current Real Clear Politics consensus poll for Pennsylvania puts Obama ahead by 4.8 percent.
The irony is that back in 2011, some Republicans proposed a measure that would make Pennsylvania the third state to award electoral votes by congressional district. Governor Tom Corbett put that idea on the back burner when it became apparent it lacked momentum.
Such a move could have been a big difference maker in the 2012 election, as 18 votes would have been in play in Pennsylvania, with as many as nine or 10 votes possibly going to Romney.
By one estimate, if the 2008 race had used the proportional system, Obama would have received 11 electoral votes, with John McCain getting the other 10 votes. (Pennsylvania had 21 votes in that election.)
One economic argument last November was that the move would reduce Pennsylvania’s appeal as a battleground state for political candidates.
Instead, the candidates have shied away from Pennsylvania in 2012 for different reasons.
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.