Commentary: Forget the Swing States; It's a 50-State Election

In this election, every vote in every state matters.

A friend recently told me she's not registered to vote. She had recently moved from one blue state to another and probably didn't think her vote would matter that much. She's wrong. In this election, every vote in every state matters.

By now, everyone already knows the nine swing states that will determine the election — Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. The candidate who wins the right combination of these states will win the White House, and right now the electoral math favors President Obama.

But despite our focus on the battleground map, the other 41 states still play a valuable role, particularly in a close election. Remember, George W. Bush narrowly won the presidency in 2000 — with an assist from the U.S. Supreme Court — by 537 votes in the state of Florida. Bush became president even though Al Gore won the popular vote.

Now some political pundits are openly speculating about the possibility of a 2000 repeat in which Obama wins the electoral vote but loses in the popular vote. I still think that's unlikely, but in the event that happens, the right-wing spin machine would do everything in their power to undermine the legitimacy of Obama's election and try to diminish the significance of his mandate.

That's why every vote counts, even in non-swing states. And that's not to mention the importance of U.S. Senate and congressional races in non-swing states, which will determine the composition of the Congress that Obama will have to work with if he's re-elected.

At the moment, the president leads in enough states to win the electoral college if his voters turn out. That's part of the reason why the Obama campaign is encouraging its supporters to vote early instead of waiting until election day. Early votes matter.

In 2008, about 31 percent of voters cast their ballots early. This year, the percentage is expected to rise to 40 percent. Those numbers benefit the president. In the all-important state of Ohio, for example, Obama has already amassed a 30-point lead among early voters. In Iowa, he has a 35-point lead among early voters, and Democrats have a 60,000 vote advantage in the early voting that's already taken place in that state. In Nevada it's 20,000.

So why do some polls say Mitt Romney is winning?

Two main reasons. Likely voters and the South.

Some public opinion surveys use a selective process to determine who to include in their results. The right-leaning Rasmussen Presidential Daily Poll, for example, doesn't call cell phones. Meanwhile, the Gallup daily tracking poll screens out voters who they don't think are "likely" to vote based on a very cautious analysis. Gallup determines "likely voters" by screening out people based on their answers to the following seven questions:

1.      Have you given thought to the election?

2.      Do you know where people in your neighborhood go to vote?

3.      Have you voted in your election precinct before?

4.      How often do you vote?

5.      Do you plan to vote in the 2012 election?

6.      Rank the likelihood of your voting on a 10-point scale?

7.      Did you vote in the last presidential election?

As one might expect, the Gallup poll might exclude young voters who didn't vote in the 2008 election, and it may miss voters who have moved recently and haven't voted in their precinct before or don't know where it's located. Meanwhile, the Rasmussen poll might miss a lot of young people and lower-income people who only use cell phones instead of landlines. Needless to say, all these screening devices tend to disproportionately affect African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color.

Then there's the South.

In one recent Gallup poll, Obama was leading in the west, the east, and the midwest, but losing the south by 22 points. Even in an IBD/TIPP poll on Friday that showed Obama leading in the national race, he was still trailing by 10 points in the south.

Although Romney is doing very well in these traditionally red states in the old south, these states don't give him enough electoral votes to win the election. Even if Romney takes all nine non-swing states in the south (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky), that only gives him 73 electoral votes. In contrast, Obama gets 75 electors just by taking California and Illinois alone.

Add in every other reliably Republican state for Romney, and he only gets to 191 electoral votes, still far short of the 270 he needs to win, and far behind the 237 reliably Democratic electors Obama can expect to get.

If — and this is still a big if — Obama wins the electoral college but Romney wins the popular vote, don't expect the GOP to be as willing to work with Obama as Democrats were willing to work with Bush in 2000. Republicans have shown they don't care about governing; they care about power. That's why voters in all 50 states have to turn out to give President Obama a popular vote mandate and an electoral mandate. Every vote counts. In every state.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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