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Political forecaster says electorate favors Obama, but Romney still has a chance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the nation's most noted election forecasters said Tuesday night that President Obama has the best chances of winning reelection if Republican challenger Mitt Romney can't persuade the few remaining undecided voters.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, spoke to a crowd of more than 100 people during the University of Charleston's Lecture Series inside Geary Auditorium.

Sabato "accurately predicted 98 percent of [the] Senate, House and governors' race winners in 2006, 2008 and 2010," according to a UC flier.

Obama has a lot of things working for him in November's election, Sabato said, including 290 electoral votes favoring his re-election. Romney, who is favored to have 206 electoral votes, would need to swing several electorates favored to Obama, plus 26 toss-up electorates, Sabato said.

Obama's biggest weakness is that he's a "polarizing candidate," he said. He's like former President Bill Clinton in that only about half of Democrats are sure about him, he said. Romney should capitalize on the polarization and brand himself as a "Mr. Fix-It" of the economy, Sabato said.

No Republican candidate has won the election without taking Ohio, he said, and Obama is currently leading in that state.

Sabato said the political climate has evolved since he gave the W.E. "Ned" Chilton Leadership Lecture in Charleston in 1996. The emergence of social media has made newsgathering instant, he said.

Several things would have to occur in the months before the election to derail Obama's victory, he said. He called them "October surprises."

"I've been asked, 'Well, what will it be?'" he said. "That's why they call them surprises."

Sabato theorized that political gaffes wouldn't have much of an effect on voters heading into Thursday's vice presidential debate.

"If your candidate makes the gaffe you're going to say, 'I knew what he meant. Why is the media making such a big deal out this?'" Sabato said.

However, a sudden event such as war between Iran and Israel could shift the political landscape, he said. Although it's unlikely, Sabato said a war would create a "gather around the flag" moment for Obama and help his chances.

Sabato also predicted that a majority of the House of Representatives seats would go to Republicans because recent redistricting nationally has favored the GOP. The Senate will be mostly Democrats because those candidates are running pretty tight, locked-in races, he said.

Sabato ended the night by giving advice to anyone who wants to run for political office one day.

"Wait until you're in your thirties," he said.

He's skeptical of people who run shortly after graduating from college.

"Take some time off for your life, as the Founding Fathers intended," he said. "Get a job, work in your community and get things done. And when you run you will have accomplishments to point to and a community that will vote for you."

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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