How could President Obama lose? Let us count the ways.
1) The president could win the national popular vote but lose a majority in the Electoral College
In 2000, for the first time since 1888, the winner of the national popular vote failed to carry the Electoral College. Al Gore won New York, Massachusetts, D.C., and California by a total of over four million votes. But he lost the key swing states of Florida by 537 votes, New Hampshire by about 7,000, and Ohio by 167,000, thus costing him the presidency in a one-state defeat. In effect, Gore’s huge margins in those coastal states were “wasted” votes. The odds are against it, but Barack Obama could get Gored in 2012.
2) The Nixon-Reagan-Bush coalition could re-assert itself
From 1968 to 2004, Republicans put together a coalition of the South, the West, suburbia, and the Farm Belt, winning seven of ten national elections — and control of the U.S. Senate for nearly half those years. That GOP coalition lost in 2006 and 2008, but heartland America and suburbia boomed big for Republicans in 2010. It’s certainly possible that President Obama could get isolated in the inner cities and coastal enclaves while losing almost everything else, a laMondale and Dukakis in the 1980s. Maybe the Tea Party revolt of 2009-10 is for real.
3) The president could get personally blamed
With over two-thirds of Americans unhappy with the condition of the country, we can never be sure that a massive “throw-the-bums-out” mood won’t be directed at the man at the top. That certainly happened to Herbert Hoover in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the first President Bush in 1992.
4) The president could fall victim to a “flash-crash”
In early September of 2008, John McCain had been buoyed by his successful convention, and his choice of Sarah Palin had ignited the right. He surged to a five-point lead in the early-September Gallup poll. But the financial crisis of mid-September ended the momentum in a hurry and drove the Democratic sweep in November. Could history repeat itself in 2012?
5) The European debt crisis could sink the world economy
Here the president is totally at the mercy of events. His State Department and Treasury secretary can do their best to negotiate a European rescue package, but if the negotiations fail or the package itself fails, the world economy could slip back into a severe recession with devastating consequences for the Democrats.
6) The Middle East could erupt in war and sink the world economy
Once again, the president is at the mercy of events here, as a war with Iran could shut down the production and shipment of oil, sending the price over $300 per barrel and gas prices to almost $10 per gallon. Previous oil shocks in 1973, 1979, 1990, and 2008 all led to recessions and defeat for the incumbent party in the next election.