Lara Brown predicts, based on a historical analysis, that Mitt Romney will win 275 electoral votes to Barack Obamas 263, while trailing by about 2 million popular votes. She also says a nightmare scenario a 269-269 tie is possible.
Were that to happen, Brown said it could bring about abolition of the Electoral College a move she said would upset the Constitutions careful balance that guarantees regional as well as popular support.
The presidency represents a broad constituency, not just a narrow and deep one, said Brown, a professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia.
Brown keynoted Thursdays history conference at Boise High, sponsored by the Andrus Center for Public Policy and the Idaho Council for History Education.
When Brown graduated from UCLA with her doctorate in political science, she was among the vast majority of Americans who have no idea how the Electoral College works. She decided to make it her mission to defend a misunderstood institution.
Brown rejects the view held by about two-thirds of Americans in polls that the Electoral College is un-democratic and archaic. If that were true, we should probably get rid of the Senate and the Supreme Court, too.
The House of Representatives is the national chamber and a popular instrument based on one-person, one-vote. The Senate where every state, regardless of size, gets two seats bolsters states power and federalism. Add the compound office of a president chosen by the Electoral College and we have a government of mixed character best suited to protect liberty, she said.
Brown likened the Electoral College to the seven-game World Series. I have yet to hear the argument that the team with the most runs should win the World Series. The team that wins four games wins.
In very close elections, such as 2000 when George W. Bush lost the popular vote by 544,000 but won the electoral vote 271-266, no system can be perfect, she argued. She cites Alexander Hamilton on the Electoral College: If not perfect, it is at least excellent.
Browns analysis of the past three presidential elections gives Romney the edge in 10 battleground states. She predicts Obama wins Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico; Romney takes Colorado, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
Brown is unnerved by the unlikely, but possible, tie. The New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog puts the chance 269-269 at 0.7 percent.
Such an Electoral College tie would place the decision before the Congress. A Republican-controlled House, with each state delegation having one vote, would elect Romney, she said. A Democratic Senate would make Joe Biden vice president.
I do not believe the Electoral College could withstand the controversy, Brown said. The country would say, What do you mean the House of Representatives gets to choose the president? No way, thats crazy. I should get to choose the president!
The result, she forecast, would be passage of a constitutional amendment making the popular vote decisive and a realigning American politics.
The founders aim was a system that would produce presidents who were able, not ones good at the low arts of popularity, Brown said.
In other words, campaigns shouldnt matter, being popular shouldnt matter, the arts of demagoguery shouldnt matter, Brown said, noting that the founders would lament modern campaigns. What should matter is that theres actually someone who has proven to be a wise executive.
Cobbling a map with a majority of the states and capturing the Electoral College has long guided presidential hopefuls, argues Brown in her book, Jockeying for the Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants.
Abandoning that would prompt a huge devolution in American politics and undermine the national legitimacy the Electoral College brings the presidency.
The entire energy and effort toward trying to figure that out is partly what moves the parties, it changes the ideological trajectory, it changes which candidates are favored or not, Brown said. My hope is people will realize this institution actually does support the breadth of the country, not just areas that happen to be more populated.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics