Can Romney make his free throws?

by Eric Shierman

The Obama campaign played October like the Portland Trail Blazers of twenty years ago played their fourth quarters, blowing a wide lead. Obama remains in the lead by a few points in the Electoral College, but like Kevin Duckworth fouling a three point shooter at the end of a game when the Blazers were ahead by two at the buzzer, the last three shots are being made by Romney. The question is can he make them?

Those three shots are of course Virginia, Colorado, and Ohio. Unfortunately for Romney, missing one does not result in a tie; if Romney misses just one of them he loses the game. We should expect Romney to make at least one of them. Even a notoriously poor free throw performer like Shaquille O’Neal held a career percentage of 52.7%. Romney will likely win at least Virginia, but even the NBA player with the best free throw record (Chauncey Billups) missed some important shots at 89.4%. If Romney is that good perhaps he can win Colorado too, which looked impossible a month ago.

But can Romney win Ohio? While Obama continues to lead scientific polls of Ohio voters within the statistical margin of error, this state’s extreme left-wing Democratic candidate for the US Senate continues to command a solid majority. It’s hard for me to see how Ohio could send both Sherrod Brown to Capitol Hill and its Electoral College votes to Mitt Romney. That would be ticket splitting on stilts.

The good news for Republicans is that this is no longer impossible. The bad news is that as Romney has surged, the Republicans’ chances to retake the Senate have been moving in the other direction. This is the most baffling trend of the last 30 days, an inverse relationship between Romney’s success and the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. For anyone who wants to see government spending cut, that has not been a good trade, but if Romney can make all three of his free throws, perhaps Paul Ryan will break a Senate tie.

Eric Shierman lives in southwest Portland and is the author of A Brief History of Political Cultural Change. He also writes for the Oregonian’s My Oregon blog.