Votes That Matter

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Oct. 28, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: The Electoral College (search) system is so designed that the winning candidate, no matter how thin his popular margin, can nonetheless roll up a large and decisive majority in the state-by-state tally of electors. But it was so close four years ago that that did not happen. And it looks as if it could be nearly that close in the Electoral College again this year.

For a sense of how it looks at the moment, we turn to Larry Sabato, whose Center for Politics at the University of Virginia is keeping close track of the electoral picture.

Professor Sabato, welcome. Tell us what you see.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS: Thank you, Brit. What I see is a very close, volatile race. There are a lot of people out there in your audience who believe that President Bush is going to get 300 electoral votes (search). There are also a lot of people watching who think John Kerry is going to get 300 electoral votes.

Look, it could happen if all the close states break one way. But right now, as we’re sitting here on Thursday before the election, it looks to be a very close race. So if we could look at the closest race possible that is winning for each side — the most likely to win...

HUME: Two-hundred seventy needed to win, right?

SABATO: Two-hundred seventy needed to win. Let’s take a look first at Bush’s most likely close victory in the Electoral College. He would have 276 electoral votes if the map broke down this way. Notice that he’s carrying Florida, which is critical. He would get Ohio, though I have to tell you the polls right now, the private and public, are suggesting that Kerry is likely to win Ohio. And Pennsylvania would also go for Kerry. Now, Bush would have 276 electoral votes under this map. John Kerry would have 262.

Interestingly, Bush could still lose New Mexico, which I’m giving him on this map. He’s leading in all the public and private polls there, but he could still lose it, thanks to Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, and still have 271 electoral votes.

HUME: All right. Now, that look — now that — but no way he wins it without Ohio in your scheme of things, correct?

SABATO: Well, no. In fact, there’s a way around Ohio. It’s a tough way. Bush would have to win either Wisconsin or Minnesota, both of them won by Al Gore (search) four years ago, and add to that either Iowa or New Mexico. All right. And he could just barely get over the 270 mark.

Now remember, Brit, that allows for the loss of New Hampshire, which both sides privately think Kerry is going to win.

HUME: All right. Now, let’s look at an alternative scenario in which John Kerry (search ) could win this.

SABATO: Absolutely. Here’s the minimalist victory pattern for John Kerry; the most likely minimalist victory pattern for Kerry. In this particular map, Kerry would have 272 electoral votes, just two more than needed. Bush would have 266. Which looks to be enough.

HUME: That looks very much like the other map. What’s different?

SABATO: Here’s what’s different. Kerry has added New Hampshire and Ohio. And he’s added New Hampshire and Ohio, both states that Bush carried in 2000. Every other state on both sides from 2000 holds. And Brit, it’s amazing how similar this is turning out to 2000 in the Electoral College.

HUME: It certainly is amazing. And it looks as if between Ohio and Florida, those are going to be states that if you see Bush lose either one of those, he’s got a big problem. And of course, I suppose that he has more ways — Mr. Bush has more ways to get there, because he’s got a little bit, a couple of other states he might pluck out of the former Gore column.

But boy, this really does look like it’s going to be — it’s going to come down to just a handful: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida. Just those few states and a couple of others on election night, doesn’t it?

SABATO: And Bush, what you said is true about. Kerry doesn’t have a very good back way into a 270 majority. But Bush does. It’s a tough back way in. It’s kind of a road that isn’t paved and filled with potholes, but it might get him there. Kerry doesn’t have that. But Brit, he has to win Florida. I don’t see any way realistically for Bush to win without Florida.

HUME: Yes. That is the way it looked. Yes. That turned out to be the lynch pin four years ago.

Now, you have obviously have been keeping some track as well of the Senate races and the race for control of the Senate, now held narrowly by just a couple of votes by the Republicans. What do you see there, Larry?

SABATO: You know the really odd thing, Brit, is that these Senate races appear to be falling more Republican than Democratic (search ).

HUME: Really?

SABATO: The irony is that Republicans might — might — lose their president, but gain additional seats in the Senate. I think they may go to 54. And there is an outside chance of 55 Republican seats. They are currently at 51.

Why is that? Because by accident, by luck, by chance, most of the really close competitive races have ended up in the deeply red Bush states in the south: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, maybe Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, maybe Colorado and certainly Alaska.

These are the really close races. Let’s add South Dakota to that, Brit. The big surprise on election night could easily be that Tom Daschle (search) loses that Senate seat. He is the minority leader, as we all know.

HUME: We looked at this earlier in the week. And it looked as if, if you add in the seats that are safe for the Republicans and the seats that are safe for the Democrats to those that are not up this year. That is to say, the remaining 66 or however many that are not up, the Republicans do go into the night with an advantage.

And I guess you put that together with the fact that so many of them are states in the south that are up. That would give the Republicans an advantage, correct?

SABATO: The minimum that the Republicans can expect is 53. They may go to 55.

HUME: Got you, Larry. Thanks so very much.

SABATO: Thanks a lot.

HUME: See you before Election Day. All the best.

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