With the current presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney too close to call, experts are looking at all scenarios that could lead to a final victory, including the influence of Pennsylvania as a last-second spoiler.
To win the election, either President Obama or Governor Romney needs at least 270 electoral votes to win. But the 2012 election is shaping up to be the closest race since 2000, when George W. Bush edged Gore by 537 votes in Florida tallied 271 electoral votes after the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision.
But three presidential elections have been closer than the Bush-Gore contest, and two were decided in the House of Representatives, in 1800 and 1824.
A third election, in 1876, was settled by a 15-person commission of Senate, House, and Supreme Court representatives when several states submitted rival slates of electoral votes.
In 2013, the House seems very likely to be controlled by the GOP, so a tie is as good as a win if Romney can get to 269 electoral votes.
How does the election even get to a tie on Wednesday, after the ballots are counted on the West Coast?
One likely scenario is that President Obama only wins Ohio, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire among nine swing states. Romney would need to take Iowa, where Obama has a polling lead, as well as Colorado, Nevada , Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.
In reality, there are as many as 12 swing states. Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Maine aren’t solidly in the Obama win column as of Sunday.
Michigan still seems likely to go to President Obama, with its 16 electoral votes.
Pennsylvania is a different matter with its 20 electoral votes. Romney’s plans to campaign in suburban Philadelphia on Sunday were seen by the Democrats as a Hail Mary pass or a decoy move heading into the weekend.
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But the GOP and its surrogates have spent a lot of last-minute campaign money in Pennsylvania.
If Romney can pull off the upset in Pennsylvania, he could still lose Ohio and have a shot at winning the election.
The math is simple: Romney wins in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania would put him at exactly 268 electoral votes. A win in Maine’s second congressional district gives Romney one extra electoral vote—and the election.
Or, an additional Romney win in Colorado, New Hampshire, or Nevada will give him the election, if Pennsylvania goes to the Republicans.
So Ohio, the state where both parties have spent a fortune, wouldn’t factor into the final decision.
A weekend poll from the Allentown Morning Call put Obama in the lead in Pennsylvania at just three points, making its race as close as Ohio’s.
Pennsylvania has seen a grassroots power shift away from Philadelphia and the Democrats in recent years, and the GOP’s little-known Senate candidate, Tom Smith, is making a strong upset bid against Senator Bob Casey.
In a sign that the Democrats are serious about the Romney threat in Pennsylvania, President Bill Clinton will appear on Monday at two different locations in the Philadelphia area. One appearance is in Montgomery County, a heavily populated swing county just outside Philadelphia.
Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.