So, I was playing around with one of those interactive Electoral College maps the other day (here's a good one), and started creating what I consider an extremely plausible scenario. Here it is: John McCain holds almost all of the states that President Bush won in 2004, including the big ones - Florida, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia and Nevada. At the moment, Barack Obama has actually pulled ahead in the polls in most of those states, but his leads are narrow, and you simply can't discount the race factor in most of those particular swing states. So I'm not willing to bet just yet that Obama will win any of those.
Just as realistic is the assumption that Obama will hang on to the battleground states that John Kerry carried last time - namely, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. He's winning, but not by much, in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but he's pulling away in Pennsylvania and of course, McCain is completely conceding Michigan now, which is an astounding development.
That really leaves only one swing state for McCain to turn from blue to red: New Hampshire. Obama's winning there too, but those "Live Free or Die" folks have a soft spot in their hearts for flinty mavericks, so let's say they pull the lever for McCain in the end and he swings those four electoral votes into the Republican column.
But I think Iowa, which went for George W. Bush last time, is just about in the bag for Obama, and he's got a real shot at flipping Colorado and New Mexico from red to blue, too. So Obama could steal three states from the Republicans, while McCain snatches just one from the Democrats.
Hmm, that sounds like it would be pretty close. So I clicked on the map to check that electoral vote total and - gasp! - it came out Obama 269, McCain 269.
Yes, that's right. A tie. And I wasn't even trying to create a tie - I was just plugging in what I thought was most likely on that particular day.
So what happens then? I knew the basics, but I pulled out the good old U.S. Constitution (you remember that - it used to be the governing document of the United States), and flipped to the 12th Amendment (and also the 20th) to brush up on some of the finer points.
You think Bush-Gore in 2000 was a national nightmare? Just wait for this one, folks. We'll make Kenya and Zimbabwe look like models of electoral stability. Here's what would happen:
First of all, the new Congress would be sworn in on January 3, 2009. Then the newly elected House of Representatives would choose between Obama and McCain for president. Each state gets one vote, regardless of size or number of Representatives. California gets one - so does Rhode Island, etc. Presumably, each state would cast its vote along party lines, based on which party has a majority of the state delegation. But perhaps some states would feel compelled to support whichever candidate carried that state. In any case, right now the Democrats control 26 states, the Republicans 21, and the other three are split, 50-50. If the Democrats increase their majority in November, they could have more than 26.
But a candidate needs to win at least 26 of the 50 states to be elected president, and the House only has until March 4th to get the job done. If Obama and McCain each got 25 votes - neither would be president.
In the meantime, the Senate gets to choose the vice president, independently of what the House does. So we could end up with an Obama-Palin administration (the mind reels....) or a McCain-Biden regime.
The Senate is split right now, 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans, but the two independents, erstwhile Democrat Joe Lieberman and Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders, caucus with the Dems, giving them a de facto 51-49 edge. The Democrats are likely to have at least 55 seats in the new Senate, so Biden would most likely be elected vice president (although, with Lieberman very much a pariah now among the Democrats, and an enthusiastic McCain supporter, a 50-50 tie would be a real possibility if the GOP somehow holds on to all its open seats).
So if Biden is chosen veep, and the House can't choose a president by March 4th....then Biden becomes president! If neither chamber can elect someone - then the presidential order of succession kicks in, which makes Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi the 44th president of the United States (one more caveat here: the House is empowered to pass a law designating someone else president if it so chooses, but if it can't even decide between Obama and McCain, that's not likely to happen).
So there you have it: an absolute mess that would gridlock government and plunge the country into a blistering partisan cluster@#$!.
Is it likely to happen? No. But it could. As we've learned the last few years, American presidential politics has become stranger than fiction.
In reality, in the few days since I started mulling this over, the tenor of the race has shifted, and Obama has opened up significant leads in even more of the red states. As of this writing, an Obama landslide looks more likely than this far-fetched tie scenario. But we've still got a month, and two more debates, to go, and Lord only knows what twists and turns are still in store.
For the very latest polls, and some analysis thereof, please click here. I will talk to you again after this next debate!