9) The president could run a poor campaign
A scandal (see Watergate or Monica), an excessively negative or partisan campaign (see Carter in 1980), or a bad debate gaffe (see Rick Perry) could tip the balance in a tight election.
10) The Republicans could have a surprise brokered convention or run a great campaign
With many conservative journalists continually complaining about the GOP field, a new ticket would presumably excite the Republican base and capture the public’s attention. Or perhaps one of these guys might make everyone forget Lincoln, Washington, and Reagan with their brilliant eloquence and compelling vision for America’s future. Stranger things have happened; please don’t ask me what, though.
11) A Republican vice presidential choice could swing a key state
Marco Rubio could lock up Florida for the GOP; Rob Portman might do the same in Ohio. Perhaps Senator Pat Toomey or Governor Tom Corbett could help deliver Pennsylvania. These will almost certainly be the key states in 2012 and a good choice could make the difference.
12) The president’s health could falter, causing him to stand down
Not to be grim, but would any Democrat feel comfortable with Joe Biden leading the Democratic ticket? Pleasant fellow that he is, Biden’s bombed disastrously twice in presidential campaigns and the last Gallup poll gave a 43% positive rating. Hillary Clinton would almost surely be a stronger nominee than Biden, and perhaps a better running mate too.
This list is not comprehensive, as we have seen repeatedly before; the political universe is quite capable of delivering shocks that no one forecast.
In 2008, President Obama won six states that now have 91 electoral votes with less than 53%. The loss of all those states would drop him down to 268 electoral votes, two less than needed for victory. It’s not too hard to see how any one of these 12 factors alone or in combination could shift those key states by 3 or 4 points. Barring a very weak Republican ticket, 2012 should be a slugfest.