Electoral strategy — choosing the right VP

Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for President, made a campaign stop in Virginia this morning (Saturday, August 11), where he announced that his running mate for the 2012 election is Paul Ryan.

As a diligent member of Triangle Learning Community middle school (I’m the founder; we open in 2013), I located the site in Norfolk where Gov. Romney made this announcement, with the USS Wisconsin in the background:

Paul Ryan is a prominent Republican member of the House of Representatives from Wisconsin, but I wanted to learn more about him, so I looked at the Wikipedia page about his life.

There, I learned that he was born and raised in Janesville, Wisconsin. I thought middle school students might want to see the high school he attended, so I added a place mark there. After I did that, I wanted to zoom out to see where Janesville fit in the larger picture of the state of Wisconsin.

When I zoomed out, I saw another place mark I’d made earlier in the week. One of the many benefits of having TLC middle school students create place marks as they read news articles is that it allows students to make connections between events.

Here’s what I saw when I zoomed out on Wisconsin:

The awful shooting at the Sikh Temple outside of Milwaukee on Sunday (which we would have discussed in detail earlier in the week if TLC were up and running) took place less than 60 miles from where Rep. Ryan grew up.

I learned a bunch more about Rep. Ryan (pictured below), including that he represents the first congressional district in Wisconsin.

Now stick with me — I promise to connect Mitt Romney’s VP choice to his strategy for winning the 2012 election — and to do that we have to explore electoral politics a bit.

Paul Ryan represents the First Congressional District in Wisconsin. That made me wonder about the total number of districts in Wisconsin. Using Wikipedia, I found this list and map showing the eight congressional districts in Wisconsin:

It’s interesting to see that six of the representatives from Wisconsin are white men, one is a black woman and one is a white woman.  Since TLC middle school is located in North Carolina, I wondered how North Carolina’s congressional delegation matches up with Wisconsin’s.

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page for NC’s congressional districts is not as nicely formatted as the one from Wisconsin, and does not include pictures — it just provides the names of the representatives. But I looked around online and found a website about Health Reform that features this picture of the state’s entire congressional delegation (including the state’s two senators at the top):

North Carolina is similar to Wisconsin — it is mainly represented by white men. Eight of NC’s 13 representatives are white men, three are white women and two are African-American males — Rep. George Butterfield and Rep. Melvin Watt.

Note: Rep. Watt’s district — the 12th district in North Carolina — has a controversial shape that has been litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court and would be an interesting topic to explore in a future post about the 2012 election.

For now, let’s focus on the connection between congressional delegations and the electoral college.

As we saw, Wisconsin has eight representatives (Rep. Ryan is one of them) and North Carolina has 13.

The United States actually doesn’t elect its president by popular vote. When the country elects its president on Tuesday, November 6, each state will get a number of votes — called electoral votes — equal to its Representatives in Congress, plus two senators (each state has two senators).

There are a total of 538 electoral votes, so a majority is 270 votes. Whichever candidate gets to 270 votes wins the election.

In the 2012 election, Wisconsin will have 10 electoral votes (8 reps plus two senators) and NC will have 15 (13 reps +2).

Here’s a map showing the number of electoral votes in each of the states, with Wisconsin and NC circled:

Both Wisconsin and NC are “swing states” — states that are not overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican. That means they will likely get a great deal of attention during the 2012 election.

Almost all states are “winner take all,” which means that if 2,000,000 people voted for president in the North Carolina election, and 1,000,001 people voted for Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan, and the other 999,999 people voted for Barack Obama/Joe Biden, Mitt Romney would get all 15 of NC’s electoral votes.

There’s a great interactive feature on the New York Times website that allows you to explore various electoral scenarios. Here’s a 4-minute video I made that shows how you can use this feature:

P.S. — For those who want to get more into political strategy, here’s a preliminary analysis of why Gov. Romney chose Paul Ryan, from Ezra Klein of the Washington Post.


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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