�COOK�ING THE BOOKS. I have gobs of respect for Charlie Cook, one of this nation�s best electoral analysts and an incorruptibly decent, always-accessible person. So it almost pains me to disagree with his recent column for the National Journal, in which he sees the electoral map loosening up in 2012 2008 [sorry for the error].

It will loosen some, of course; it almost has to. In electoral college terms, the 2000 and 2004 elections were the most stable in American history:

Only three states flipped control, the fewest since George Washington ran the table twice at a time before popular voting for president. George Bush�s 271-vote and 286-vote wins were narrow, too. Other thin winners in the post-war period (Truman/1948 and Kennedy/60, 303 each; Nixon/68, 301; and Carter/76, 297) still managed to compile about 300 electors. How calcified is the map is now compared to two generations ago? Consider that during the Kennedy-Nixon election, decided by .2% nationally in the popular vote, 14 states were �comfortable� wins for one party or the other (10% margin or more), with six of these �blowouts� (over 20%). Fast-forward to 2000, which Bush arguably �won� by a smaller popular margin (-.5%), and there were 28 comfortable wins, 14 of them blowouts. Put another way, the map is more rigidified today because the mean is the same but the variance is greater.

That said, I offer Charlie a bet. I think the states will loosen, but not as much as he foresees. Averaging Bush�s electoral totals, we get a rounded 279 electors. Add two dozen electors to that to account for some loosening and we reach 303 -- the highest total from those four earlier close contests.

I�ll predict that the 2008 winner (whoever s/he is, whichever party) fails to get more than that threshold, and that no more than seven states will change party hands. The over/under�s of 303 and 7 are, I think, very low and therefore favorable to taking the "over." Loser treats for lunch at his preferred, southern-inspired restaurant (Acadiana, Georgia Brown�s?) in town. If, somehow, the presidential winner eclipse over standard one but not the other (Republicans win California?!), it�s a push and we go Dutch. Is it a bet?

--Tom Schaller

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