No one doubts Michael Barone's credentials; the guy has established himself as the pre-eminent political nuts and bolts expert in the country.
If you watch Barone on election night, you will realize he knows the politics of America down to the key individual counties in each state. His encyclopedic mind recognizes when a state's vote is trending toward one candidate or another early on, and while he is carefully not to predict a winner, he leaves the viewer with little doubt as to who is in trouble and who isn't.
But it makes me wonder when he reels off a prediction like this:
Fundamentals usually prevail in American elections. That's bad news for Barack Obama. True, Americans want to think well of their presidents and many think it would be bad if Americans were perceived as rejecting the first black president.
But it's also true that most voters oppose Obama's major policies and consider unsatisfactory the very sluggish economic recovery -- Friday's jobs report showed an unemployment uptick.
Also, both national and target state polls show that independents, voters who don't identify themselves as Democrats or Republicans, break for Romney.
That might not matter if Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 39 to 32 percent, as they did in the 2008 exit poll. But just about every indicator suggests that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting -- and about their candidate -- than they were in 2008, and Democrats are less so.
That's been apparent in early or absentee voting, in which Democrats trail their 2008 numbers in target states Virginia, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada.
The Obama campaign strategy, from the beginning, has recognized these handicaps, running barrages of early anti-Romney ads in states that Obama carried narrowly. But other states, not so heavily barraged, have come into contention.
Which candidate will get the electoral votes of the target states? I'll go out on a limb and predict them, in ascending order of 2008 Obama percentages -- fully aware that I'm likely to get some wrong.
Barone goes on to pick IN, NC, OH, FL, VA, CO, IA, NH, PA, and WI for Romney.
Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election. Fundamentals.
Iowa will be a tough one for Romney, as will the aforementioned PA and WI. But the rest are doable which would give Romney 284 electoral votes - 278 without Iowa.
Barone has really put it on the line with this prediction. We hope he's right.