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Numbers whiz becomes one-man election clearinghouse

December 02, 2012|By Mark Z. Barabak
  • The final electoral map, showing results from the 2012 presidential election.
The final electoral map, showing results from the 2012 presidential election. (Los Angeles Times )

For most Americans, interest in the results of the 2012 presidential campaign ended somewhere around the first election night projections for President Obama and the brief, stunned concession speech delivered by a gobsmacked Mitt Romney.

But for a small group of obsessives, the political equivalent of those who devour box scores for breakfast, a fascinating and welcome service has come from David Wasserman, a youthful and whip-smart campaign analyst with the Cook Political Report, who has become a one-man clearinghouse for presidential tabulations across the country.

It is thanks to Wasserman we know that Obama, the Democratic incumbent, currently leads Romney, the Republican challenger, in the popular vote 65,285,547 to 60,674,072, or 50.93% to 47.33. (With rounding that comes to 51% to 47%; more on that in a moment.)

Obama's victory came with surprising rapidity on election night, as he swept virtually all the most competitive states, easily surpassing the 270 electoral college votes needed to win a second term. (He wound up with 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206.)

But every individual vote counts, and every individual vote needs counting, so just about each day new numbers trickle in as county clerks and other election officials across the country continue their tallying. Wasserman, combing hundreds of local government websites for hours a day, dutifully logs the new numbers in a spreadsheet that he updates constantly. 

It began as part of his work for the Cook Report, an independent handicapper's guide to elections, where Wasserman specializes in covering House races. He wanted to know how the two presidential candidates fared in each of the country's 435 districts, for use in future analyses.

But the research soon became an addiction -- the thrill is "finding a little hidden nugget of data" -- and, once he began posting his results on Twitter  (@redistrict), Wasserman gained a national audience (as well as an additional 2,000 Twitter followers).

His numbers nerddom was foretold at a young age; at around 13, Wasserman asked his mom  for a subscription to the Cook Report for his birthday. The price was too steep, however, and he grudgingly settled for the monthly edition of Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper.

Today, a peach-faced 28, Wasserman is living the dream -- or at least the political version of, say, rooting for the Yankees and then growing up to wear the pinstripes and play center field.

His research has managed to dispel several of the first-blush impressions left from election night. For one thing, turnout is expected to drop off only marginally from the high level of 2008, contradicting initial accounts of a sizable dip.

Also, Obama's margin of victory is proving much greater than it appeared three weeks ago.  With between 1 million and 2 million votes to be counted -- most of them from deep-blue states such as California, New York and New Jersey -- Obama is likely to end up winning the election by about 5 million votes, a much wider margin over Romney than was evident on Nov. 6.

About the GOP nominee's 47% of the vote: To some it was karmic, or some sort of cosmic joke, given the candidate's infamous, secretly recorded remarks deriding 47% of voters as moochers and layabouts.  For days, liberal activists kept a delighted watch on Wasserman's spreadsheet, awaiting the precise moment when Romney's support would dip below 47.5% and thus, for purposes of discussion, hit the notorious mark.

For Wasserman, the numbers simply are what they are. (The Federal Election Commission will ultimately post the final results on its website sometime next year.)

"I'm not reporting it to pile on Romney," assured the scrupulously nonpartisan Wasserman. "It’s just an interesting statistic."

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mark.barabak@latimes.com

Twitter: @markzbarabak

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