That is what happened during the last two presidential elections.
In 2004, incumbent Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote by about one-half million, but lost the election because Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush won Florida by a little more than 500 votes out of about 6 million cast. Florida gave Bush a victory - albeit it a narrow one - in the Electoral College.
Still, to this day, the closeness of the outcome in Florida is mind-boggling.
Four years later, the election was close, but not really so compared to the standards from 2000. Bush won the 2004 election by beating Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry by about 3 million votes, or by a little less than 2.5 percentage points - a far greater margin than what Gore won nationwide by four years earlier.
But in the state of Ohio, Bush won by about 120,000 votes out of 5.6 million cast. If the results, which were close in Ohio, had swung the other direction by 120,000, Kerry would have won the Electoral College and thus the election, even though Bush would have won the popular vote by more than 2 million nationwide.
In 2000, there was some gnashing of teeth over the outcome since Gore won the popular vote and lost Florida by such a narrow and contested margin. But generally speaking, the protests were modest.
It would have been interesting to have seen what would have transpired had Kerry won Ohio and thus the election in 2004 even though he would have lost the popular vote.
There are groups working to eliminate the Electoral College so that the winner of the popular vote would win the presidency. One group is working to convince states constituting a majority of the Electoral College to pledge their support to the nationwide winner of the popular vote regardless of the out- come in those individual states. If enough states agreed to that concept, it basically would render the Electoral College toothless.
Others are staunch defenders of the Electoral College, saying the founding fathers wanted an obstacle between the wishes of the majority and the presidency and also wanted to ensure more power to the smaller states. Some argue the electoral college gives too much power to smaller states.
The number of electoral votes each state receives is the total of U.S. House members and two U.S. senators. With a couple of exceptions, the winner of the popular vote in a state gets all of that state's electoral votes, regardless of a candidate's margin of victory.
Some studies indicate since each state has two senators, citizens of less populous states actually have the election weighted in their favor. In other words, California has many more people per electoral vote than say Wyoming or Alaska.
It will be interesting to see how close the 2012 election is compared to the previous two. Current polls indicate it will be close.
Obama is leading by a slim margin in most of the litany or polling data that can be found online. In 2004 at this time, Kerry and Bush also were neck and neck, but it seems that Kerry was leading in more polls than was Bush.
Of course, a lot can happen before November. One of the two candidates may surge. But the more likely scenario is that it will be another close election.
One thing is for certain - Mississippi is solidly in the Romney camp, meaning because of the Electoral College we will not get the multiple visits from the candidates nor the advertising blitz that voters in the dozen or some swing states receive.
Some probably view that as a blessing. But it would be interesting to experience that intense candidate attention that swing states like Florida, and Virginia receive.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal's Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at email@example.com or call (601) 353-3119.