Jim McTague‘s latest “D.C. Current” column for Barron’s highlights the presidential election projections of John Morgan, “who retired a few years back after nearly 30 years as one of the Republican Party’s top election demographers.” Morgan contends GOP challenger Mitt Romney now looks likely to win 289 electoral votes, and possibly 299. A candidate needs 270 to win the election.

Morgan says that demographic trends in the counties, not the polls, are the best predictors of an election outcome. If Democratic counties show population gains, that’s trouble for the GOP, and vice versa. Morgan can tell you the race, religion, income, and politics of all those county jurisdictions. He has maps going back to 1896, when Democrat William Jennings Bryan lost to Republican William J. McKinley.

By Morgan’s reckoning, Romney will win Ohio and Florida — a controversial call. He says the natural-gas boom in southern Ohio has swelled the population in Republican counties there. Meanwhile, the population of Democratic stronghold Cleveland has declined. The state, historically Republican, voted for Obama in 2008. But it will swing back to the GOP this year because of the demographics.

As for Florida, Morgan contends that Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate has tipped the balance in the GOP’s favor there. Despite Ryan’s call for Medicare reform, the VP candidate’s hawkishness on the budget strongly appeals to a significant number of conservative Midwestern retirees who live on the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast.