This week not a lot really happened in our 2012 presidential race. Yes, Mitt Romney took his increasingly embarrassing campaign skills to the international level and floundered in London before moving on to Israel, but he didn’t produce anything with a chance of sticking with him to November – the only Americans who will remember to be mad at Mitt Romney for insulting David Cameron in months from now will be those who were never going to vote for him in the first place. So now is a good time to look at the state-by-state breakdown of our electoral college, and analyze exactly what victory looks like for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Sadly, I do not live in an electorally interesting state on the national circuit. Then-Senator Obama won Illinois in a landslide in 2008, and he will in 2012. Not only is Illinois a solid stronghold for the Obama campaign due to simply being a blue state, it is also contains a home field advantage for the Obama campaign. Similar to Abraham Lincoln, Obama was not born in Illinois but formed his career here, both as a lawyer and professor and as a congressman – and while we don’t quite have his face on our license plates yet, Obama still does enjoy a popularity advantage here due to his history. In addition Obama’s campaign operates out of Illinois, making it one of the most organized states for a campaign which thrives on organization and engagement of supporters. There is nothing to discuss with Illinois because even if Mitt Romney campaigned every day here for the 100 days until the election, he would still not win. President Obama will gain 20 electoral votes here.
As for the other 250 votes he’ll need, he has other guaranteed states. The most major of these are California, and New York, which give him another 55 and 29 votes. Romney lacks heavy hitter states in comparison to Obama’s, with his major crown jewel being Texas – a state that has been solidly Republican for decades, but will become increasingly harder to hold as demographics shift. Romney also holds on to a plethora of low population conservative states with only 3 or 4 votes each, such as Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Utah.
Increased political polarization has made the identification of swing states easier and easier, as many states have become very reliably red or blue and voters are less likely to change their minds – giving more weighting to polls done earlier in the year. Thus to be a swing state requires either a large amount of electoral votes in the air or very close margins between the two candidates. Florida has 29 electoral votes and a dead heat exists between the two candidates, which means the state could become the breaking point for who becomes President in 2013 – let’s see if they can be slightly more organized about it this time. Currently polls place it at an extremely slight Romney advantage, but at enough to fluctuate back to Obama with changes on the national or state levels. I’d call this state the most important, and its heavy vote count was the driver for much speculation about a possible Vice Presidency nomination for Marco Rubio by the Romney campaign, which eventually was denied. Other states which seem to switch back and forth with each poll include North Carolina and Virginia, where Obama has begun to lost a once somewhat strong advantage. Ohio is more firmly in Obama’s hands, but is still close enough for Romney to likely target for its 18 electoral votes. Other crucial states along the same lines include Michigan, which is likely to be heavily affected by how candidates approach our auto industry, and North Carolina.
And Romney is likely to heavily target any state he has even a chance of winning - combined with his Super PACS, Romney has piles of money – so while he could just target the most vulnerable swing states with all of it, he would quickly reach a point where the spending wasn’t doing anything. After a certain point, and after everyone has seen enough of his ads, the money stops being useful. To avoid going past this point of saturation Romney will not only spend in Florida and Ohio, but any state he has a chance in.
The whole thing should be looked at where Romney wins, and not where Obama loses. Obama has a solid 194 votes in states where he’s leading by over 8%, while Romney has only 122. Adding in the obvious Texas bumps this up to 160. So Obama has 36% of the vote safely in his hands, and Romney has 30%. What’s the makeup of the other 51%, which is 222 votes? Romney doesn’t have a lot of ground there. In that less secure area, only 22 votes reflect states leaning toward Romney to a good degree – coming from South Dakota, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Meanwhile Obama now has 43 more votes leaning toward him. The idea here is that Obama has to win much less in the truly toss up states than Romney does. If Romney can’t take Florida, he has to take pretty much every other swing state to win – and if he does he still has to win states such as Ohio and Michigan to have a good chance. The challenge for Obama isn’t to gain any new ground or to prevent Romney from winning just one new state, it’s to force Romney to work hard enough in the vulnerable states that he can’t win enough from his opponent.