The formula for electing Mitt Romney to the presidency isn’t all that complicated. He must hold all the states John McCain won in 2008, take back normally Republican states that went to President Obama such as Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Indiana and win at least one of the major swing states such as Ohio or Pennsylvania. That sounds easy in theory but as the latest round of polling — which, thanks to the Electoral College, are the numbers we should be watching more closely than the national tracking polls —in individual states shows, Romney’s path is far from clear.
While the certain Republican nominee should be encouraged by surveys of voters in Florida and Ohio, the numbers from Virginia and to a lesser extent in Pennsylvania are daunting. As much as the national popular vote looks to be almost a dead heat between Romney and Obama right now, the Democrat’s Electoral College advantage is clear. Even more to the point, unless Romney finds a way to come from behind in Virginia and North Carolina, putting Florida and North Carolina back in the red column won’t matter.
The new Washington Post poll of voter sentiment in Virginia confirms what a Public Policy Polling survey of the state showed earlier this week: the president has a substantial lead in a state that Romney must have if he is going to win. The Post poll shows Obama ahead by 51-44 percent among registered voters. PPP gave him a similar 51-43 edge. A Survey USA poll showed Obama leading by a smaller 47-43 percent margin in North Carolina. Less depressing for the GOP are Quinnipiac University polls that show Romney ahead 44-43 percent in Florida and almost even in Ohio with Obama leading there by 44-42 percent. Quinnipiac also has Obama comfortably ahead in Pennsylvania by 47-39 percent.
The Real Clear Politics Electoral College map illustrates Romney’s problem. RCP shows the president ahead in states totaling 253 electoral votes with states that are either likely or leaning to Romney giving the GOP standard-bearer only 170 votes. That means Romney must win 100 of the 115 votes in the tossup states to get to the magic number of 270 that guarantees victory.
Given the tight national polls and general dissatisfaction with the president’s job performance, that is far from unlikely, let alone impossible. But it gives Romney very little margin for error. He must, more or less, run the table in swing states. This means that although the GOP has good reason to believe it can win in both Florida and Ohio, it can’t afford to lose either Virginia or North Carolina without scoring a far more unlikely upset in Democrat-leaning Pennsylvania or Michigan.
Democrats believe the changing demographics in Virginia and North Carolina, as both have become more urban, dictates that their recent history as reliable Republican states is over. But those factors will not save Obama if the economy continues to lag on his watch. Today’s figures that show disappointing job growth and a still high unemployment rate make it clear the Democrats are quite capable of blowing this election and losing all the swing states. If Romney is to overcome his current Electoral College deficit, he must, as he did this week, concentrate on campaigning in states like Virginia and stick to his message about the economy. Obama’s current advantage there is daunting, but with six months to go and little reason to believe the economy will improve over the summer, there is plenty of hope left for the Republican.