Dozen states prove pivotal to White House race
First of a series.
The 2012 presidential race will be decided in a dozen swing states, and President Obama faces a hard road to victory in many of them.
“It appears this election will be much more like Bush-Gore” in 2000, said Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, co-founder of Alexandria-based Purple Strategies. “The president ain’t gonna win by 95 electoral votes.”
Political strategists in both parties say the number of reliably Democratic states should give Mr. Obama at least 196 electoral votes, and the solidly Republican states should give the GOP nominee 191. With 270 electoral votes needed to win, the campaign will be fought in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin — a total of 151 electoral votes up for grabs.
The president would need states totaling an additional 74 electoral votes, but the news in swing states isn’t good for him against the GOP front-runners. A Gallup/USA Today poll in mid-December showed Mr. Obama trailing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 5 percentage points in the 12 battleground states, and he trailed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich by 3 percentage points in those states. Nationwide, Mr. Obama leads Mr. Gingrich by 6 points and Mr. Romney by 1 point in the poll.
North Carolina, which Mr. Obama was the first Democrat to win in 32 years in 2008, is typical of the challenge facing Mr. Obama this time around. Mr. Obama’s approval rating in the Tarheel State has hovered in the low 40s; a poll taken by a Democratic firm in early December showed him in a dead heat there with Mr. Romney
“I don’t think it’s likely [Mr. Obama] will win it,” said David Rohde, professor of political science at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “In 2008, Obama just barely carried the state by three-tenths of a percentage point. It is a state that is still more Republican.”
Asked what benefit the Democrats will get from holding their nominating convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September, Mr. Rohde replied, “virtually none.” He said Democratic voters are more likely to be swayed by the economy during Mr. Obama’s presidency than by the atmospherics of a party convention.
The Gallup/USA Today poll also found that Democrats are declining as a percentage of all voters in the key swing states. The number of self-identified Democrats in the battleground states fell from 35 percent to 30 percent since 2008, while the number of Republicans rose 5 percentage points and independents increased by 7 percentage points. In 2008, when Mr. Obama won the swing states by 8 percentage points, Democrats held the advantage over Republicans in party identification by 11 points. The survey found that the Democrats’ advantage in party ID now has fallen to 2 percentage points.
The unemployment rates in several battleground states are higher than the national average, which complicates the president’s task. In North Carolina, the jobless rate was 10.4 percent in October. In Michigan, it was 10.6 percent; in Nevada, 13.4 percent.
But some swing states have weathered the weak economy better than others. In Iowa, the jobless rate in October was 6.0 percent. In New Hampshire, it was 5.3 percent.
“The economy is the most important thing,” Mr. Rohde said. “What happens between now and then is one of the things that the president’s fortunes will turn on.”
Obama campaign officials say they are looking at several different “paths,” or combinations of battleground states, to get to 270 electoral votes. One of them is the “expansion path” — trying to move a reliably Republican state, Arizona, into the Democratic column. Arizonans have voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1952, with the exception of President Clinton’s re-election victory in 1996. But the state’s Hispanic population grew by 46 percent in the last decade, providing Democrats with an opportunity that the Obama campaign is pursuing aggressively.
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