National Republicans think that if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survives his recall election Tuesday, it will be much harder for President Obama to keep the state in the Democratic column in the November election.
If Mr. Obama loses Wisconsin, the GOP says, it changes the entire Electoral College map — and the Democratic incumbent could pretty much kiss a second term goodbye.
The Wisconsin theory is one of many being bandied about now that the general election between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, is under way.
The candidates' respective camps, party leaders and armchair politicos are busy poring over the complex puzzle that is the Electoral College in hopes of gleaning insight into how Mr. Obama, with his higher favorability ratings, or Mr. Romney, more trusted on the economy, can put together the winning strategy to get to 270 Electoral College votes.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus predicts that if Wisconsin goes red in November, it will mean "lights out" for Mr. Obama. Others surmise that as Virginia goes, so goes the nation. Yet others claim that, much like previous elections, this contest will boil down to what voters do in Florida and Ohio.
On the Electoral College chessboard, every vote in every state and the District of Columbia — 130 million were cast in 2008 — translate into 538 electoral votes. To win the Electoral College and thus the election, a candidate must pull in 270 electoral votes. In the case of a tie, the U.S. House chooses the president and the U.S. Senate picks the vice president.
With five months to go, political junkies generally think the election will be decided by the outcomes in nine battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The good news for Mr. Obama: For now, he has an edge in most Electoral College tallies. But the president's edge is shrinking in these so-called "tossup" states — all of which the Democrat captured in 2008.
Last week's jobs report, which showed the nation added a dismal 69,000 jobs in May, won't help.
Mark S. Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said Mr. Obama would be in trouble if he loses Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Minnesota or Wisconsin, which are generally viewed as friendly Democratic turf.
But that's not likely, Mr. Mellman said. He predicts the president is headed for at least 300 electoral votes — more than enough to win.
"Obama has a lot more routes to 270 than Romney does, and as a mathematical matter, the more routes you have, the more likely you are to get there," he said. "If Romney doesn't win Ohio or Florida, it is very hard for him to get there. In fact, it is very hard for him to get there without winning both Ohio and Florida."
Both of those states offer Mr. Romney potential running mates — Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — and both states have proved to be crucial to successful White House bids in recent elections.
If Al Gore had picked up 537 more votes in Florida in the 2000 election, he would have bested George W. Bush. Four years later, the two states arguably stuck a fork in John Kerry's presidential dreams.
Today, Robert T. Bennett, Ohio GOP chairman, said there are signs that Mr. Obama is losing ground in Ohio — particularly among independents and voters in Appalachian coal country who backed him in 2008.
That is part of the reason why he thinks the race there is shaping up more to be like 2004, when Mr. Bush won the state, than 2008, when Mr. Obama turned it blue. "But it is going to be a dogfight," Mr. Bennett said. "I don't kid myself."
The latest Realclearpolitics.com average of polls shows Mr. Obama leading in Ohio, where he kicked off his re-election bid last month. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, holds a razor-thin advantage in Florida.
"Florida is by every account a dead heat," said Susan MacManus, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida. "The [Interstate 4] corridor is going to be critical again, and so is the South Florida area, with regards to Hispanic voters and, to a lesser extent, the Jewish vote."
Brian Moran, chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, said the political world should keep an eye on what happens in the Old Dominion, where Mr. Obama in 2008 swung the state into the Democratic column for the first time in 44 years.
"It is no exaggeration that Virginia is the battleground," Mr. Moran said, arguing that this president's fate is likely tied to how well he performs in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. "There are very few scenarios that demonstrate that either of the candidates can win without Virginia."
Mr. Priebus, meanwhile, offered his theory in a conference call with reporters last week. He said the mystery of who will win the presidential election could be solved in Wisconsin this week in the outcome of Mr. Walker's recall election. A Walker win, Mr. Priebus predicted of his fellow Wisconsinite, will make it harder for Mr. Obama to carry the state.
"Certainly, if Wisconsin goes red, it is lights out for Obama. So clearly putting Wisconsin in the red column for the first time since 1984 is a pretty big deal," he said.
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