Electoral map gives edge to Obama
By John Whitesides, Reuters
May 3, 2012, 11:41 am TWN
WASHINGTON -- The battle for the White House is still in its early, often silly stages — a time when issues such as the economy and national security can be overshadowed by spats over which candidate would be better for dogs.
But in the end, the Nov. 6 election between Democratic U.S. President Barack Obama and presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney will hinge on 10 politically divided states, nine of which Obama won when he defeated Republican John McCain in 2008.
The states range from former Republican strongholds such as North Carolina and Virginia to a few key battlegrounds — namely Ohio, Florida and Nevada — where a sputtering economy gives Romney a chance to break through. Pennsylvania, Colorado, Iowa, Arizona and New Hampshire also are up for grabs.
Obama dramatically expanded the political playing field for Democrats in 2008 by winning states such as Indiana that had not backed a Democratic presidential contender in a generation.
In this year's state-by-state race for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election, Obama is the early favorite in states that would give him 227 electoral votes. Romney leads in states that would give him 180.
That gives Obama larger room for error than Romney as the two wrestle for the 131 electoral votes at stake in the toss-up or "swing" states.
A state's electoral votes reflect its number of seats in Congress, most of which are based on population.
Larger states such as California (which has 55 electoral votes and likely will go for Obama) and Texas (which has 38 and is likely to back Romney) can be windfalls, but in close elections, narrowly divided states such as Ohio (18 votes) typically determine the outcome. All of the states except Maine and Nebraska award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who carries the state.
When Obama rolled up 365 electoral votes and nearly 53 percent of the popular vote to defeat McCain in 2008, Obama's personal ratings were strong and he did not have much of a record on spending, deficits and healthcare for foes to target.
But jobless rates above 8 percent, and public doubts about Obama's leadership on the economy and his landmark healthcare overhaul have helped push his approval ratings below 50 percent since then. That has put him at risk in several of the key states he won in 2008.
"Obama will be playing defense, but he has some ground that he can give up and still win," said Bruce Haynes of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan consulting firm that is conducting monthly opinion polls in swing states.
"To some extent, he's running a national triage operation, and he just can't lose too many patients," Haynes said. "He can lose a few states from 2008, but he has to have some firewalls."
How Romney Could Win
If Romney can hold all 22 of the states won by McCain in 2008, he could start his path to the White House by reclaiming Indiana and Virginia — which until Obama came along had not backed a Democrat in a presidential race since 1964 — and North Carolina, which had been reliably Republican since 1976.