What to Watch For
Since all the public opinion polls and experts are predicting a close race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney Tuesday, it might be worthwhile to highlight a few things to look for as Election Day and Election Night unfold.
Early on, watch the state of Pennsylvania. Mitt Romney is making a late play for Pennsylvania and we should know early in the evening if Republican interest in the state was a feint or an attempt to exploit a real opening. If Pennsylvania is close or Mr. Romney takes a lead, we’ll know they may have been on to something. If it goes the way it has since 1992 and veers into the Democratic column that would be good news for President Obama.
Obama Danger Signs
Keep an eye on Wisconsin. The state has voted Democratic in most recent elections, but it was close in 2000 and 2004. If Wisconsin turns into a nail-biter, that would be good news for the Romney campaign. Some of the recent polls have shown a somewhat substantial Obama lead. If that holds up, then the so-called “Midwest Firewall” constructed by the Obama campaign may hold and could get the president awfully close to the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to win the election.
Another one to watch in the East early in the evening is New Hampshire. If the president cruises to an easy win, that might mean a long night for Mitt Romney. But if the Romney camp can pull off a victory there, it might be a sign of success elsewhere.
Romney Danger Signs
It begins and may end with Ohio. Remember, no Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio. Ohio has voted for the winning candidate in 27 of the past 29 presidential elections, making it perhaps the foremost bellwether state in the nation. If President Obama gets off to a strong start in Ohio and is winning by a comfortable margin, that could be it for the Romney campaign. But if Mr. Romney can keep it close and hang on well into the night, it could be a sign that he was able to stage a late rally in Ohio.
Another state to watch is Virginia. Virginia went into the Obama column in 2008, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate carried the state since President Lyndon Johnson did it in 1964, the year of his big landslide. Polls have shown Virginia as perhaps the tightest state in this year’s election so a stronger than expected showing by either candidate could have major implications for some of the other battleground states.
In addition, unexpectedly poor showings by the Romney camp in either Florida or Colorado would be taken as bad news by Republicans. Especially Florida since most analysts believe Mitt Romney’s path to the White House MUST include the Sunshine State.
Swing State Breakdown
Let’s go with the conventional wisdom for a moment and accept the notion that 41 of the 50 states are already leaning one way or the other. You might want to be a little careful here since this count for the president includes Pennsylvania, where the Romney camp is apparently making its last minute play. But if you accept the basic model that 41 states are already spoken for, then that leaves nine swing states: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and North Carolina.
For the sake of argument, let’s move Nevada into the president’s column and North Carolina into Mr. Romney’s column since most of the experts believe that is where they will wind up. That gives the president a base of 243 electoral votes and Mr. Romney 206, leaving seven true swing states.
Ohio is Key
If you add Ohio’s 18 electoral votes to the president’s column, that puts him at 261. Add Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes and you get to 271 and he’s got another four years in the White House. Or even if Wisconsin goes to the Romney camp, Mr. Obama can still get his last 10 electoral votes by winning both Iowa (six) and New Hampshire (four).
For Mr. Romney, his best path to the White House includes winning Ohio. Add Ohio’s 18 votes to his base of 206, plus Florida where he is a slight favorite, and you get to 253 electoral votes. Add in nine from Colorado and 13 from Virginia and that puts Mr. Romney over the top at 275. Ohio is vital to both camps but the president’s stubborn lead is putting pressure on the Romney camp to find another path to 270 and that may explain their late gamble in Pennsylvania.
In every presidential election since 1960, the candidate who has won two out three among Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida has won the White House. It could be the barometer this year as well, though the three most contested states in 2012 appear to be Ohio, Virginia and Florida. The problem for Mr. Romney is he probably needs to win two out of those three while Mr. Obama might only need to win Ohio and he’s home free.