How Romney could survive a loss in Ohio or Virginia
But of the eight states that likely will decide the presidential race, Ohio and Virginia are the ones most frequently cited by Republican strategists (in private conversations) as worrisome for Mitt Romney heading into the campaign's final dash.
"Their biggest concern right now is: How do they win Ohio and Virginia?" one GOP strategist said, echoing comments made by several other national Republicans outside of the Romney campaign. "They've got an issue with those two states."
Obama leads in Ohio by 4.8 percent and in Virginia by 4.7 percent, according to the latest RealClearPolitics polling averages.
There are many reasons why Romney's climb looks steeper in these two states than it does in other battlegrounds, but at the heart of the matter is a perception that the economies in both are rebounding faster than is the case elsewhere.
It is a sentiment that has been highlighted by the Republican governors in the two states, each of whom has had to balance touting the economic improvement under his own leadership while being careful not to credit Obama.
"We had lost 400,000 jobs -- our people were hurting, and our families were hurting as a result of the recession," Ohio's John Kasich said at the Republican National Convention. "But when we came to power with my colleagues in the legislature, we took our problems head-on."
Virginia's current unemployment rate of 5.9 percent is well below the national average of 8.1 percent, and Ohio's 7.2 percent rate is buttressed by renewed economic activity surrounding a revived American automobile industry. The latter comes on the heels of the bailout championed by Obama early in his term -- a rescue that Romney opposed.
"You can't have Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan chastising the president and his record for a high unemployment rate at a national level and not give him credit for a lower rate in certain states," said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. "You can't have it both ways."
Amid the daily barrage of often contradictory swing-state polling, the two campaigns agree that Ohio and Virginia remain tightly contested, and each side continues to expend financial resources, deploy field operatives, and utilize the candidates' time in both states on a scale perhaps unsurpassed elsewhere.
There is a scenario whereby Romney could eke out an Electoral College win while suffering defeats in both states, but he would have to run the table in the other six tossups, including Wisconsin, which had been viewed as leaning firmly in Obama's direction until native son Ryan was added to the GOP ticket. (The president currently holds a 6.4 percentage point lead there, according to the RCP Average.)
A more likely strategy for Romney to survive, should he lose Ohio, would be for him to hang onto Virginia and then pick off either Iowa or Wisconsin -- states Obama won by double digits in 2008.
Iowa affords a relatively modest six electoral votes to the winner but has been a major focus of the Obama campaign lately. (The RCP Average shows the president with a razor-thin 0.2 percent lead.) He took a three-day bus tour of the state last month and Vice President Biden has also traveled there frequently.
"No matter how you slice and dice the electoral map, Iowa remains a vital state to Obama's strategy, and many believe he can't return to the White House without winning here," said Tim Albrecht, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's communications director. "For the Romney campaign, Iowa opens up additional avenues. If any big state were to suddenly turn downward on them for any variety of reasons, the Wisconsin-Iowa pickup can make up that difference."
Recent polling suggests that Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes are a more difficult target for Romney than Iowa's six. And even if the GOP nominee wins both, their combined total of 16 electoral votes falls short of Ohio's 18.
Still, with so much recent variance in the state polls and uncertainty over how the race will play out in the coming weeks, national Republicans believe Romney could win the presidency by expanding the map in the Upper Midwest should it contract in either Ohio or Virginia.
In a sign that the Obama campaign is also taking that scenario seriously, the president is scheduled to travel to Wisconsin on Saturday for his first campaign event there this year.
"President Obama still has major problems in Ohio -- he is under 50 percent there and has vulnerabilities on energy and the economy that are preventing him from getting to a majority," said Republican National Committee spokesman Tim Miller. "That said, it is underappreciated among political commentators that adding Wisconsin [to the Romney win column] creates a number of plausible paths to victory that don't include Ohio."
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