(CBS News) Mitt Romney sets out today on a five-day, six-state bus tour being billed as
About that name: Well, maybe not every town. Romney's bus tour, which begins in New Hampshire and ends in Michigan, will see him skipping five states along the way: Massachusetts (where he has a home in Belmont), Connecticut, New York, Indiana and Illinois.
It's relatively obvious why he is skipping four of those states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Illinois are solidly blue territory, and presidential candidates rarely come to states that are not in play unless they're engaged in fundraising. (That may not be fair, but unless the movement to have the national popular vote replace the Electoral College system succeeds, it's not going to change.) That leaves us with Indiana, which Mr. Obama won by one percentage point in 2008.
You would think the close result would mean Romney would want to spend time in Indiana to flip it back to his side. Yet the consensus is that he may not need to bother. The Obama campaign itself says the state, which offers 11 electoral votes, leans Republican, and political observers don't disagree.
"2008 is about as strong a Democratic year as you're ever going to get," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who has Indiana listed as likely Republican. He adds: "You almost automatically put the Democratic squeakers in 2008 in the Republican column in 2012."
Les Lenkowsky, professor in public policy school at Indiana University, said Mr. Obama won Indiana by investing heavily in five counties - three that have large universities, and two that have large black populations. His campaign also spent enough in the rest of the state to - just barely - keep the GOP advantage elsewhere small enough that they could squeak out a victory.
It was "a very shrewd strategy," he said, but it's not likely to work again.
"It's not at all clear that he's going to get the enthusiasm among the college and university towns that he got three years ago," said Lenkowsky, who says the enthusiasm this year seems to be on the Republican side. "I suspect the Obama people feel their success in keeping down their margin of defeat in those 87 other counties is not easily replicable."
So where's he going?: After kicking things off in New Hampshire, Romney heads to Pennsylvania on Saturday, Ohio on Sunday, Wisconsin and Iowa on Monday, and Michigan on Tuesday. Polls show President Obama with a lead in New Hampshire, but Romney owns a summer home there and used to govern nearby Massachusetts; the state's four electoral votes are considered very much in play, particularly in light of its propensity to flip between red and blue.
Mr. Obama won Pennsylvania easily in 2008, and Democrats have taken the state in every election since 1992. But Romney has his eye on the state's 20 electoral votes, in part because of the president's struggles with white working-class voters. To win the state,
Ohio, of course, is the battleground to end all battlegrounds - there's a reason the two candidates held
Wisconsin is a steeper hill to climb for Romney, though it's by no means out of reach. Republicans have talked up their chances in the state in the wake of controversial Republicanthere. Exit polls from that contest showed that voters still favored Mr. Obama, who won the state by 14 points in 2008. But polls show only a slight lead for Mr. Obama at the moment, and Romney and his allies would love to flip the state's ten electoral votes.
The choice of Michigan, meanwhile, is a bit of a head scratcher. While one recent poll showed the state tied, every other poll this year has shown Mr. Obama with a clear advantage. One factor boosting Romney is the fact that he grew up in Michigan, where his father George Romney was both the governor and a prominent auto executive. But while Romney says he will visit the state repeatedly, it hasn't gone red in 24 years, and most political observers say he has little chance to take it.
"Unless some issue pops up that really seems to be a northern Midwest issue with a Republican advantage on it, I don't really see Michigan being in play on the presidential level," Calvin College political science professor Douglas Koopman. Not helping his cause: A 2008 op-ed by Romney that was
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The counterattack: Romney's message on the bus trip, where he will interact with small-town voters in picturesque settings, is that Mr. Obama "has paid little attention to the everyday concerns of the American people," having offered them "no hope for the future." To counter that message - and insert their response into local news coverage of Romney's stops - the Democratic National Committee has planned its own bus tour, which it says will point to Romney's policies that "throw Middle Class Americans under the bus." The Democratic bus (which the president will not be aboard) will show up in most locations a day ahead of Romney, bringing with it officials from Massachusetts and local surrogates to criticize the former Massachusetts governor. Labor groups and MoveOn.org also plan to make sure there are protesters outside each of Romney's speeches, and Moveon will follow around the Romney bus in "the Romneymobile--a Cadillac with NASCAR-style decals and a dog on top."