How Romney could survive a loss in Ohio or Virginia

Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraising event in Atlanta, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

(CBS News) One is a state that every successful Republican presidential candidate has won since 1856. The other was considered a "safe" stronghold for modern GOP White House hopefuls as recently as 2004.

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.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.