Romney's bus tour: The 4 things you need to know

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney walks to his bus after a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Friday, June 8, 2012.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney walks to his bus after a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Friday, June 8, 2012.

(CBS News) Mitt Romney sets out today on a five-day, six-state bus tour being billed as the "Every Town Counts" tour- his first traditional campaign swing since becoming presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Here's what you need to know:

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, according to CBS News elections director Anthony Salvanto, Romney will have "to roll back Mr. Obama's margins in Philadelphia's more affluent suburbs, appeal to the more conservative voters of western Pennsylvania, make inroads with the older voters who were a tossup in 2008, and keep the GOP's edge among white working-class voters." His stop on this trip is designed to help that process; polls currently show Mr. Obama with a high single-digit lead in the state.

Ohio, of course, is the battleground to end all battlegrounds - there's a reason the two candidates held dueling speeches there on Thursday. Polls show the race for Ohio's 18 electoral votes essentially tied; Romney's best hope here is to point to the still-struggling economy to convince the state's sizable working-class voter block that Mr. Obama needs to go. While Mr. Obama won Iowa handily in 2008, polls show that state very tight as well; the president won one in five conservatives in the Hawkeye State last time around, and it's far from clear he can replicate that relative success.

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 Republican Gov. Scott Walker's recent recall election victory there. 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 told CBS News earlier this week. Not helping his cause: A 2008 op-ed by Romney that was given the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

The veep auditions: Three of the people being discussed as potential running mates for Romney plan to campaign with him on the bus trip: Sen. Kelly Ayotte will campaign with Romney in New Hampshire, Sen. Rob Portman will join him in Ohio, and Rep. Paul Ryan will campaign with him in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin. Political watchers - and the Romney campaign - will be watching closely to see how well each performs as a surrogate for the presumptive nominee.

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 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."