Over the past week, there has been a lot of debate over whether Mitt Romney really has the momentum going into Election Day, or whether it is just a lot of spin that reporters have bought from the Romney campaign.
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. Nationally, the race is still virtually tied, but since the first presidential debate, Romney has made big strides to close Obama’s lead in key swing states, particularly in the Big Three — Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. It’s not clear yet if Romney’s momentum has subsided, but it seems fair to say that this is going to be a very close race across the electoral map.
With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, the battle has narrowed to just eight states — Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, and New Hampshire — whose combined 95 electoral college votes will determine which candidate stacks up the 270 votes needed to win the race.
But not all of the swing states are created equal. Only a few states actually have the power to decide the election. Because of their recent polling and relative weight in the electoral college, these “tipping point states” — a term coined by New York Times polling guru Nate Silver — are the most likely to deliver the deciding vote that gets one of the candidates to the magic 270.
These are the states to watch on election night. Here’s a breakdown:
1. Ohio: The importance of Ohio in this year’s election cannot be overstated. Silver puts the state’s chances of tipping the election at a whopping 47%. Obama and Romney have basically moved to Ohio, and the campaigns have poured a combined $177 million into the state’s airwaves.
Presidential elections in Ohio have been incredibly close for the past two decades, and its safe to assume 2012 will be another nailbiter. Obama won Ohio with 51% of the vote in 2008 and maintains a slight advantage this year, but Romney has made steady gains in the polls this month. To win, the Republican nominee needs to drive down Obama’s 2008 margins in the state’s urban and suburban counties.
Electoral Votes: 18
Silver’s Tipping Point Rate: 49.8%
RCP Average: Obama + 2.1
One of the (many) scenarios in which Ohio is the decider:
2. Virginia: The third largest battleground in terms of electoral college votes, Virginia has eclipsed Florida as the second most likely state to decide the election. The presidential race in Virginia has been in a dead heat for weeks, although Mitt Romney has gained a slight edge since the first debate. Both campaigns are still pouring money into the state’s media markets, and building up extensive ground organisations to get out the vote in swing counties.
As long as Romney’s momentum continues, it seems pretty plausible that Virginia would decide the election. For example, if Romney wins Ohio and all of the battlegrounds where he is currently ahead (CO, FL, and NH), then the race will be decided in Virginia. And if the election were held today, that would be good news for Romney.
Electoral Votes: 13
Silver’s Tipping Point Rate: 9.9%
RCP Average: Romney +1.5
A plausible scenario in which Virginia is the decider:
3. Wisconsin: A relatively new battleground, Wisconsin is now one of the few races that has a decent shot at deciding the presidential race. (Silver’s tipping point scale puts Nevada above Wisconsin, but Obama seems to have a lock on Nevada, so we’re leaving it off this list for now.)
Wisconsin’s new importance may seem unlikely, given the state’s history of voting for Democrats in presidential elections. But consider this: If each candidate wins the other toss-up states where he is currently leading in the polls, Wisconsin would be the decider. (The map below illustrates.)
That’s good news for Obama, who has consistently lead Romney in Wisconsin polls. But Romney has closed the gap on the incumbent in recent weeks, and if his momentum continues — especially among white male voters — Wisconsin could be very close.
Electoral Votes: 10
Silver’s Tipping Point Rate: 8.5%
RCP Average: Obama +2.3
A plausible scenario in which Wisconsin is the decider:
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