With just seven weeks to go until voters cast their ballots, the electoral map has become a lot smaller, whittled down to just a handful of states that will determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.
A new crop of state polls show President Barack Obama gaining an edge in these battlegrounds, as his Republican opponent Mitt Romney struggles to overcome a series of campaign stumbles and a firestorm of criticism over his now-famous 47-per cent comment.
In reality, the race is far from over. Most polling remains within the margin of error, and a number of factors — including the upcoming debates and Romney’s huge cash advantage — could turn the tables in the race several times over by November 6.
Both campaigns will spend the next 46 days doubling down in the eight remaining battleground states, plodding out the path that will give their candidate the best shot at getting the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
But not all of swing states are created equal. Ultimately, the race could come down to just five states that have the potential to put either candidate over the top.
Here’s the breakdown:
A perennial bellwether state, it is difficult to imagine a path to 270 for either candidate that doesn’t include the Buckeye State. For the President in particular, the state is a must-win: If he wins, than he can afford to cede ground to Romney in other major battlegrounds; conversely, if Obama can’t win Ohio, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which he makes up the electoral votes in states where his polling has been much less solid.
But Romney isn’t giving up Ohio without a fight. His campaign announced Thursday that the Republican nominee and his running mate, Paul Ryan, will embark on a three-day bus tour relay that will stop in each of the state’s major media markets. Also, no Republican president has ever won the election without Ohio, a fact you will likely hear 589,000 more times between now and Election Day.
Electoral College Votes: 18
RealClearPolitics Polling Average: Obama +4.8 (48.6% to 43.8%)
As the biggest swing state, Florida is the real prize on the electoral college map this year. Obama won Florida by two points in 2008, but the state’s poor economic and demographic factors appeared to favour Republicans this election cycle. Still, Obama has so far held his ground in Florida polling — which is bad news for Romney, who has virtually no shot at winning the election if he doesn’t win Florida. Conversely, if Obama wins Florida, he would only have to pick up one or two other battleground states to get to 270.
Electoral Votes: 29
RCP Average: Obama +2.1 (48.1% to 46%)
Recent polls in Virginia have shown a boost for Obama in the wake of the Democratic National Convention, held in neighbouring North Carolina. For Romney, Virginia is almost a critical as Florida: If he loses both Ohio and Virginia, he would have to pick up every other battleground state including Florida, and even then, the race could end in a tie. But polling in the state has been erratic, so Republicans could still have a real shot at winning here.
Electoral Votes: 13
RCP Average: Obama + 4.7 (50.2% to 45.5%)
It is difficult to predict the outcome in Colorado, a once-reliably Republican state that handed Obama 9-point win in 2008. Republicans outnumber Democrats in registration numbers, but the demographic shifts that favoured Obama in 2008 have continued over the past four years. As a result, the race will depend largely on the Obama campaign’s ability to turn out young and Hispanic voters, whose enthusiasm has fallen off considerably, and on winning over the sizable number of independent voters who could swing the state. But success could be the decider for either candidate, so expect an all-out battle in Colorado this fall.
Electoral Votes: 9
RCP Average: Obama +2 (47.8% to 45%)
A traditionally left-leaning state, Wisconsin was unexpectedly thrown into the swing state mix this year after Republicans rallied to defend Gov. Scott Walker against a recall this June. The addition of native son Paul Ryan to the ballot has given the GOP a further boost in the Badger State, and Romney has benefited from the robust organisation left over from the recall. The Obama campaign, which had long considered Wisconsin safe, has scrambled to build up field operations, but some polling suggests the president could be vulnerable if Romney gains momentum.
Electoral Votes: 10
RCP Average: Obama +7 (51.2% to 44.2%)
With three debates on the horizon, the electoral map still has time to shift. But for the next two weeks at least, these are the states where the real action will be going down.