2012 Race Down to Seven Battleground States?

While the news media is focused on sixteen battleground states, the professionals running the Obama and Romney campaigns are focused on a much narrower list.

While the news media is focused on sixteen battleground states, the professionals running the Obama and Romney campaigns are focused on a much narrower list.

Politico’s Morning Score has published and Burns & Haberman draw attention to a PowerPoint presentation from Romney’s pollster which identifies seven battlegrounds:

Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies* prepared a PowerPoint for bundlers on polling. His points: The political environment is ripe for a Mitt win because Americans are dissatisfied with opportunities for the next generation. The president’s job approval remains below 50%. His approval in May of his reelection year puts him on the bubble – the 47 percent May approval matches George Bush in 2004 and Gerald Ford in 1976. The most recent polling shows a tight contest. Mitt has tied down the GOP base. The pollster says the route to 270 for Romney goes through these states (and identifies polling from each): Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball thinks it’s a big deal that adding those seven states to McCain’s 2008 haul only brings Romney to 260 Electors, 10 short of the magic 270. But it’s not; as she notes, nobody thinks Obama is going to win Indiana again–and North Carolina looks incredibly unlikely, too.  Newhouse’s brief is aimed at big money donors, not schoolchildren.

A National Journal report (“How Obama Views the Electoral Map“) from Tuesday shows that the incumbent sees a similar landscape.

Included in Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina’s short video Monday to supporters, a plea to not panic despite tightening polls and worsening economic reports, was a quick glimpse (as The Hill’s Christian Heinze captured in a screen grab) at how the White House sizes up the electoral map. It didn’t deviate much from the map most pundits assemble, and, of course, whether this deliberately publicized map actually represents the Obama campaign’s thinking is uncertain.

But it nonetheless was an interesting data point as analysts try to assess which states will be presidential battlegrounds in the fall. Here are three reasons why: Pundits have debated which traditionally blue state –  18 of them and the District of Columbia have been Democratic every presidential election since 1992 -  might be poised to turn red. Well, the map likely tips the White House’s hand: It’s Wisconsin. The Badger State is the only one the Obama campaign classifies as undecided, not other potentially Romney-friendly places like Michigan or Pennsylvania .


The Obama campaign views two oft-discussed battlegrounds, Arizona and Nevada, as leaning in opposite directions: Arizona toward Romney, Nevada toward Obama.

Arizona was always a longshot for the president, but in-state Democrats and the Obama campaign hyped it earlier this year as a possible showdown state because of its soaring Latino population. But if Chicago puts Arizona in the same lean-right category as Indiana and Missouri, two states nobody predicts will be competitive, then the Obama operation might be content to drop any pretense the campaign will seriously compete there.

Nevada, meanwhile, is a dead-heat, according to the latest NBC News/Marist poll. The state’s Hispanic population no doubt tilts it to the left – part of the reason Majority Leader Harry Reid won re-election – but it’s still generally seen as a top 2012 swing state. Most pundits group it with Colorado, a state Obama calls a toss-up.

Obama can’t let go of North Carolina. Maybe the president doesn’t want to admit defeat where his party will hold its convention, or perhaps his unexpected 2008 victory remains fresh on his mind. Whatever the reason for Obama’s optimism in the Tar Heel State, he’ll still face an unsparing bottom-line: He won the state by only 14,000 votes four years ago, the high-point of his popularity.

Even as the state’s college-educated and minority populations – two groups favorable toward Obama – continue to grow, the extra cushion they provide seems unlikely to give the president enough of a list. It’s why The New York Times, for instance, says the state leans Republican.

Updated 2:00 p.m.: 

Romney pollster Neil Newhouse e-mails to say that in addition to Wisconsin, the Obama campaign acknowledged for the first time that New Hampshire was a toss-up.”It’s what Messina didn’t say about that map behind him that I found most interesting – Wisconsin and New Hampshire toss-ups,” Newhouse said. “That’s new. Correct, but new.”

The current RealClearPolitics map, which tops this post, has states with 237 Electoral votes strongly in the Obama column and only 170 strongly in the Romney column. That means Romney has to pick up 100 of the 131 toss-ups or somehow snatch one of the states already in the Obama column.

The RCP tossups, arranged in order of potential votes: Florida (29), Ohio (18) North Carolina (15), Virginia (12), Arizona (11), Missouri (10), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Iowa (6), and New Hampshire (4).

RCP’s ratings are based on their average of the national polls. Presumably, Team Romney is confident that North Carolina or Missouri will fall their way, taking them over the top if they win the seven states highlighted in the presentation. That strikes me as a given. That is, while my sense remains that this race is still Obama’s to lose, I simply can’t imagine a scenario in which Romney wins Florida, Ohio, and Virginia yet loses North Carolina and Missouri. For that matter, I can’t imagine a scenario in which Romney loses Florida or Virginia and yet wins enough other states to reach 270.

*Full disclosure (again): My late wife was Chief Operating Officer at POS until her death last November and Newhouse was her boss for some seventeen years. He’s also a family friend. For rather obvious reasons, he doesn’t share campaign insights with me and we have not discussed this briefing or, indeed, very much about this race. 

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Environment, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Seven states does sound about right. I would argue for a slightly different list of states, but that’s mostly neither here nor there.

    It’s not out of the question that we get a repeat of 2004 and 2000, of sorts, in that the election might come down to one state. Could be Iowa. Could be Virginia. Maybe Wisconsin. I doubt Florida. Possibly Ohio. Theoretically Colorado. The talking mannequins on cable TV will have meltdowns. Could get ugly in a hurry. I guess I’ll watch it, for the same reasons that I rubberneck at car crashes.

    Were I a betting man (which of course I am), I would say right now that Obama probably will eke out a very tiny victory. Perhaps ironically enough by the margin of evangelical Protestants who don’t bother voting. If the job market continues disintegrating over the summer and early fall, however, then the proverbial clock probably will strike midnight.

  2. Nikki says:

    Despite Walker’s win, Wisconsin will not be a swing state.

  3. Jay Dubbs says:

    You can create an even tighter lean/toss-up list. Probably like this:

    Lean Obama – Ohio (18); Virginia (12); Wisconsin (10); Colorado (9); and New Hampshire (4).

    Lean Romney – North Carolina (15), Arizona (11), and Missouri (10)

    True toss-up – Florida (29); Nevada (6); Iowa (6),

    Obama only needs 33 EVs, so in addition to winning all of his leans and toss-ups, Romney has to pluck Ohio or Virginia and then grab one of the other three. I would hate to live in one of these states over the next six months. (As I do.)

  4. Nikki says:

    @Jay Dubbs: I don’t live in any of those states, but I live in the DC Metro area which includes portions of Virginia, so I will get punished just as much as you.

  5. André Kenji de Sousa says:

    To me, the election goes down to two states: Ohio and Nevada. If Romney loses Ohio he has lost the whole rustbelt with the exception of Indiana, if he loses Nevada he loses Colorado and New Mexico. It´s over if he loses both these states.

  6. jan says:

    The NYT has another, much more competitve electoral map, showing Obama with 217 & Romney with 206, 115 being the toss-up number.

  7. jan says:

    Given the animosity of the liberals towards republicans, coupled with the growing numbers of people who have created stronger dependency ties with government programs under Obama, I think Obama has the edge.

    However, given the rolling thunder of the usually quiet ‘silent majority,’ I may over estimate Obama’s drawing power, while, at the same time, under estimating the power of the people’s frustration towards an overreaching government.

  8. Jay Dubbs says:

    @Jan @jan: Pennsylvania as a toss-up is the continual GOP mirage. (There will also be a point that someone says New Jersey is in play.) Neither will be true absent a dramitic shift. Add PA’s 20 EVs and you get Obama’s 237.

  9. mantis says:

    However, given the rolling thunder of the usually quiet ‘silent majority,’

    Now that is some serious nonsense there.

  10. Scott O. says:


    Given the animosity of the liberals towards republicans

    Oh you poor victim.

  11. brad hamilton says:

    I learned many years ago that charm trumps brains and if you are liked, you have an edge.

    Obama will eke out a win (ceterus paribus) because it will quite frankly boil down in a tight race to “likeability’.

    Every election (other than 1972) since FDR, the more likeable candidate wins.

    Screw all the scenarios about EV, Florida this, Ohio that……I thought it was a lock for Gore to win….wrong….or Carter v Reagan….wrong.

    If the wisconsin candidates for Governor had swapped, the Dems win the recall easily as the Dem candidate was HORRIBLE.

  12. jan says:

    @Scott O.:

    “Given the animosity of the liberals towards republicans”

    Oh you poor victim.

    Commenting on liberal animosity towards republicans is an observation, due to it’s common occurrence. Just look at the threats tweeted to Walker, after he won. Did you listen to Schultz’s performance dealing with the election? Come on, Scott, rise above the sarcasm.

    Here’s an article from The Guardian —>Why working class people vote conservative

    ….on matters relating to group loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity (treating things as sacred and untouchable, not only in the context of religion), it sometimes seems that liberals lack the moral taste buds, or at least, their moral “cuisine” makes less use of them. For example, according to our data, if you want to hire someone to criticise your nation on a radio show in another nation (loyalty), give the finger to his boss (authority), or sign a piece of paper stating one’s willingness to sell his soul (sanctity), you can save a lot of money by posting a sign: “Conservatives need not apply.”

  13. warren says:

    Romney is now ahead in Michigan, if he wins there and he wins NC as expected and Ohio where he is is ahead, and pulls it out in Florida which has been red more that blue, and where the majority of Hispanics are Cuban and Puerto Rican, two conservative Latino groups for who immigration reform is not an issue he gets 269 votes, Mr. Obama wins the rest the US House will give the election to MItt,

  14. Scott O. says:

    @jan: You’re right Jan. Commentary from Republicans is always so polite and honorable. Liberals do nothing but call people names. I apologize for the sarcasm.

  15. jan says:

    @Scott O.:

    “Liberals do nothing but call people names.”

    Ah, a quotable comment. Thanks!

  16. Jeremy R says:


    Despite Walker’s win, Wisconsin will not be a swing state.

    I agree, but I think the Obama camp would love it if the GOP leaning SuperPACs think it is.

  17. Kinky Beats says:


    That’s a lot of wishful thinking on your part right now. Sure, one recent poll has Romney up by 1% in Michigan. However, if you take the aggregate of all the recent polls for Michigan, Obama is up around 5%.

    The same goes for Ohio. If you want to believe one Rasmussen poll, Romney is up. If you want to take the aggregate of all recent polls, Obama is up about 2%.

  18. Ron Beasley says:

    @warren: Romney is up in Michigan in the latest Epic-MRA poll. That is the only poll that has shown Romney ahead in Michigan and has done so for months.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    Come on, Scott, rise above the sarcasm.

    I suppose he could if you could rise above your delusions…

  20. superdestroyer says:

    Anyone with any knowledge in politics should be able to look at that map and realize that Romney is not going to win. Bush did not have to use resources to win Virginia in 2000 or 2004. Now the Republicans are going to have to come from behind.

    I guess taking about Romney beats posting about police, governance, or even the House and Senate races.

  21. racehorse says:

    North Carolina would have to be considered very firm for Romney, probably breaking about the same as the recent gay marriage amendment vote percentages; maybe a little less. Obama blew any chance of North Carolina with his endorsement.

  22. Ron Beasley says:

    I’m not going to predict who will win in November – five months is a really long time in this unstable world. What I do know is that neither Obama or Romney is going to be able to fix the current economic problems. We have a new floor for oil prices – something north of $80 bbl. At that level the days of anything over 2% economic growth are history. The worlds financial system itself is insolvent – trillions of dollars were loaned to individuals and governments that were never going to re payed.. Too Big To Fail Banks are going to fail because the resources are not there to bail them out. When they fail it will be painful but it’s necessary.