The Path Without Ohio
Romney’s odds are dramatically improving, but finally showing a lead in Ohio would be huge.


Jim Geraghty

New Hampshire seemed like a prime state for a Republican win this year, with a dramatic swing in favor of the GOP in the 2010 midterms and the sense that Obama’s 2008 victory was driven heavily by Bush fatigue, not any particular affection for Obama. (Recall Obama’s surprise defeat in the Democratic primary there in 2008.) In fact, Romney led almost all of the head-to-head polls against Obama . . . in 2011. But once the race began in earnest this year and Romney found himself under attack, first from primary rivals and then from the Obama campaign, his numbers slid to the mid to low 40s, and Obama enjoyed a steady lead. However, in the most recent surveys, Romney was tied in Rasmussen and ahead by four in American Research Group. While it would be nice to see more polls conducted up there, Romney probably enjoys a small lead in the Granite State at the moment.

Add all of the above to the McCain states, along with Indiana (Obama’s razor-thin victory among Hoosiers last cycle is now dismissed as a fluke) and the one electoral vote in Nebraska that Obama won in 2008, and Romney is at 261 electoral votes, just nine short of what he needs to win the presidency.

But the path to those final nine electoral votes could be tough without Ohio.

Undoubtedly, the addition of Paul Ryan to the ticket has helped Romney’s prospects in Wisconsin. But Romney has led only two of the 21 polls conducted in this state since the end of June. The good news for Romney and Ryan is that Obama’s lead has shrunk, to only two or three percentage points in the three most recent polls, and the Obama campaign clearly feels the need to defend this state, which is why Obama did a rally here immediately after the first presidential debate. Unfortunately for Romney, a razor-thin defeat in a state the opposition usually wins handily gets you the same number of electoral votes as a blowout loss: zero.

Without Ohio or Wisconsin, Romney would need to win both Nevada and Iowa, a task that appears difficult, at least at this moment.

Taking the lead in Nevada has proven surprisingly difficult for the Romney campaign, considering the state’s obliterated housing market and high unemployment; Romney has led only one poll in Nevada the entire year. But the tightening seen in nationwide polls has occurred in this state as well, as only one of the past five polls has shown an Obama lead greater than 2 percentage points. Jon Ralston, Nevada’s most sharp-eyed political correspondent, notes that Democrats have a registered-voter advantage of 85,000 — down from the 100,000-voter advantage they enjoyed in 2008, but still considerable. While Romney is likely to enjoy a high Mormon turnout and possibly an advantage among independents, he still has an uphill climb in this state.

In Iowa, Obama’s lead seems small but steady — two percentage points in Rasmussen, four points in the Des Moines Register, four points in WeAskAmerica. Democrats are touting an advantage in early voting; according to the Iowa secretary of state’s office, 376,200 ballots — including 111,877 from Republicans and 181,026 from Democrats — had been requested as of October 10. Republicans have returned 50,032 ballots, while Democrats have turned in 101,613. But clearly the Obama campaign doesn’t consider this state safe; Obama is expected to campaign in Iowa Wednesday.

With Romney’s current surge in the polls, he’s very close to the threshold of 270 electoral votes, and a pair of populous states usually considered safely Democratic — Michigan and Pennsylvania — have been surprisingly close for the last week, close enough for Real Clear Politics to move both to “toss up” status. But if Romney cannot win Ohio, it’s difficult to imagine him winning either of those two neighboring states, which are traditionally more Democratic than the Buckeye State.

The conventional wisdom on the race has changed dramatically in the past ten days, but a consistent lead for Romney in Ohio would make him a genuine favorite to win on Election Day.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.