Boston — Romney officials tell National Review Online that the campaign is focused on two key states as Election Day nears: Ohio and Pennsylvania. They believe that they are competitive in Ohio, but should it drift away, they’re looking at Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes as a possible substitute for the Buckeye State. “We have got to win one of those two states and do well everywhere else,” a Romney adviser says. “We’re still pushing in Ohio, but it’s unpredictable. Pennsylvania, however, is really in play.”
Romney’s final-day schedule reflects his strategy. On Tuesday, he will campaign in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Cleveland, Ohio, according to campaign aides. “Pennsylvania is one of the states where the president is under 50 percent,” says Kevin Madden, a Romney aide. “In the western part of the state, near Pittsburgh, there is a large coal economy and the president is losing support there. We are confident that the governor can do well in that area and in the Philadelphia suburbs, especially with independents.”
Yet as Pennsylvania rises, Ohio continues to be an uphill battle for Romney. He’s heading to Cleveland, part of a manufacturing region in northeast Ohio, hoping to win over disgruntled blue-collar workers in the final hours. “We’re doing everything we can, but I don’t see a lot in Ohio that points to a clear Republican victory,” says a Romney insider. “The president has been hammering us for months,” and the auto bailout is popular.
It’s been over a century since a Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, but Romney advisers are confident that they can figure out a path to 270 electoral votes should Ohio and its 18 electoral votes go blue. For example, if Ohio falls, but Romney wins Wisconsin (ten electoral votes) and Colorado (nine electoral votes), he could make up the difference. It won’t be easy, but Romney advisers remain optimistic.
As Romney strategists look at the electoral map, they keep a series of numbers in mind. They start at 191 electoral votes and then add on states from there.
191 — This is the number of electoral votes that Romney is virtually guaranteed. It’s his rock bottom. This number includes the states John McCain won four years ago plus Indiana, which both parties acknowledge will almost certainly flip back to the GOP.
220 — Florida is the one big swing state where Romney advisers feel confident. The housing crisis and sagging economy have hurt Obama’s numbers, and Romney has an impressive ground game. If you add Florida’s 29 electoral votes to Romney’s bedrock, you get to 220 — 50 votes away from the presidency.
235 — The Democrats may have held their convention in Charlotte, but Romney advisers say that North Carolina is undoubtedly moving to the GOP. Romney’s internal poll numbers are solid there. Boston’s high command is confident that come Tuesday, they’ll win the Tar Heel State’s 15 electoral votes.
239 — Romney has a summer home in New Hampshire, and he will hold one of his last rallies of the campaign in Manchester on Monday night. Romney’s team, including former Granite State governor John Sununu, believes that he is poised to pick up its four electoral votes.
252 — Northern Virginia is populated with thousands of liberal Democrats, but in the southwestern region (coal country) and the southeastern region (military bases), there is a cohesive Republican base. Romney advisers think that strong turnout in those areas will result in a victory — and 13 more electoral votes.
270+ — A win in Ohio (18 electoral votes) would give Romney the White House. A loss in Ohio and a win in Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) would do the same. Other non-Ohio paths are Wisconsin-based. If you’re at 252 and you lose Ohio but win Wisconsin (ten electoral votes), you’re still eight electoral votes away from 270. In that situation, Colorado (9 electoral votes) becomes critical. Romney advisers are also crossing their fingers about Iowa (6 electoral votes) as a possible pickup.
In the end, Romney advisers expect a very close race. They say the president and Romney could each end up with over 250 electoral votes. The looming question is whether Romney’s strong close (raucous rallies, well-reviewed debates) will edge him closer to victory in states such as Virginia, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
If Romney can put away McCain’s states plus Virginia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Florida, he’s only one state away (Ohio) from the presidency. That’s why he’s heading there on Tuesday. It’s almost become a cliché to say it, but Ohio remains the state that will probably decide his fate, and Romney advisers don’t necessarily disagree.
After nearly 30,000 people showed up in the cold on Sunday in the Philadelphia suburbs to root for the GOP nominee, Romney advisers are far from ready to concede anything. They believe the big crowds and national polls show real heat behind Romney’s candidacy, and they hope that they will get just enough of a boost to prevail in the Rust Belt.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.