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Analysis: Three states stand out in 2012 presidential election

May 18, 2012|By Paul West
  • President Obama, speaks at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, on April 25. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop in Wilmington, Del., on April 10.
President Obama, speaks at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, on April… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- The presidential candidates have just placed their opening bets, and three states stand out as keys to the 2012 election: Ohio, Virginia and, perhaps surprisingly, Iowa.

Romney’s first TV ad of the general election campaign, which debuts Friday, will air in four states, including Ohio, Virginia and Iowa. (Notably, it repeats his pledge to “end Obamacare,” the law based on his Massachusetts model).  The Romney campaign wouldn’t confirm the scope of the buy but didn’t wave off an attempt to confirm James Hohmann’s report in Politico, which listed that trio of states, plus North Carolina.  President Obama included Ohio, Virginia and Iowa in his most recent buy as well.

It is practically impossible for Romney to capture the presidency without carrying Ohio and Virginia.  Obama took both in 2008, and if he wins either again, he’s almost surely going to being reelected.

Of greater interest in the Romney buy, however, were the other states he’s hitting.

One is Iowa, an opportunity state for the Republican challenger. In addition to taking four larger states away from Obama (Ohio, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina), he also needs to carry at least one more smaller, Obama ‘08 state. The former governor made a campaign stop this week in Iowa, which went narrowly Republican in the 2004 presidential election, then swung to Obama in 2008.  Thanks in part to a rebound in the farm sector, the state’s economy is humming, with an unemployment rate, at 5.1%, among the lowest in the nation.  But Republicans made big strides in the 2010 election, recapturing the governor's mansion and gaining ground in the Legislature, and Romney clearly sees an opening.

The final state on Romney’s initial hit list, North Carolina, is the most intriguing of all.  For months, Obama aides have been saying that the president is competitive in the Tar Heel State, a claim that even some Democratic strategists have regarded, in private, with skepticism.  Obama carried it by just 14,000 votes (out of more 4.3 million cast) but a recent landslide vote to ban same-sex marriage was a reminder of the deeply conservative nature of much of the North Carolina electorate.

By putting ads up there (including Spanish-language radio), Romney appears to have validated the Obama camp’s optimism.  As mentioned above, it’s a must-win state for Romney, and if Obama carries it again, he’ll be reelected.

Both campaigns have talked about expanding the electoral map, and will continue to do so. But the easiest way to gauge their real intentions is to watch how they invest their most precious resources — money and the candidate’s time.

For now, at least, that makes Ohio (18 electoral votes), Virginia (13) and Iowa (6) the top-tier battlegrounds in the race for 270 electoral votes.   Two other Obama ad targets, Colorado (9) and Pennsylvania (20); and New Hampshire (4), where Romney is campaigning today; and North Carolina (15) rank just behind.  Florida (29), the largest and most expensive swing state, will likely join the list, rounding out the eight states where the 2012 presidential election will be decided.

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