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Prosperity in swing states may be key in presidential race

Economic advances in several hotly contested states, including Ohio and Virginia, could get Obama key electoral votes.

October 02, 2012|By Walter Hamilton, Los Angeles Times

At 14.3%, the state's percentage of mortgages in default was the highest in the nation in the first quarter of the year, according to IHS. Home prices won't reclaim their 2008 levels for almost a decade, the firm projects.

Florida is weighed down with an 8.8% jobless rate. Its construction industry, once employing nearly 700,000 workers, now counts barely more than 300,000.

The picture is far more sanguine in Virginia.

The state's 5.9% jobless rate is tied for 10th lowest in the country.

Virginia has been sustained by its heavy concentration of federal workers and the government's continued spending on defense contracting. The housing market has strengthened in the northern Virginia suburbs that ring Washington.

Still, incumbents always face the dual task of not only convincing swing-state voters that the outlook is brightening, both locally and nationally, but that their policies are responsible for it.

That may be especially tough for Obama this year because of the deeply bifurcated electorate. Many voters have already picked sides.

"There are so few undecided voters at this point," said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "People are pretty locked in."

The malaise in the national economy also is obscuring the progress made by individual states. Studies have shown that voters are swayed more by conditions nationally — in part because of the pervasive media coverage of broad U.S. issues — than by local circumstances.

Still, the economic advances of Ohio and Virginia may trump the other forces, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"The reason why President Obama is ahead in the projected electoral college is that he is ahead in two very important states," Brown said. "Ohio and Virginia are both doing better than the rest of the country, and it's very difficult for Romney to go to Ohio and Virginia and say the economy is not doing well and it's the president's fault."

walter.hamilton@latimes.com

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