Romney’s expand-the-map strategy: Opportunity or necessity?

Mitt Romney's campaign and its allies have now launched ads in four blue-leaning states with less than a week to go in the 2012 election.

The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future is the latest to join the expanding-the-map craze, launching a $1.8 million ad buy in Minnesota and New Mexico starting Wednesday, the PAC tells The Fix. Elsewhere, Republicans' spending has forced Democrats to match them dollar for dollar in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The moves are at once borne of opportunity, but also of necessity.

Here's why.

Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania. (Rich Schultz/AP)

Romney's campaign and its outside allies have money -- lots of it. In fact, they just might have more than they need for the nine states that have been the focus of ad spending so far.

And as viewers in all these swing states can attest, there are only so many political ads you can air in one media market, and many markets are becoming saturated.

In addition, at some point, the law of diminishing returns takes effect. Rather than spend that extra $1 million in expensive areas like Northern Virginia or Columbus only to have it lost in a bevy of campaign ads, why not take a flyer in Minnesota, where polls suggest an upset is possible -- if not likely?

The money also has the helpful side effect of making analysts like The Fix write about how Romney is expanding the map -- a sure sign of momentum. That may be less the case than the Romney folks want us all to believe, though it's clear that Romney has made up ground over the past four weeks in some or all of these states.

But while it's nice to be able to try and expand the map, in Romney's case, the move may be as much about what Romney needs to do as what he can do.

As we've written many times on this blog, the Electoral College math for Romney is, quite simply, very difficult.

According to the current Fix projections, Obama has 255 electoral votes either solidly in his column or leaning towards him (including Ohio's 18), while Romney has just 206. So assuming Obama wins Ohio, he would need to win just 15 of the 77 electoral votes in the toss-up states.

Even if you consider Ohio a toss-up, Obama only has to win 33 of the 95 electoral votes in toss-up states.

But if you add any of the four blue-leaning states above to the list of competitive states, Romney's chances improve significantly. Adding Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes would mean Obama needs to win 53 out of 115 electoral votes in toss-up states (including Ohio for the moment), adding Michigan's 16 votes would force Obama to win 49 out of 111, and adding Minnesota's 10 votes would force Obama to win 43 out of 105.

The Fix remains skeptical that any of these states will turn into toss-ups before Election Day, but if somehow they did, it would make the math much easier for Romney. And if he can't win Ohio, he needs to win in one or more of these states even more.

Romney doesn't absolutely need to add these states to the mix, but it's probably worth the effort at this point.

Romney super PAC going up in Minnesota, New Mexico: As noted above, Restore Our Future is taking its turn at expanding the map, launching a $1.8 million ad buy in Minnesota and New Mexico.

The ads will cycle between a positive spot on Romney helping find his business partner's missing teenage daughter and a negative spot hitting Obama's handling of the economy.

Minnesota has been looking more and more competitive in recent days, with one poll showing Romney within the margin of error. New Mexico has been basically ignored for the entire campaign, even though it went narrowly for President Bush in 2004.

Obama won New Mexico by 15 points in 2008 and figures to do well again, given the state's large Hispanic population. Most polling, including a recent Albuquerque Journal poll that had Obama up nine points, has shown Obama ahead by around double digits.

Mourdock poll shows virtual tie: Internal polling for Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's campaign shows he remains in a virtual tie with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) a week after Mourdock's controversial comments about rape and pregnancy.

The new numbers, shared with The Fix, put Mourdock at 45 percent and Donnelly at 44 percent. The pollster, McLaughlin and Associates, surveyed 600 likely voters on Monday and Tuesday.

Last week, a Mourdock internal poll put both men at 44 percent, while a Democratic poll showed Donnelly ahead by seven points.

The new poll shows Romney carrying the state 57 percent to 39 percent. 

Fixbits:

More expanding the map news: A Detroit News poll of Michigan shows Romney within the margin of error.

Romney ignores questions on his past position in favor of replacing FEMA with something from the private sector.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) keeps attacking Obama on Libya -- this time at a storm relief event in Ohio.

"Brownie" attacks Obama too -- on storm relief.

Obama's campaign says it is only making ad buys in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan because it wants to match any spending by Republicans.

Sandy's biggest electoral effect could be in the Philadelphia area.

New York may move some polling sites if existing locations can't be used on Nov. 6.

Early voting in Ohio proceeded apace before and after Sandy.

Fairfax County, a big Democratic area in Northern Virginia, re-opened in-person absentee voting on Tuesday afternoon.

Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford (D) hits back at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) over Christie's Sandy-related criticism.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) records a robocall for his embattled friend, Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.).

A new poll shows Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is again in a virtual tie with Republican Brendan Doherty.

Must-reads:

"Millions pouring into tight Senate races" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

"Why Romney’s Inaccurate Auto Ad May Be Smart Politics" -- Alex Altman, Time

"In San Diego, Gay Republican Finds He Can’t Count on Gay and Lesbian Vote" -- Ian Lovett, New York Times 

"The Nate Silver backlash" -- Ezra Klein, Washington Post

Also on The Fix

Obama hitting the airwaves in Michigan