The 5 closest swing states

October 31, 2012

With just six days left in the 2012 presidential campaign, both campaigns -- not to mention scads of outside groups -- are furiously conducting and analyzing polling data to decide where to send their candidate (and their money) in the stretch run.

What that means is that the traditional swing state map -- the seven to 10 states that both parties have spent tens of millions of dollars on over these past months -- is narrowing even further as the hours between now and election day dwindle away.

The Fix spoke with operatives in both parties over the past 24 hours and asked them all a simple question: "Rank the five closest swing states right now". They did -- under the cloak of anonymity, of course -- and we collected the results, compared similarities, brought our own expertise to bear and produced the list below.

To be clear, this is meant to serve as a guide to the five closest states RIGHT NOW. These five states may wind up being less close come election day 

Two states you won't see on the list: Ohio and North Carolina.  Republicans insist Ohio belongs in the top five,  Democrats say their polling gives them a mid-single digit lead. (A new Quinnipiac/CBS/New York Times survey in Ohio shows Obama at 50 percent and with a five-point edge.)  Democrats think North Carolina is a tie, Republicans say Romney is slightly but comfortably ahead. (Real Clear Politics' poll of polls has Romney with a three-point edge over Obama in North Carolina.) 

To the five -- with the number one race regarded as the closest in the country! What did we miss? What did we rank too high? Too low? The comments section awaits.

5. New Hampshire (4 electoral votes): President Obama stopped in the Granite State on Saturday, a sign that the race for the state's four electoral votes is heating up.  New Hampshire has a history of swinging back and forth between the two parties at the presidential level. In the last five presidential elections, the Democratic nominee has won it three times while the Republican nominee has claimed it twice.  It's also the only state in the country that George W. Bush won in 2000 and lost in 2004.

4. Wisconsin (10 electoral votes): The Badger State's presence on the list surprised us -- but Wisconsin was regularly mentioned by both sides as being quite close.  Working in Romney's favor is that favorite son Paul Ryan is his vice presidential nominee. Working against Romney is the fact that no Republican has won Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984.  If Ohio winds up moving beyond Romney's reach, then Wisconsin becomes critically important as it is one of the few double-digit electoral vote swing states left on the map.

3. Virginia (13 electoral votes): There's no state where the two parties more vehemently disagree about the current state of play than in Virginia.  Democrats insist they are either tied or slightly ahead in the polling in the Commonwealth while Republicans see Romney as edging ahead and with the dynamics of the race clearly moving in his direction. A Washington Post poll released over the weekend gave Obama a four-point edge and Democrats argue that the very fact that Romney is having to fight tooth and nail for Virginia is a good thing for Obama's chances nationwide.  History is on Republicans' side, however. Obama was the first Democrat to carry Virginia since 1964.

2. Florida (29 electoral votes):  Florida is, by far, the biggest electoral prize of the five closest states. It's also a state that Romney simply must have if he wants to get to 270 electoral votes -- which is why it is the first place he is campaigning today after a two-day Hurricane Sandy-forced hiatus. A CNN poll out earlier this week put Romney at 50 percent to 49 percent for Obama and a CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac poll out today pegged the race at Obama 48 percent, Romney 47 percent. What both polls tell you is that it's very, very close. That shouldn't be surprising.  Here are the winning margins in Florida in 2008, 2004 and 2000: 235,450 votes (out of 8.4 million cast), 380,978 votes (out of 7.6 million cast) and 537 votes (out of 5.9 million cast).

1. Colorado (9 electoral votes): Colorado is the Rodney Dangerfield of swing states -- it just doesn't get much respect. (Damn East Coast media bias!) And yet, according to both parties, the presidential race in the state is nip and tuck -- and the candidates continue to lavish time on it. (President Obama is headed to Colorado on Thursday, his first day of campaigning post-Sandy.)  Obama's 2008 victory in Colorado was wide -- he carried it by nine points -- but Republicans had won the state in the previous three presidential elections. How close is Colorado? The Real Clear Politics poll of polls in the state has it at a literal tie: 47.8 percent for Obama, 47.8 percent for Romney. Wowza.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · October 31, 2012