But Romney’s team acknowledges that any realistic course to 270 starts with winning back three historically Republican states that Obama won in 2008 — Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia — and believes that changing demographics in Virginia present a challenge.
After that, Romney must play take-away with the Democrats in a number of other states that the Obama campaign flipped to its column four years ago. The two biggest and most important are Ohio and Florida, which advisers see as must-wins for Romney unless he can pick off one of the 18 states that Democrats have won in each of the past five elections.
Romney’s advisers see two things in particular working to their advantage despite some of the geographic hurdles they face. One is the overall weakness of the economy, which they believe will ultimately decide the election, and the other is that enthusiasm within the Obama coalition is down from 2008.
“We’re going to spread the map as far as we can for as long as we can,” said Rich Beeson, the Romney campaign’s national political director. “I compare the map to something like molten lava. It just hasn’t hardened yet, it’s moving around, and it will continue to move around until the bell rings for the bell lap after Labor Day.”
Romney campaign officials point to Michigan as one of those traditionally Democratic states where they expect to compete hard, noting that it is the former Massachusetts governor’s home state. But some top Romney supporters scoff at those ambitions, arguing that Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout alone is a sizable hurdle to overcome there. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee in 2008, abandoned the state in the face of his limited resources and low prospects of winning there.
If, however, Romney can win the three longtime Republican states and take back Ohio and Florida, he will need just one more of the states that Obama flipped in 2008 to get to 270. Romney advisers express optimism about their chances in two other states in Obama’s column in 2008, Iowa and New Hampshire. The Granite State is attractive because of its proximity to Massachusetts, where Romney served as governor. Iowa, which launched Obama in the caucuses in 2008, has become more problematic for the Democrats this year.
The Romney campaign’s thinking about the electoral map, detailed in interviews this week with top campaign officials and advisers at Boston headquarters, as well as several Republican strategists, is akin to the “3-2-1” strategy authored recently by Bush strategist Karl Rove. Under that strategy, Romney would need to win three traditionally Republican states (Indiana, North Carolina and Virgina), plus two perennial swing states (Ohio and Florida), then one more state from half a dozen tossups.