Our favorite part of the general election campaign is fiddling with the electoral map to puzzle out the paths to 270 electoral votes for each of the candidates. (And, yes, there’s an app for that.)
To our mind, there are nine truly swing states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — where the election will be decided. Those states will hand out 110 electoral votes in November, roughly 41 percent of the 270 votes President Obama or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney need to win.
Obama starts with the edge in these swing states. He carried all nine in 2008 with an average margin of victory of 7.6 percentage points. But, six of the nine states went for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004.
Our quick take on each of the nine states is after the jump. We will be revisiting our swing states — and the broader electoral map — lots between now and November so stay tuned!
* Colorado: One of the six of our swing states that Bush carried twice, Colorado seemed relatively immune to the Republican wave that swept the country in 2010. While two House Democrats fell, Democrats won the governor’s race (due, at least in part, to a Republican candidate disaster) and a very contested Senate race. The battle, as it always is in Colorado, will come down to the Denver suburbs.
* Florida: President Obama’s three-point victory in 2008 was quickly erased in 2010 when Republicans won the governorship, the open seat Senate race and four U.S. House seats. Gov. Rick Scott (R) is not at all popular but if Romney puts Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on the ticket it could be the tipping point that Republicans need to win.
* Iowa: If there was a single adopted home state for Obama in 2008 it was Iowa where he won the caucuses in January and then swept to a convincing nine-point win in the fall. But, like much of the upper Midwest, Republicans made major gains in Iowa in 2010 — including defeating a Democratic incumbent governor and easily reelecting Sen. Chuck Grassley (R). Obama’s convincing victory in 2008 also belies the inherent competitiveness of the Hawkeye State. Bush carried it in 2004 and then Vice President Al Gore eked out a .3 percentage point win in 2000.
* Nevada: This is the most competitive small (by population) state in the country. Obama’s 12-point margin in 2008 obscured an incredibly competitive state where Bush won in 2004 and 2000. The collapse of the housing market (and the general economic struggle) has its epicenter in the state where the February unemployment was at 12.3 percent, the highest in the country.
* New Hampshire: New Hampshire has a very interesting electoral past. It was the only state that Gore lost in 2000 that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry won in 2004. (Much of that has to do with regional loyalty, wethinks.) Obama carried the state by nine points in 2008 but Republicans won both House seats and an open Senate seat in 2010.
* North Carolina: Of our nine swing states, Obama’s winning margin was narrowest in the Tar Heel State. (He won by .4 percentage points.) The Obama team clearly signaled that they believe they can win again in 2012 by putting the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. The central question is likely to be whether Obama can turn out as many young people in this college-heavy state as he did in 2008. With massive 18-29 turnout, North Carolina looks doable for Obama. Without it, probably not.
* Ohio: Of the larger (population) swing states, Ohio may be the toughest for Obama. Why? It’s an older and whiter population than, say, Florida, and those two constituencies have long been Obama’s weakest. And, while he won in 2008, it wasn’t by the overwhelming margin with which he carried other swing states. (Obama won Ohio by four.)
* Virginia: If you are looking for the swingiest state in the country, the Commonwealth has a very good case to make. On the one hand, Obama was the first Democrat to win it since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. On the other, the massive growth of northern Virginia population-wise has changed the electoral calculus for the better for Democrats. If Romney puts Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on the national ticket, that tells you all you need to know about the importance of Virginia.
* Wisconsin: The Badger State will play host to not one but two major national elections this year. The first will the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker (R) in June; the second will be the presidential race in November. Democrats rightly note that they have carried Wisconsin in each of the last five elections and that Obama won it by a whopping 14 points in 2008. But, if you believe 2012 will look a lot like 2004 when it comes to the electoral map — and we do — then there is reason for Republican optimism. That year, Bush lost Wisconsin by just .4 percentage points to Kerry.