No one can predict with certainty which candidate will win the 2012 presidential election, but we can tell you the most likely scenarios in which President Obama or Mitt Romney could reach the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

For both candidates, Ohio is key. The Fix’s Chris Cillizza discussed how Ohio affects Obama’s chances of winning the election:

If President Obama wins Ohio — as well as all of the other states leaning or solidly for him — he has a relatively simple path to 270. (Though we moved Ohio to “tossup” today, we believe — and wrote — that Obama has a narrow edge in the state.)

Putting Ohio in Obama’s column, he can weather losses in swing states with strong historic Republican tilts (Virginia, North Carolina) and swing states where Romney appears to have a slight edge (Colorado, Florida) and still be re-elected with electoral votes to spare. (If he happens to win, say, Virginia or Florida, he starts to approach 300+ electoral votes.) All of that assumes, of course, that he holds on to swing-ish Democratic states (Pennsylvania, Michigan) and wins three  swing states where he enjoyed major margins in 2008 (Iowa, Nevada, and Wisconsin.)

For Romney, the electoral map is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s second election, and Ohio is crucial:

Romney’s path — as we have long maintained — must go through Ohio to have the air of plausibility to it. (There are ways to add Romney states up to 270 electoral votes without the Buckeye State but they require a bit of willing suspension of disbelief.)

The Romney map looks a lot like the map that gave George W. Bush a second term in 2004. In that race, Bush won the south — up to and including Virginia, North Carolina and Florida — swept the Plains and held his own in the Mountain West.

Romney’s likely map in 2012 subtracts New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada — all three of which he is currently trailing — and adds New Hampshire from the Bush map.

Bush’s map in 2004 won him 286 electoral votes. Romney’s likeliest path nets him 279.

If Romney doesn’t win Ohio, it won’t be because he didn’t try. Here are three reasons the Republican candidate never gave up on Ohio, according to The Fix:

1. Romney has more money than he can spend: We like to think of this as Romney’s “Brewster’s Millions” problem. He, literally, has more money than he can probably spend between now and Nov. 6. (Remember that Romney raised $112 million in the first two weeks of October.) Romney’s embarrassment of riches — see what we did there? — explains why he is going up on television in Pennsylvania.  And it’s the main reason why there is absolutely no reason for him to pull back – financially or otherwise — in the state.  

2. It’s hard to imagine Romney underperforms John McCain: In 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain came within 262,000 votes (out of 5.7 million cast) of beating President Obama in Ohio despite being heavily outspent and out-organized in the state — not to mention the fact that the election nationwide was heavily tilted in Obama’s direction. You can debate whether (and how much) Obama’s Ohio organization is superior to Romney’s this time around but it’s impossible to debate that the financial and political landscape is far closer to parity now than it was four years ago.  ”There is no way he will do worse than McCain in 2008, which means the state is in play,” said one Republican consultant who has worked extensively in Ohio.  ”If Romney can hit what he needs in the Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton media markets, the race will be very tight.”

3. The race is (already) very close: A look at all of the available data on Ohio makes two things clear: a) Obama is ahead and b) that edge is decidedly slim. (While eight of the last nine polls in Ohio have shown Obama ahead, his average lead in the Real Clear Politics poll of polls is just over two points.)  Given the two factors we mentioned above, it makes no sense — literally, none — for Romney to take his foot off the gas in Ohio.  Would he rather be ahead by two points in the state rather than behind by two points? Yes.  Is erasing a two-point deficit totally doable? Also, yes.

But it may be Obama who ends up snagging the Buckeye State this election. Ezra Klein wrote:

If the polls are correct, and President Obama wins a narrow Electoral College victory on Tuesday, the pivotal moment of the 2012 presidential race may have actually occurred in 2009. About two months after taking office, Mr. Obama set the terms of the government’s rescue of General Motors and Chrysler, a move that eventually helped to resurrect the American automobile industry, and, in turn, bolster the economy of the king of swing states: Ohio. Historically, Ohio has been slightly Republican-leaning relative to the nation. But this year polls suggest that Ohio is slightly Democratic-leaning…The auto rescue’s impact on Ohio’s political preferences, though modest, has been decisive.” Micah Cohen in The New York Times.