It’s been a rough couple of weeks for President Obama, starting with the anemic jobs report, continuing with the Wisconsin recall, and culminating with the continuing coverage of his gaffe about the private sector. Along with the stumbles has come a tightening of an already tight race.
A close look at the polls shows an interesting trend. While Obama’s support seems to have slipped a little bit, Romney has been thus far unable to pickup those votes. It almost seems like the jobs numbers have caused a few people along the margins to reconsider their support for Obama, but not quite bring themselves to make the jump to Romney.
While Obama still maintains a lead in the Electoral College, the President has begun to see some swing state slippage. For the first time this year, Romney has pulled ahead of Obama in two Ohio polls and one poll even showed him winning in Michigan (which still seems very doubtful to me).
By contrast, the president seems to be maintaining his lead in Virginia, which could turn out to be key to his re-election. To understand why, let’s begin with the Al Gore’s 2004 map (you can follow along at 270towin.com), giving the president the Midwest states of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, Gore’s Northeastern states from DC to Maine, then throw in New Hampshire (which went for both Kerry and Obama) and New Mexico. This gives the president a base of 257 electoral votes. Now give him Colorado and Nevada (both of which show tight races, but also bucked the national trend in 2010 mostly on the strength of Latino voters). This gets Obama to 272, and a win.
But let’s suppose that Romney makes inroads in one of the Midwestern states, or that Obama can’t pickup Colorado or Nevada. Virginia gives him the cushion to lose both Nevada and Colorado, Wisconsin, or some combination of Iowa, New Hampshire or the Southwest states. In short, Virginia could provide the insurance that Obama needs if he finds his easiest path blocked. Of course, if Obama wins either Ohio or Florida, it’s pretty much over for Romney and vice-versa for Obama in Michigan.
Scott Conroy breaks down the Virginia race in Real Clear Politics this week, noting that growth of Fairfax county as a suburb of Washington DC and a recent influx of immigrants that came with it has made Northern Virginia look more like a Northern state and proved fertile ground for Democrats (Obama beat McCain 61% to 39% in Fairfax County on the way to a 6 point victory in Virginia). Obama seems to have the early edge in organizing and ground game, but Republicans are hoping that the new turnout model that propelled Governor Bob “Trans-vaginal Ultrasound” McDonnell to victory in 2010. A tight Senate race between George Allen and Tim Kaine also promises to drive turnout and keep the focus on the state.
All reasons that, on election night, it could come down to Virginia, Virginia, Virginia.