In the elections of 2000 and 2004, the electoral vote was closely divided between the two candidates with Florida and Ohio as the main swing states. In 2008 though, Obama changed the electoral map by competing in previously Republican states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana and Colorado. His competition expanded electoral opportunities for Democrats and made those areas more swingy. Indiana seems to have reverted back to its Republican roots for 2012 but the states of Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina still remain swing states. This will be extremely helpful to Obama because he has many possible combinations to win against Romney. Obama is facing blame for an economy that is not improving fast enough according to some voters and a higher than hoped for unemployment rate. Then nationwide polls show a small Obama +2 lead nationwide but due to Obama's expansion of the electoral map, Obama definitely has an advantage by holding leads in the swing states. Also, Obama has benefited from the fact that he is more like able than Romney. This historically helps Obama because when did the less like able candidate win the Presidency? Not 2008, not 2004, not 2000, most likely 1976. The reason the national polls are so close is that Romney has solid leads in red states and has cut into Obama's margin in a few Northeastern states (although not enough to win any except maybe Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.) Anyway though, here are the electoral vote rankings.
Dark Blue = Safe Democratic
Blue = Likely Democratic
Lean = Light Blue
Toss Up/Tilt Democratic = very light blue
Toss Up = clear
Toss Up/Tilt Republican = Light red
Lean Republican = Orange
Likely Republican = Red
Safe Republican = Very Red
Safe Democratic: (172 electoral votes)
California (55 electoral votes) Polls consistently show Obama 20%+ here, Obama is going to have no trouble winning. All he needs to do now is make sure the Democrats here can make phone calls out to battleground states such as Colorado.
Delaware (3 electoral votes) This is Joe Biden's home state and the state that voted against Christine O'Donnell by 17 points. Obama will do just dandy here.
District of Columbia (3 electoral votes) I would not be surprised if Obama hits 90%+ here.
Hawaii (4 electoral votes) Obama was born in Hawaii, Tupac is dead and 9/11 was not caused by the Bush Administration and Obama should do great here. It was his best state in 2008.
Illinois (20 electoral votes) Obama's other home state where he served as Senator. Despite Mark Kirk's (R) Senatorial win in 2010, Obama should win easily here. He won by 25 points in 2008.
Maine (4 electoral votes) According to political analyst Michael Barone "Mainers vote for the person, not the party." Romney may have represented a New England state as Governor but he does not win the like ability contest, even if he wins the Presidential one.
Maryland (10 electoral votes) With a state that has a 30% African American population and a large white liberal population in Montgomery County, Maryland is staying strongly Democratic.
Massachusetts (11 electoral votes) Romney was the former Governor of Massachusetts but as he continues to bash the state on his campaign trail (and all the bills he passed for the state, including Romneycare,) he should lose any goodwill he has left. Hopefully Sen. Scott Brown (R) falls down with him.
New Jersey (15 electoral votes) Despite New Jersey's large number of fiscal conservatives, the Republican party has become too conservative socially for Romney to appeal here.
New York (29 electoral votes) Democrats did not do well downballot in New York in 2010 but they did well statewide, winning all statewide offices and the Governorship by 28 points. Obama will win here easily.
Rhode Island (4 electoral votes) Another solid Obama state.
Vermont (3 electoral votes) This was Obama's best state in the Continental U.S. and it should go strongly for him again in 2012. As goes Maine, so goes Vermont.
Washington (12 electoral votes) Washington may have a competitive gubernatorial race but the Presidential race is not competitive. Obama will win here easily, the TPM polling average has him ahead by 14.
Likely Democratic (29 electoral votes)
Connecticut (7 electoral votes) This state seems to have been going strongly for the Democrats until a new poll was released showing Obama ahead by only 7. I am not too sure about the poll's accuracy though because Connecticut went for Obama by 23 points in 2008 so Connecticut is one of those states where if it is competitive, that means Obama has tanked nationally. It is still an extremely close race nationally so unless all polls suggest Obama is going to lose in a landslide nationally, I am not believing any poll showing Connecticut close.
Minnesota (10 electoral votes) Minnesota has not voted Republican since 1972 and it looks like it will stay that way this year.
New Mexico (5 electoral votes) I almost considered putting New Mexico in the Safe Democratic column but I decided on the Likely Democratic column. Obama should still do very well here though due to the state's large Hispanic population.
Oregon (7 electoral votes) Most polls show Obama with a 10 point lead here, I would expect Oregon to support Obama again like in 2008.
Lean Democratic (56 electoral votes)
Michigan (16 electoral votes) On paper, Romney seems to have a real shot in Michigan. His family hails from Michigan and in 2010, Michigan took a sharp turn to the right as the Republicans won the Governorship, the State Senate and two U.S House seats. Obama is doing well here because he revived the auto industry after it seemed to be dead and Romney appeared out of touch with Michigan because he wrote an article titled, "Let Detroit go bankrupt." He also is famous for saying, "The trees are just the right height," when referring to how he remembered Michigan from his boyhood days. For Obama to win in Michigan, he needs a large African American turnout in Detroit and needs to perform well in the Detroit suburbs, especially Oakland and Macomb Counties. Romney needs a strong turnout in the western part of the state where the auto industry is less prevalent but the tea party is prevalent. A few polls earlier in August showed a close race after the Ryan pick but the most recent poll, done by reliable PPP showed Obama ahead by seven. Also, Romney has pulled out of Michigan so if his own campaign thinks they will not win, then I doubt Romney will win Michigan.
Nevada (6 electoral votes) Most polls show Obama with a small lead here. Nevada also has a history of having polls underestimate Democratic strength because of the Democrats' strong ground game and the large number of cellphone only voters. For Democrats to win in Nevada, they have to win 55%+ in Clark County (Las Vegas) which has a large fast growing Hispanic population. Romney's numbers with Hispanics are extremely low but he may make up some ground with the large Mormon population in the rural areas (known as the Cow Counties.) It will be hard for Romney to compete with the Democrats' organization and the changing demographics though.
New Hampshire (4 electoral votes) New Hampshire has a strong libertarian streak and Romney did very well here in the primary so one would expect New Hampshire to be a pure tossup state this year. Most polls here though show Obama with a lead of about 5 which is just enough to put New Hampshire in the lean Democratic category. The Republicans' views on social issues have gone too far to the right to win over enough New Hampshire voters. Romney needs to win New Hampshire by doing will in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties but since the Republican party brand is unpopular in New Hampshire this year (Democrats are looking to regain both house seats,) Obama has an advantage.
Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) Earlier this year, Romney hoped to make Pennsylvania competitive by winning over disgruntled working class voters in western Pennsylvania. With the revival of the auto industry though, it seems that Obama will hold enough western Pennsylvania voters to win statewide. For Obama to win, he needs to do very well in the Philadelphia area, win its suburbs and win enough western Pennsylvania voters. Republicans generally win elections in Pennsylvania by doing well in the center of the state and winning the swing area which is the cities between Philadelphia and the Appalachian mountains. Those areas include Harrisburg, Reading and Allentown/Bethlehem. Obama in 2008 won those areas and those cities usually vote a few points more Republican than the rest of the state so if Obama wins them, he wins statewide. Most polls show Obama with a high single digit lead so I almost considered putting Pennsylvania in the likely Democratic column. I may move it closer to the election but it is lean Democratic for now.
Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) Wisconsin has had a Republican surge recently with the election of Scott Walker (R) as Governor and the failed recall. The Republican trend may be explained by Democrats moving out of Wisconsin and other Midwestern/Northern States. Romney's pick of Rep. Paul Ryan (R) also put Wisconsin in play because Ryan is from Wisconsin. For Democrats to win in Wisconsin, they not only need to increase turnout in Milwaukee and Madison, they have to win the rural counties in the western part of the state. They learned this in the Walker recall when Walker performed poorly in Madison and Milwaukee but won because he overperformed in the rural parts of the state. The polls show a slight 2-3 point Obama lead after Ryan was picked. Then again, this could be part of the Ryan bounce which came late but still boosted Romney and Ryan. Despite the closeness of the polls, Wisconsin is rated as Lean Democratic because Romney is not running any ads there, suggesting his internal numbers show Obama doing well there. One of the mistakes by the Romney campaign is that they are not spending extra money in states that lean blue to see if they move toward the Republicans. Obama did the same in states that lean red in 2008 when he targeted Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia and North Dakota. He was not successful in all of them but he picked off Indiana and North Carolina because he tried for at least a bit and found a good response.
Toss Up/Tilt Democratic (18 electoral votes)
Ohio (18 electoral votes) The RCP average shows a tied race right now but since many of the polls showing are conducted by Republican leaning polling firms such as Gravitas, I am shifting Ohio to toss up/tilt Democratic. Ohio is a state where I first thought Obama would fare poorly because he is not too popular with the state's large working class population. Romney however seems more out of touch with them and his opposition to the bailout which resurrected the auto industry does not help either. Obama is benefiting from the auto industry's revival and Ohio's low unemployment rate. This could help him in the important swing areas in Ohio he needs to win. For Obama to win Ohio, he needs high turnout in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland,) Franklin County (Columbus,) Summit County (Akron,) and Lucas County (Toledo.) The swing areas include Hamilton County (Cincinnati,) the rural counties between Toledo and Cleveland and the rural counties along the Ohio River.
Pure Toss Ups (47 electoral votes)
Colorado (9 electoral votes) Obama won here by nine points, more than his countrywide average and the demographics here favor Democrats so if Obama wins the Presidency, he's probably winning Colorado too. Colorado is divided between the liberal areas of Denver, Boulder and the Rocky Mountain ski areas and the conservative areas of Colorado Springs, west Colorado and the Plains. The important swing areas though are the suburban counties of Larmier, Jefferson and Arahaphoe. Those areas are socially liberal but not fiscally liberal. 2010 Senatorial candidate Michael Bennett (D) won statewide by winning over socially liberal suburban women so Obama needs to do the same in order to win Colorado. Also, Obama needs to excite the youth vote in Boulder because they were an important part of his winning coalition. Still, the most important factor is suburban women and if Obama can highlight Ryan's extreme views on abortion rights, Obama has a strong chance here.
Florida (29 electoral votes) If any state were the purest of tossups, this would be the state. The polls currently show a tie here but Obama may bounce a few points once seniors hear about Ryan's Medicare plan. I was in Florida recently and would see a Political ad every minute. I even saw one Romney ad attacking Obama on welfare reform and the next ad after that was an Obama ad saying why the Romney ad was false. Demographically though, Florida is divided into three distinct regions. The Gold Coast, the I-4 Corridor and the rest of the state. The Gold Coast is southeast Florida (Palm Beach, Broward and Miami Dade Counties,) which is filled with Jewish retirees, African Americans and Cubans. The area usually votes Democratic but Cubans in Miami Dade County usually prevent Democrats from receiving more than 55% of the vote in that county. Broward and Palm Beach Counties have less Cubans though and usually vote 60%-65% Democratic but turnout in those areas is crucial. In 2010, Gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink (D) barely lost statewide because turnout in Palm Beach and Broward Counties was low. Obama though has been working on outreach to Hispanics, especially non Cuban Hispanics. The non Cuban Hispanics have a large presence on the I-4 Corridor and helped swing it strongly toward Obama. They have a large presence in Orlando and Tampa and are a fast growing segment of the population. Also, many of them are Puerto Rican which means they are citizens and can vote so Democrats have lots of voters to register. Obama has around 70 field offices in Florida compared to Romney's 30 so Democrats definitely have an advantage on the ground. The third part of the state is the rest of the state which consists of rural northern Florida, Jacksonville and conservative retirement communities along the southwest Florida coast. Romney is expected to do very well in this area but if Obama can win Duval County (Jacksonville) which has a large African American population, he will probably win Florida. Overall, the polls show the race within 1 point of each candidate. Political analyst Nate Silver made an interesting point though, "Romney has only a 0.3% chance of winning the election without Florida." Silver is right and it also means if Obama wins Florida + Kerry states, he hits 275 electoral votes so Romney has to win 6 electoral votes from the Kerry states and prevent Obama from winning any state that voted for Bush in 2004 (with New Mexico and Nevada leaning Democratic this year, that looks pretty unlikely.) So if Romney wants to be President, he has to win Florida.
Iowa (6 electoral votes) Iowa seems Republican at first. It is mostly rural and mostly white like the heavily Republican states of Kansas and Nebraska. The large number of universities, family farms and farms producing ethanol balance out the conservative evangelicals in the western part of the state. Obama won statewide by 9 points, thanks to strong support in the eastern part of the state but the Republican base in western Iowa seems more excited this year, making it harder for Obama.
Virginia (13 electoral votes) Obama won Virginia by seven points in 2008, Obama won the Presidency by seven points in 2008. It seems that Virginia will be a tipping point state again this year with the RCP average showing Obama with a 1 point lead there. Virginia has done well under Obama though with a lower than average unemployment rate. The Obama Administration's Defense spending has helped create jobs here due to the military presence of the Pentagon and in the Hampton Roads area. For Obama to win here, he has to win big in Northern Virginia which has helped Virginia trend Democratic as immigrants and upper middle class families from DC (like my family,) moved out to the suburbs to raise their kids. Also, he needs to increase African American turnout in the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions which have large African American populations. Republicans need to rely on their base of rural southwest Virginia and win the exurban counties surrounding the urban Democratic areas in Northern Virginia and Richmond. The bellwether counties include Loudon and Henrico Counties. Loudon County is the nation's 4th fastest growing county and has a mix of rural conservatives with Asians, Hispanics and residents from the inner DC area. Loudon County was crucial for Jim Webb's (D) successful Senate election in 2006 as well as Tim Kaine's (D) successful Gubernatorial election in 2005 because Loudon County shows whether rural Virginia or suburban Virginia turned out stronger. Henrico County is a Richmond suburb which has a large African American population and if Obama wins there, it shows he has successfully increased African American turnout
Toss Up/Tilt Republican (15 electoral votes)
North Carolina (15 electoral votes) A few polls including the extremely reliable PPP have shown the race to be a tie here and North Carolina is trending Democratic demographically but I do not believe the Democrats are winning here this time. The reason is that in 2008, Obama completely maxxed out the turnout in Durham (which may not be repeated because the large numbers of young voters are less excited this year than in 2008,) Charlotte, the heavily African American northeastern part of the state and Obama still won by only 14,000 votes. North Carolina is a base state where Democrats and Republicans have to bring out their bases in order to win (Republicans bring out the exurban and rural white conservatives, Democrats bring out the college students and the African Americans,) instead of a state such as Iowa and Ohio where Democrats win by persuading voters. In 2008, the Republican base was not very excited and the Republicans barely even targeted North Carolina. All the Republicans need to do is erase a 14,000 vote lead and that should be pretty easy for them. I predict the demographic changes will help the Democrats make it close but I still see a 2-3 point win for Republicans here.
Lean Republican (21 electoral votes)
Arizona (11 electoral votes) Earlier this year, the Obama campaign talked about putting Arizona in play. On paper, Arizona seems to be trending Democratic because it has a fast growing Hispanic population and lots of college students (Arizona State has 70,000 students, it is the largest public university in the country.) Also, Democrats are looking to gain two congressional seats too. Arizona though has a very conservative non persuadable base though in the Phoenix area who are strongly for Romney. Also, the state's Mormon population will boost him.
Missouri (10 electoral votes) Since 1960, Missouri has always voted for the national winner in electoral votes except in one year. That year was 2008. Obama maxxed out turnout in the St. Louis area and in Kansas City but his coalition of African Americans and suburban whites which helped him win in Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana did not help him win in Missouri. Why? There were simply not enough populationwise to offset the rural conservatives in Missouri. Democrats probably will win Missouri's Senate seat where Republican candidate Todd Akin (R) made his famous legitimate rape comments but Romney should still prevail with increased Republican turnout in the rural areas.
Likely Republican (40 electoral votes)
Georgia (16 electoral votes) Maybe in ten years Georgia will be competitive if the African American population continues to increase and the upper income whites in Atlanta trend Democratic. For now though, it should stay in Romney's column. The Republican Atlanta suburbs and northern Georgia still outvote the Democratic areas of Atlanta and Central Georgia.
Indiana (11 electoral votes) Obama won Indiana by 26,000 votes in 2008 which was a surprise to most political observers. Indiana had not voted Democratic since 1964 and had voted for Bush in 2004 by 21 points. Obama won mostly because McCain did not bother to compete there in 2008. In 2012 though, Republicans are being careful and polls show Romney with a high single digit lead. The Obama campaign has stopped targeting Indiana too.
Montana (3 electoral votes) Democrats have some pockets of support here in Missoula, Bozeman and Butte but the rural Republican areas have more votes. Obama came close in 2008 but the state seems to be trending toward Romney.
Nebraska (1 electoral vote) Obama picked off this one electoral vote from Nebraska in 2008. With redistricting though and the fact that Obama has not been strongly contesting this electoral vote, it should probably go Republican this year.
South Carolina (9 electoral votes) South Carolina is a very polarized state and the polarization favors the Republicans. A few polls showed a close race here awhile back but I expect Romney to win by 10.
Safe Republican (124 electoral votes)
Alabama (9 electoral votes) A strong Republican state in the strongly Republican South.
Alaska (3 electoral votes) Sarah Palin may not be on the ballot this year but Romney should cruise here anyway.
Arkansas (6 electoral votes) Bill Clinton may have given a great speech but his homestate will come home to Romney.
Idaho (4 electoral votes) This should be one of Romney's best states.
Kansas (6 electoral votes) Toto, I don't think they are many Democrats in Kansas anymore.
Kentucky (8 electoral votes) The Democrats may have a popular Governor but the Republican brand is popular in the Presidential race.
Louisiana (8 electoral votes) Another strong Republican state for Romney.
Mississippi (6 electoral votes) Mississippi may have a 37% African American population but Democrats are not winning here for a long time because Republicans routinely win 80%+ of the white vote.
Nebraska (4 electoral votes) The rest of Nebraska is firmly in Republican hands.
North Dakota (3 electoral votes) Most polls here show Romney around 15 points. He should cruise here.
Oklahoma (7 electoral votes) Democrats have not won a single county in a national race in Oklahoma since 2000. They will probably not win any again anytime soon.
South Dakota (3 electoral votes) Same story as North Dakota.
Tennessee (11 electoral votes) Gone are the days when Tennessee would vote Democratic for President. It has found a firm spot in the Republican column. One poll a few months ago showed a small Romney lead but unless I see more polls showing the same story, I'm going to believe it's an anomaly.
Texas (38 electoral votes) In ten years, Texas may be competitive as the Hispanic population continues to grow but for now, it is firmly in the Republican column.
West Virginia (5 electoral votes) West Virginia still votes Democratic for statewide offices, even in 2010 but it has voted Republican for national office recently and is trending further to the right.
Wyoming (3 electoral votes) I think we all know how this state will play out.
So how do the states stack up? There are 172 solid Obama votes, 29 likely Obama votes and 56 lean Obama votes bringing the electoral votes Obama will probably win to 257 electoral votes. There are 124 solid Romney votes, 40 likely Romney votes, 21 lean Romney votes which gives Romney 185 electoral votes. This means that in order to win, Obama has to win 13 out of the 80 electoral votes in the tossup column. He can achieve this by winning any one of the tossup or tossup/tilt states or Colorado +Iowa. Many of these states are 50/50 for either candidate but for Romney, he has to win every single state in the tossup/tilt category (unless the one state he loses is Colorado or Iowa.) While Romney should certainly win some of the tossup states, can he really win all of the states he is 50/50 in? Also, Ohio probably has a more than 50/50 chance of going for Obama and if Obama wins his 257 electoral votes + Ohio, Malia and Sasha will be the first kids for another four years so Romney needs more paths to victory. He also needs to pick off some of the lean Democratic states but with his recent decision to not run ads in WI and MI, it makes it harder for him to steal any of the Kerry states which except New Hampshire have all voted Democratic since 1992. Overall, Obama certainly has an advantage and unless Romney's ads make a real dent in the electorate, Obama should probably win reelection.