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
Changes favoring Democrats
Iowa Tossup-Tilt D
Virginia Tossup-Tilt D
Changes favoring Republicans
Missouri Lean R-Likely R
South Carolina Likely R-Safe R
Safe Democratic (172 electoral votes)
CA, DE, DC, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA, NE, ND, OK,
Likely Democratic (29 electoral votes)
CT, MN, NM, OR
Lean Democratic (56 electoral votes)
MI, NV, NH, PA, WI
Tilt Democratic (37 electoral votes)
IA, OH, VA
Pure Tossup (38 electoral votes)
Tilt Republican (15 electoral votes)
Lean Republican (12 electoral votes)
Likely Republican (36 electoral votes)
GA, IN, MO, MT
Safe Republican (129 electoral votes)
AL, AK, AR, ID, KS, KY, LA, MS, NE, ND, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, WV, WY
More detailed writeups:
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.
Update: Despite Michigan being Romney's home state, Obama should still win here. Voters have clearly not forgotten how he saved their state's economy. Romney's bounce is bringing him close to Obama in the polls but the polls should bounce back after Romney's bounce fades.
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.
The post debate polls show the race is narrowing here too. However, Rasmussen shows only a tie, not a lead for Romney and since Rasmussen is known for their right wing bias, this suggests the President still has a slight lead in Nevada. Also, PPP shows Obama leading by 4 so I am not worried about Nevada until PPP shows Romney with a lead here that not even the Democrats ground game can fix. I am also keeping Nevada in the Lean D category because of how Nevada is underpolled.
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.
Update: I really wanted to move Pennsylvania into the Likely Democratic category. All polls in September showed Obama with a high single digit lead. The media's response to the debate performance though has reduced Obama's standing in Pennsylvania as the Siena poll shows him with a 2-3 point lead. The Romney bounce should be temporary as long as Obama and Biden perform well in the upcoming debates. For now though, Pennsylvania stays in the lean Democratic column.
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.
Wisconsin is not giving Obama the best numbers after the debate so I am worried I may have to move it into the tilt Democratic column. Even after the bounce started to fade, the Quinnipec poll showed Obama with a 3 point lead here. This is enough to move into the tilt Democratic column for now.
Tilt Democratic (37 electoral votes)
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.
Update: After the media's attacks on Obama's debate performance, I immediately expected Iowa to follow along with Florida and see a Romney lead in the polls. Rasmussen's post debate poll though showed Obama leading here by 2, showing that Obama is still slightly ahead in Iowa. Also, another boost for the Democrats is that they are leading heavily in the early voting numbers too. On the first day of early voting, the number of Democrats who cast ballots outnumbered Republicans 4 to 1. We do not know who the Democrats voted for but assuming partisan trends are stable, about 90%-95% probably supported the President.
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.
I wanted to move Ohio to the lean D category after the September polls but with the post debate bounce for Romney, this is difficult because the polls have tightened. An NBC4 poll showed a dead heat among likely voters. I felt that once the debate bounce faded, the polls should revert back toward Obama. Also, expectations for the President's next debate have been set so low that even an "okay" performance should be a win for him which could cause an even larger bounce. Many of the polls in Ohio have been from Republican leaning firms such as Gravis and Rasmussen which helped the media set the narrative for a Republican comeback. Now the CNN poll and the Quinnipec poll shows Obama leads of 4 and 6 respectively.
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.
Update: Even after the attacks Obama received for his debate performance, he is still ahead by 3 points in Virginia in the latest PPP poll. Also, Quinnipec shows Obama is leading in Virginia by 5 but this poll was released on October 11th after the debate. Romney's debate definitely seems to have faded a bit so Obama is regaining his lead. Still, I am not quite ready to move Virginia into the lean Democratic category but if Obama posts more 5 point leads in polls, I will.
Pure Toss Ups (38 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 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. I originally placed Colorado in the pure tossup category because Romney narrowed Obama's lead in August but Obama seems to have bounced back so I am placing the race in the tilt Democratic category.
Update: I was hoping to move Colorado in the tilt Democratic category but the new Quinnipec poll showed Romney with a 1 point lead here. Even though Obama seems to have bounced back in states such as Ohio and Virginia, Colorado is proving tougher for him than expected. The economy has not been super strong here. Also, Obama's message of saving the auto industry and looking out for the middle class may play well in states such as Ohio and Michigan but Colorado is more fiscally conservative so the argument does not work as well. If Romney brings social issues to the forefront though, Obama may bounce back here and take a strong lead instead of having a virtual tie.
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.
Update: This state remains in the tossup column despite Obama getting a strong lead here in late September. The media's attack on the President's debate performance has given a bounce to Romney in many areas including in Florida. While Obama maintains leads in a few other states, Florida is still a big tossup. The RCP average shows this race as exactly a tie while Nate Silver's 538 model shows Romney with a 51.7% chance of winning. That clearly states Florida is in the middle of the tossup category. I would not be surprised to see a result similar to 2000. Even the new Marist poll released on October 11th shows Obama up by only 1 point, Florida should remain extremely tight.
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.
Update: If I had written this ranking list before the debate, North Carolina would belong in the pure tossup column. The debate performance though has shifted North Carolina back in the Romney direction though. A Republican leaning firm showed Romney ahead by 9 and although the firm is Republican leaning, a 9 point lead is still very high.
Lean Republican (12 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.
Nebraska 02 (1 electoral vote)
In 2004, Bush won 60% of the vote here so most pundits did not expect Obama to do well here. He surprised them though and won with 50% of the vote. NE-02 is a congressional district that covers Omaha and its suburbs in Sarpy County. Nebraska has an interesting system where it awards electoral votes based on who wins the congressional districts and two electoral votes to the statewide popular vote winner. The district has a fast growing Hispanic population which helped Obama out but after redistricting, Republicans added more Republicans areas in Sarpy County but the district is not completely out of reach for the Democrats. The reason is that the Republicans increased McCain's percentage minimally and Obama is again contesting the area. The polls are not suggesting a similar upset for Obama but if Obama regains the pre debate lead, this area could become close.
So where do these rankings leave Obama? Although his path to winning seems more rocky than it did before the debate, Obama still has an advantage. He has maintained leads in the Kerry states which total 246 electoral votes. He also is ahead in New Mexico so the safe Obama states have a total of 251 electoral votes. To win, Obama needs 19 more electoral votes from the tilt Democratic or tossup states. One way is to win Florida which gives him 29 electoral votes. Another way is to win Nevada (which is already leaning Obama,) with 6 electoral votes plus Virginia's 13 electoral votes where Obama has a slight lead. Obama could also win Nevada (6), Colorado (9) and Iowa (6) for 21 more electoral votes. Obama could also win Nevada (6) and Ohio (18) for 24 more electoral votes. Even with Romney's debate bounce, Obama still has many options to win. Also, the debate bounce finally seems to be fading. The newest polls show Obama with leads in Ohio, Nevada and Virginia. What it is important to do now is look at the polls themselves and when they were conducted instead of buying the media narrative that Romney is suddenly sprouting leads. Many of the state polls showing Obama bouncing back were taken this week while the national polls showing Romney leading were partially taken late last week with Romney's bounce (this includes the Rasmussen and Gravis polls.) Overall, Obama seems to have settled on his feet a bit and hopefully his lead will return to him.