The Ohio Problem

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally, Wednesday, September 26, 2012, in Westerville, Ohio.

I wrote yesterday that President Obama is building a solid margin over Governor Romney in the state. The picture is similar in Ohio—where Obama has led in every poll since the Democratic National Convention—and Nevada, where he's led in almost every survey since the beginning of the year. Tuesday's polls reinforced both trends, and highlighted the extent to which Romney is on something of a downwards trajectory. 

September 25

Pollster State LV/RV Obama Romney Margin
RAND USA LV 50.18 42.83 O+7.35
Gallup USA RV 48 45 O+3
Rasmussen USA LV 47 46 O+1
Washington Post Florida LV 51 47 O+4
Washington Post Ohio LV 52 44 O+8
Gravis Marketing Ohio LV 45 44 O+1
Retail Association of Nevada/POS Nevada LV 46 46 Tie
Public Policy Polling Nevada LV 52 43 O+9
Monmouth University New Jersey LV 52 37 O+15
Talk Business Poll Arkansas LV 35 56 R+21

On the surface, Ohio seems like it should be a competitive state for Romney. Republicans swept the state house in the 2010 election, and it’s large population of working-class whites makes it fertile ground for Romney’s strategy, which relies on overwhelming support among white voters. But Obama has held a lead in the state since the beginning of the year, which has only expanded since the end of the conventions. The Real Clear Politics average gives him a 5.2 percent lead among Ohioans, which is in line with the 6.8 point lead in Pollster’s average, and the 6 point lead in the Talking Points Memo average.

It’s not hard to see why Obama has performed well in the state. His attacks on Bain Capital resonate well with Ohio’s blue collar workers. The automobile bailout was a huge boon to the state, jump starting its recovery and keeping unemployment from ticking upwards. What’s more, unions have built a powerful grassroots operation, which is only bolstered by the Obama campaign’s huge on-the-ground investment.

Unlike losing Florida—which would ruin Romney’s chances for the White House— losing Ohio would still leave him with a few paths to the 270 electoral votes. He could win Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Colorado—giving him 273 electoral votes—or he could lose Iowa and take New Hampshire, giving him 271 electoral votes.

Of course, to say that a certain path is possible is not to say that it’s likely. Demographically, Wisconsin and Iowa are similar to Ohio, with one key difference—they’re more Democratic than the perennial swing state. If Romney can’t pick up Ohio, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll do better in states that tilt Democratic in national elections. And again, unless Romney can build a huge lead with whites nationally, states like Virginia and Colorado are off the table—unless he can somehow recover with Latinos and match John McCain’s (small) share among African Americans.

With Obama building leads in Florida, Ohio and Virginia, and it’s hard to imagine a path to the presidency for Mitt Romney. At the least, he has to win either Florida or Ohio, and sweep Obama in almost every other swing state. This isn’t impossible, but unless you like losing, I wouldn’t bet money on it.