Romney's Ohio Troubles

We are another week closer to the presidential election, and Mitt Romney is still behind. While American Research Group shows Romney in a tight race for Virginia, its track record over the course of this year is not good. If you want a better sense of where the race in the commonwealth stands, you should look to the polling averages, which show President Barack Obama with a consistent lead.

September 28–30

Pollster State Date LV/RV Obama Romney Margin
American Research Group Virginia 09/28 LV 49 47 O+2
American Research Group New Hampshire 09/28 LV 50 45 O+5
Gravis Marketing Michigan 09/28 LV 50 46 O+4
Morning Call Pennsylvania 09/28 LV 49 42 O+7
Rasmussen Maine 09/28 LV 52 40 O+12
Gallup USA 09/30 RV 49 44 O+5
Rasmussen USA 09/30 LV 48 46 O+2
Des Moines Register Iowa 09/30 LV 49 45 O+4
Columbus Dispatch Ohio 09/30 LV 51 42 O+9
Rasmussen Washington 09/30 LV 52 41 O+11
Boston Globe Massachusetts 09/30 LV 57 30 O+27

The other bright spot for Romney comes by way of Gallup, which shows the president's numbers have declined since Friday, when President Obama was up by 5 points. What’s more, it’s important to remember that Gallup is still polling a broad group of voters, including some who may not vote. It stands to reason that, once Gallup begins to poll the voters most likely to vote in the election, Obama’s standing will dip further. Indeed, there’s a chance that Gallup could show a small lead for the Republican nominee. But unless this is followed by similar movement in other national polls, we should count it as an outlier.

Of course, no polling day (or weekend) would be complete without a dark spot for Mitt Romney. In this case, it’s Ohio. It would be easy to dismiss the current 9-point gap between the candidates in the state as illustrating a trend but overstating Obama’s lead—it’s not that he isn’t winning but that it would be unusual for a weakened incumbent president to win Ohio by a larger margin than he did four years ago. But, with few exceptions, the polls are telling the same story: Obama is leading Ohio by close to double digits. Together, polls taken since the end of the Democratic National Convention show Obama with an average lead of 5.9 points over Mitt Romney in the state. Take a look:

The good news for Romney is that he can still win an election in which he loses Ohio. The bad news is that it’s incredibly difficult. If he loses Ohio, he’ll have to win Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Colorado to break 270 electoral votes, and even then, he’ll only win with 273. If he wins New Hampshire as well, he’ll hit 277. This scenario is possible but not at all likely. Romney’s weakness with working-class whites is what’s keeping him from a more competitive position in Ohio. That same weakness would keep him from winning other states with large numbers of working-class whites: Iowa and Wisconsin. A scenario in which Romney loses Ohio is also one in which—in all likelihood—he loses the other two.

Can Romney hope for a turnaround in Ohio? The optimist in me wants to think that the former Massachusetts governor stands a chance. But Romney seems stuck on his current path. He could try to adopt more moderate rhetoric—if conservatives allowed him to go that route—but he’s already been defined as dishonest and untrustworthy. Indeed, this is where the “47 percent” video is particularly damaging: Even if Romney wanted to reboot his message and adopt a less ideological tone, there’s a good chance voters won’t believe him. After all, they already saw what he said in private, and there’s no proof that his new message is the truth.

In the abstract, a loss in Ohio is survivable for the Romney campaign. But in the election as it exists, an Ohio loss is near fatal for the Republican presidential effort.