A lot could change between now and Election Day, but barring major changes over the next six months, it looks like it will be a close election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Real Clear Politics' average puts Obama ahead by a little less than three points, and most polls over the past month have given the president a slight lead. However, as the Prospect's Paul Waldman pointed out yesterday, even a close election plays into Obama's favor. An AP count of electoral votes put 242 in Obama's column as either solid or leaning Democrat, with 105 "up for grabs"—all states that Obama carried in 2008. He only needs to capture a small portion of those states again to gain the necessary 270 electoral votes.
Another sign that the map favors Obama: His campaign is expanding its efforts beyond the states he won in 2008 to include efforts in traditionally Republican ground. Over the weekend, The New York Times reported on the Obama campaign's move to test the waters in Arizona:
President Obama’s re-election campaign is dispatching workers across Arizona’s college campuses and Latino neighborhoods this spring, registering as many new voters as they can in an organized, three-month effort to determine whether they can put this unlikely state into play for Democrats this November.
By any measure the obstacles are considerable: Arizona has voted for precisely one Democratic president since Truman was in the White House. Yet Mr. Obama’s aides said in interviews that they thought it was possible they could move the needle of history by winning in 2012 a state that analysts believe is heading Democratic in national elections, but may not be there yet.
It's still a long shot, but there is plenty of reason for the Obama campaign to at least make an effort to win Arizona. When Public Policy Polling surveyed Arizona in February, it found Obama and Romney tied at 47 percent. The state's Hispanic and young population have been growing, and Obama only lost by 9 percent last time—not that bad considering he was playing on John McCain's home turf.
That also highlights one anomaly of the 2012 campaign. Candidates almost always win their home states, yet it would take an unimaginable landslide for Romney to win Massachusetts.
Since the 1950s, only a handful of major party candidates have failed to win their home state: Al Gore lost Tennessee in 2000, George McGovern lost South Dakota in 1972, and Adlai Stevenson stumbled in Illinois in both 1952 and 1956. You'll note that none of those men won those elections. Even Walter Mondale won Minnesota when he was shut out by the rest of the country. The last candidate to capture the presidency while failing to win his home state was Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Mitt Romney can certainly win in 2012 even as Obama takes Massachusetts, but it would be quite the departure from recent history.