Virginia Is Still a Toss-Up—and Romney Should Be Worried

In my dispatch from Virginia Beach, I wrote that the state was a toss-up: At the time, President Obama was tied with Mitt Romney at 47.4 percent, down from 48.5 percent before the first presidential debate. In recent days, however, Obama’s star in the commonwealth has brightened, if only by a little bit. The last ten polls, stretching back to the middle of the month, after the vice presidential debate, show a small move in Obama’s direction:

Virginia, 10/14 - 10/24

Pollster Obama Romney Margin
Public Policy Polling (D) 51 46 O+5
Zogby 49 46 O+3
Mellman Group (D) 46 45 O+1
Wenzel Strategies (R) 47.1 49.2 R+2.1
Public Policy Polling (D) 49 47 O+2
Rasmussen 47 50 R+3
Old Dominion University 50 43 O+7
Public Policy Polling (D) 49 48 O+1
Pulse Opinion Research 47 46 O+1
American Research Group 47 48 R+1
Average 48.2 46.8 O+1.4

The most recent poll comes from Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling, which shows Obama with a five-point lead and strong performance with women (57–41), African Americans (88–8), and young voters (53-42). I doubt that Obama has a five-point edge in Virginia; an average of averages—taken from Pollster, Real Clear Politics, FiveThirtyEight and Talking Points Memo—shows Obama with a 0.7 percent margin over Romney, 47.9 to 47.2. In other words, the race is a toss-up and there’s still a chance for it to go in anyone’s direction.

Still, I’d rather be in Obama’s position than Romney’s. If you zoom out to the electoral map as a whole, Obama is in a winning position—as long as he maintains his margins in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada, he has the 270 electoral votes necessary to secure the presidency. Virginia is the gravy—a nice addition, but not a key part of his strategy. By contrast, Romney can’t lose Virginia. Without the commonwealth, Romney has few plausible paths to 270, especially when you consider the fact that states move together: An Obama win in Virginia implies strong performance and turnout from African Americans, Latinos, young people and women, which suggests a win in Colorado as well. Simply put, if Virginia is called for Obama on election night, then you can safely assume he’s won the election.

One other thing: There’s been growing speculation of a split between the popular vote and the electoral college, with Obama winning the latter. I think that’s unlikely, and especially so if Virginia stays blue. The state’s demographics are close to the country’s writ large: Just over one-third nonwhite, with a sizable cohort of young people and slightly more women than men. If Obama can win 50 percent in Virginia—or a little less than that, since Virgil Goode, Constitution Party candidate for president and former Virginia congressman, might siphon votes from Romney—my guess is that he’ll be on track to do so nationwide. If Romney wins the state, however, a split becomes a little more likely.