If you believe in national polling data, Mitt Romney will be your next president. At least, that’s what a recent CBS/New York Times poll says. In their poll, Romney currently edges Barack Obama 47 percent – 46 percent. Naturally, they call it a “statistical dead heat,” but there you have it. The president is now the underdog.
Or is he?
National polling data, while a staple of television and print journalism, is an archaic, trivial dinosaur. When it comes to winning the White House, what matters the most is electoral math, not a national poll. That’s why strategists don’t pay a great deal of attention to them. They’re focusing on one number: 270: the number of electoral votes one needs to win the presidency.
And, given the CBS/NYT poll, Romney’s also leading in the electoral sense, right? Well…
According to the most recent polling data at my favorite site—Electoral-Vote.com—if the election were held today Barack Obama would beat Mitt Romney by a comfortable margin…in the electoral college sense. And if I’m Barack Obama, I’d move heaven and earth to make the election happen sooner, rather than later.
At the moment, the electoral chessboard favors Barack Obama (303 – 235). But that isn’t to say Romney doesn’t have a line on a checkmate. Recent polls in New Mexico and Virginia show the president’s lead dwindling rapidly. Obama edges Romney by a single percentage point in Virginia and his 15-point lead in New Mexico is down to five.
If you use the 2008 election results as the starting point, Romney needs to steal about 100 electoral votes from Obama to win. He’ll probably carry Florida (29), North Carolina (15) and Indiana (11), leaving him about 45 electoral votes shy of winning in November. That’s why Michigan (16), Ohio (18) and Pennsylvania (20) are critical for both candidates.
With no new polling numbers coming out of the other battleground states—Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania—the message is pretty clear, if you’re a campaign strategist: pump money into New Mexico and Virginia RIGHT NOW!
How the Obama team spends its pot of money becomes crucial. They need to continue driving home their message in the Midwest and hang onto the Rust Belt. They need to protect their lead in the west, hedging on Nevada and Colorado to boot.
Both campaigns will continue to focus on those three states plus New Mexico and Nevada for good measure. It’ll be most interesting to see how Obama plays Florida. Unlike four years ago, they’re facing an opponent who can afford a 50-state strategy and then some.
We’re 39 days from the first convention. Lots will happen between now and then. We’ll see if Romney finds the 35 electoral votes he needs to beat Obama. Stay tuned.