As In Boxers know, I fiddle obsessively with polling data and the state-by-stat electoral map. With the latest round of polls showing some upticks of support for Mitt Romney in the West, particularly in Colorado, I decided to grapple with one question:
What is the one really hard but necessary thing that the Republican challenger has to do to unseat Barack Obama?
The answer, unfortunately, isn’t all that fresh or remarkable — but I think it’s still a defining fact in the final 89 days of this campaign. Romney has to win Ohio.
Even if he captures most of the other plausible battlegrounds, from Colorado to Florida to New Hampshire to Virginia, without Ohio Romney almost certainly falls short — allowing Obama to eke out at least a 271 to 267 vote victory in the electoral college.
On the other hand, if Romney can manage to capture Ohio, his path to victory widens significantly. He can lose, say, Colorado and New Hampshire and still emerge with his a ticket to the White House.
So if once again, Ohio will likely decide the fate of us all, where do things stand now?
Frankly, it’s a tough map for the Republican. In the Real Clear Politics average, Obama leads by just under 5%.
In the most recent Quinnipiac poll, the president had expanded that lead to 6% and had cracked the 50% mark. Even the most conservative-leaning pollsters haven’t given Romney an edge in Ohio since early June, and that was within the margin of error.
Making things more complicated is the fact that unemployment in Ohio is just 7.2%, well below the red-line marker of 8% that the GOP has pointed to as evidence of Obama’s policy failures. That makes it tougher for Romney to sell his message.
But while stubborn, 5% is hardly an insurmountable number. The political conventions are still to come.
And some pundits are suggesting that Romney will pick Ohio Sen. Rob Portman to be his running mate in an effort to bring the contest into reach, a move that I think is highly likely.
VP picks rarely define presidential contests, but if Romney chooses someone who can deliver Ohio, or at last put the stat within reach, it may be the most strategically savvy move of a campaign that hasn’t been particularly savvy.
The bottom line is that as polls close on election night, and news coverage rolls from east to west, Ohio will be a big tipping point. If it goes to Romney, it till likely be a long night. If Obama holds it, likely not so much.