Category Archives: The Battle for …

The Battle for Wisconsin

We blogged the Wall Street Journal piece about the opening for Romney in Wisconsin but honestly the Journal’s write-up was quite crappy (what do you expect with anything Neil King touches — he’s a major Democrat hack).  It was a very pro-Obama slant on every poll and every other state except Wisconsin despite the fact it is a big deal that Team Obama has to compete in a state he won by 14-points four years ago.  Lynn Sweet in the Chicago Sun-Times does a much more commendable job on the subject:

President Barack Obama hits Milwaukee next Saturday for a grass-roots rally — in a state where he was not supposed to be spending any campaign time — or money. Things have changed. Wisconsin is now a battleground. Obama’s 14-point Wisconsin win in 2008 doesn’t guarantee a 2012 victory.

The Battlefield

Obama needs to squeeze every vote out of the Democratic city and county of Milwaukee — in order to wipe out gains from new Mitt Romney-friendly Badger turf. Romney’s selection last month of a son of Janesville to be his vice presidential pick — U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan — pushed Wisconsin to the short list of states determining who wins the White House in November. The Romney and Obama campaigns have this in common: They don’t pay much attention to national polls, except to discern certain trends or themes or show them to wavering mega-donors. The polls that matter are the battleground state surveys.

The Players

The campaigns are sending Obama, Romney, Ryan, Vice President Joe Biden and their spouses only to the battlegrounds, except for fund-raising detours — such as first lady Michelle Obama’s Sept. 27 fund-raiser in Chicago.

Ad Wars and Super Pacs

Last week marked Wisconsin’s move into full battleground status with candidate visits and television buys. NBC reported that the Obama campaign purchased $668,000 in TV time, compared with $370,000 bought by the Romney team. That amount is dwarfed by SuperPACs and other groups buying Wisconsin television time. Overall, Romney forces have — so far — outspent Obama backers by about double. Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the pro-Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA, the group Mayor Rahm Emanuel is fund-raising for, bought more than $3 million in time for ads that have not yet run. Romney groups have vastly outspent Obama’s allies in Wisconsin so far, Gilbert reports, with American for Prosperity at $3.3 million; Restore our Future at $2.8 million; Concerned Women for America at $1.1 million, and $370,000 from Republican National Committee, whose chairman, Reince Priebus, is from Wisconsin.

Ground Assault

To complement the ad wars, Ryan stumped in Green Bay and Oak Creek while Vice President Joe Biden hit Eau Claire, all in advance of Obama’s Sept. 17 visit to headline a fund-raiser. It will be his first trip to Wisconsin since February.

The Battle for Florida

Earlier I sung the praises of Michael Steele for getting the Convention in Tampa despite the bed-wetter cries about the weather at the start. Nate Silver breaks down the entire state of Florida with its partisan divide across the state concluding that the choice of Tampa for this year’s convention was a brilliant move for the GOP. As he writes: “In every election since 1960 the presidential candidate who carried Florida has also carried Tampa’s Hillsborough County.” Considering the likelihood that if Romney cannot carry Florida, he likely cannot win the election, perhaps Governor Romney should send a thank you note to the embattled but successful former Chairman if come November we are calling him President Romney:

The Republican Party has good reason to hold its national convention in Tampa, Fla. The Tampa area is the most competitive section of the most competitive region in one of the most competitive states in the nation — the perfect place to seek a glimmer of extra advantage in a closely-fought presidential contest. In many ways, the Tampa area was the weakest link in the regional coalition that Barack Obama built to win Florida in 2008. The Tampa-St. Petersburg media market is home to a quarter of Florida’s registered Republicans, and Mr. Obama carried Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties — home to Tampa and St. Petersburg — by a smaller margin than Florida’s other major population centers. If Mitt Romney wants to win the state, it represents the most attractive target.

And winning Florida is a must for Mr. Romney. Based on the simulations that the FiveThirtyEight forecast model ran on Tuesday, Mr. Romney has only a 0.3 percent chance of winning the election if he loses the state. It is hard to conceive of Mr. Romney winning the election but losing Florida because Florida is an ever-so-slightly Republican-leaning state. If he loses it, he’s probably having trouble elsewhere on the map as well. It’s quite unlikely that Mr. Romney loses Florida but wins a state like Michigan or Pennsylvania, for instance.

Democrat South Florida

Just over a third of Florida’s registered Democrats live in the Miami and West Palm Beach media markets, especially in Miami-Dade County, Broward County and Palm Beach County.

  • Broward County, in particular, is critical to Democratic margins in Florida. Without Broward County Mr. Obama would have lost Florida in 2008; his statewide margin of victory (204,577 votes) was less than his margin in Broward (252,948 votes).
  • Miami-Dade County is reliably Democratic. Its large Cuban-American population leans Republican and keeps the county from tilting all the way to the left. Miami-Dade County is home to 58 percent of Florida’s Hispanic Republicans and 34 percent of Hispanic Democrats.

The I-4 Corridor: from Tampa to Orlando

  • Orlando’s Orange County was just marginally Democratic in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Then — partly because of an influx of non-Cuban Hispanics — Mr. Obama carried Orange County fairly easily in 2008, and the county itself is probably out of reach for Republicans now. “It’s really tipping the state,” Mr. deHaven-Smith said. A potential dream scenario for Democrats — and a nightmare for Republicans — is if the demographic shifts in this region are enough to shift Florida from being slightly Republican-leaning to strictly neutral, or slightly Democratic-leaning instead.

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The (Legal) Battle for Florida

Ever since the 2000 election, Florida has been a mainstay of ever national election due to its political diversity, high electoral count and notoriously tight outcomes.  Although the state no longer holds the preeminent place as THE battleground state (a title jointly shared by Virginia and Ohio), the state is still fraught with political cross-currents that will make the state a battleground to the very end this election season.  The recent visits by Paul Ryan and President Obama are just the warm-up acts.  The Republican Convention begins shortly which will put an even greater spotlight on a state that is settling its differences in court — hopefully before election day:

Stick a pin almost anywhere on a map of Florida and you’ll find a legal battle over who will be eligible to vote in the coming presidential election — and when, and how, and where. In a state crucial to Mitt Romney’s battle to replace President Obama, a sweeping law passed in 2011 by the Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott (R) has created an awesome wake of litigation. The law imposes more than 75 changes, including new restrictions on who can register voters and limits on the time allowed for early voting. Sponsors of the measure said it creates a more reliable system that combats voter fraud, while opponents, a group that included every Democratic lawmaker, called it a partisan ploy to suppress voters who traditionally favor Democrats.

Lawyers take to the forefront

But unlike the frenzied trip to the U.S. Supreme Court that followed the close of voting in the 2000 presidential race, the Sunshine State’s legal battles are being waged in advance of the November vote. “Florida is desperately trying not to be the next Florida,” said Richard L. Hasen, an expert on election law whose new book, “The Voting Wars,” begins with a chapter titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Florida.”

Florida ballot litigation is not unique this year

There could be many contenders for the title this fall. In battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and beyond, changes in voting laws have resulted in high-stakes legal battles over whose ballots will be counted.

Litany of litigious locals

One of the many legal battles in Florida was answered last last week, when a panel of federal judges ruled that the new limits on early voting could not be implemented in five counties that receive special scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act. Florida, said the unanimous ruling, “has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters.” That will hardly be the last judicial decision affecting Florida’s nearly 11.5 million voters before polls close on Nov. 6.

  • In Miami, minority groups have sued the state over whether its plan to purge the voter lists of noncitizens might result in legitimate voters losing their rights.
  • In Tampa, a similar lawsuit asks whether the state’s plan to purge the lists violated a different section of the federal law.
  • In Tallahassee, judges in two courts considered a host of suits and countersuits, including one change that caused the League of Women Voters to suspend voter-registration efforts for fear of criminal penalties.
  • In Duval County, where African Americans make up a larger portion of voters than in any of Florida’s other large counties, Elder Lee E. Harris has joined a lawsuit that would require the state to continue to allow early voting on the Sunday before the election.

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The Battle for Iowa: Battleground Counties — Today’s Must Read

Normally in any given state we like to focus on a handful of the key populous counties that will swing this year’s election.  The Des Moines Register lays out all 12 counties in Iowa that are Battlegrounds this year including this super-cool interactive map with voting results of every county in Iowa:

 The Des Moines Register examined a dozen swing counties that have seesawed from Republican to Democratic, home to ticket-splitting voters that both presidential campaigns desperately want to win over this fall. Polling data for Iowa is scarce, but a rolling average shows a stubborn tie between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Such a tight race means a cache of votes here or there will save or kill a campaign. Both sides see opportunity in Iowa’s rural counties this cycle — Democrats in independent female voters and Republicans in white men without college degrees. The unemployment rate in Iowa’s 12 hottest swing counties ranges from 3.7 percent (Carroll) to 7.5 percent (Hamilton). Across the board, county leaders agree, the shaky state of the national economy is Obama’s biggest vulnerability.

And as Iowa looks at a stunted crop this fall, if not crop failure, voters will be focused on the drought’s impact on their local economies, and the government’s response.
This cycle, the GOP feels confident Mitt Romney will win many 2008 Obama counties — such as those he won by 1 point or less, including Warren, Hamilton, Iowa, Hardin and Franklin. Democratic strategists see gold in Muscatine, Wapello, Clinton and Des Moines counties — all fervently Democratic. The Democrats have opened offices there this cycle, as well as in all the bigger urban counties, where Obama will need to pile up huge surpluses to offset less favorable counties. Not every county in purple Iowa is competitive. Some could be called right now: Johnson, Des Moines and Lee will be safely in Obama’s column on Nov. 6, and Sioux, Lyon and Osceola will be safely in Romney’s. But some, like the dozen key “swingers” featured here, shift from D to R depending on the candidate, pet issues, hot local races and attention from the campaigns.

Although each county listed is hotly contested, not everyone would be considered a Battleground county under the auspices by which I refer to them.  Battleground counties, for our purposes, are both hotly contested counties and are heavily populated enough to swing the electoral balance in the state. For example, Scott County alone had nearly the same aggregate vote total in 2008 (85,292 votes cast for both Obama and McCain) as the bottom 9 counties combined (84,904 votes cast). So Scott County is clearly a Battleground County for our purposes while Greene County (4,720 votes cast) would not be. But even though not every county fits my definition, in this closely contested election, each is clearly a 2012 battleground as Jennifer Jacobs tremendously demonstrates. Here is the county by county breakdown reordered by aggregate vote total:

Scott — 85,292 total votes for Obama/McCain in 2008

  • Trend in last four presidential races: Dem by 9 points, Dem by 4 points, Dem by 3 points, Dem by 15 points.
  • Scott is a Democratic county and a big union county. But Branstad has never lost here, and Romney beat his GOP rivals here in the caucuses.
  • Iowa’s east coast counties — Scott, Muscatine, Clinton and Jackson among them — figured prominently in the Bush-Gore contest. Scott is an expensive battleground, where campaigns are forced by the border-state TV market to spend money advertising to already-decided Illinois.
  • Obama is amassing a battalion here, made up of neighborhood team leaders and support volunteers, who are called “core team members.”
  • Scott is more competitive than Democratic strategists might like to admit. The county government has a GOP lean. Four of the five countywide supervisors are Republicans, and so are two of the three state senators.
  • Scott is also GOP congressional challenger John Archer’s best bet for a strong showing. And Romney’s state chairman lives in Scott, where he’s leading a strong organization.

Woodbury — 44, 202 total votes for Obama/McCain in 2008

  • Trend in last four presidential races: Dem by 2 points, GOP by 3 points, GOP by 2 points, GOP by 1 point.
  • This is an urban river county where three states come together, and voters worry about competing with neighbors for jobs. Both Nebraska and South Dakota have lower income taxes, but Iowa has a more favorable sales tax.
  • It’s in the heart of Iowa’s red west, but unlike Pottawattamie to the south, it’s an outpost of urban Democrats.
  • Democrats recently opened a campaign headquarters here — in a Hispanic neighborhood in Sioux City. Woodbury Republicans opened theirs with Sam Clovis, a popular conservative radio host, officiating.
  • If congressional challenger Christie Vilsack can make a run of it here, her influence will energize the Democrats, politics watchers said.
  • Independent voters — a third of the electorate — will be the deciders this year, said Linda Holub, co-chair of the Woodbury GOP. Health care and federal debt top the issues list.

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Wisconsin: Battleground or Not?

I was an early adopter of Wisconsin being a prime battleground in 2012. The 2010 success statewide coupled with an expected Scott Walker recall victory led me to believe there would be incredible momentum heading into November for the eventual GOP nominee. Unfortunately while most of the premises held true any subsequent momentum seems to be lacking. Romney may still win Wisconsin, but it may need to be part of a bigger wave nationally than I originally thought he’d need.  The dean of Wisconsin politics, Craig Gilbert, take a look at the current Wisconsin landscape:

Neither the Obama nor Romney campaign is running broadcast television ads here. Why have the presidential ad wars, raging in more than half a dozen other states since May, largely bypassed Wisconsin so far? Could it be that Wisconsin is not quite the battleground it has been in the past?

Not a Tier 1 Battleground

The campaigns’ TV buys show that Wisconsin, where President Obama leads in the polls, currently ranks behind seven or eight other states in competitiveness — among them Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire. Romney himself told the Toledo Blade recently that “there are just many places we can’t afford to be running ads,” because much of the money his campaign has been raising this summer can’t be spent by law until after the national convention. Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said Wisconsin is “not at the level of Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, Florida” as an electoral target right now. “It’s in the next batch.”

Follow the money

In the end, what the campaigns, the parties and the big-spending outside groups do with their advertising buys in the coming weeks and months will answer the question of how competitive they believe Wisconsin is in 2012. As Tad Devine, strategist for the 2004 Kerry for President campaign, said during that race, “If you want to understand the strategic intent of a presidential campaign, look at what they do with their media buy.” That’s the “tell.”

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The Virginia Battleground Map

Similar to the post below regarding Ohio, Crystal Ball’s Geoffrey Skelley breaks down the Battleground map of Virginia, complete with the all-important battleground counties:

The idea of Virginia being a swing state is an entirely new concept, but it’s something the Commonwealth — and the nation — is going to have to get used to. The nature of the state’s population growth since the millennium has brought about major demographic and cultural shifts. Virginia is now the New Dominion, rather than the Old.

Of the state’s 13% growth in population between 2000 and 2010, a large portion occurred in Northern Virginia, the diverse suburbs and exurbs of Washington, D.C. Examples of rapid growth abound: Prince William County grew 40% while Loudoun County led the state with a growth rate of 84%, making them the third and fifth-most populous entities* in the state, respectively. Fairfax County crossed the 1 million resident threshold, making it more than twice the size of the state’s largest city, Virginia Beach. NoVa, as it is somewhat derisively known among down-staters, is now the most powerful region in the state on Election Day. As shown on the chart below, Northern Virginia had more total two-party voters in the 2008 presidential election than any other region.

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The Ohio Battleground Map

Larry Sabatos’ Crystal ball troop do some of the best work every election season.  Today Kyle Kondik writes up the Battlegroup map of Ohio, complete with battleground counties we love so much. Despite its decreasing electoral value (much like it’s neighbor to the East — Pennsylvania), Ohio remains all-important to the 2012 election:

Ohio, the great maker of presidents, remains vitally important in presidential elections because it is one of the biggest of the 10-15 truly competitive states in the Electoral College. But it does not pack the electoral punch it once did. On one hand, the Buckeye State does have the seventh-most electoral votes of any state (only California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania have more). Of those states, only it and Florida have voted for the winning presidential candidate in each of the past five elections. On the other hand is this sobering fact for lovers of the Birthplace of Aviation — the last time Ohio cast less than 18 electoral votes for president (its new total after losing two votes following the 2010 census), Andrew Jackson was carrying it on his way to his first presidential win in 1828. That was 184 years ago.

In President Barack Obama’s Ohio victory, more than his whole winning margin came from Northeast Ohio, which provided about two-fifths of all votes cast for either Obama or Republican John McCain (for the purposes of this analysis, third party votes were removed). As is shown on the chart below, Obama won 59% of the two-party vote in Northeast Ohio’s 20 counties. In the state’s other 68 counties, McCain received close to 52% of the two-party vote, to Obama’s 48%.

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The Battle for Florida

Florida may no longer holds its position as the #1 Battleground state in the nation as it did in 2000 and 2004, but it remains an enormously important state in the 2012 election:

The stakes are hard to overstate: Obama’s re-election is nearly assured should he repeat his 2008 victory in Florida, based on how the states lean now. His standing in Florida is far more precarious than it is in other contested states – so if he wins Florida, it’s likely that he’s won in many other states as he looks to cobble together the 270 Electoral College votes it takes to win. Romney’s state-by-state routes to reaching the magic number are more limited than the president’s, and a Florida victory would make it far more probable that he could win the presidency.

The I-4 corridor

Voters along Interstate 4, which stretches from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach, will determine the outcome if the race remains close into the fall, as expected. About 45 percent of the state’s voters live in that 17-county area. But both candidates stressed central Florida early on. Obama was in Tampa in April, announcing a measure to promote trade with Latin America. Romney was in neighboring St. Petersburg in May, promoting plans to cut federal spending. Both stopped in Orlando last month to visit businesses and appeal for support from Latino voters. “The reality is it’s the most up-for-grabs part of the most up-for-grabs state,” B.J. Neidhardt, manager of Orlando Democrat Val Demings’ congressional campaign, said of Florida’s midsection.

Bad news for Obama and Democrats belief in the “coalition of the ascendent”

The electorate in Florida is virtually unchanged from 2008 because the ailing economy stifled the population growth of the previous decade. And in this campaign, the economy dominates. The recession took a deep toll on the state’s recreation industry, especially around Orlando. A decline in foreign trade hurt the Port of Tampa, Florida’s largest shipping port. The housing crisis fueled widespread home foreclosures and severely hampered the construction industry on which much of the region’s immigrant-heavy workforce relies. Florida’s unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in May, slightly higher than the national average and all other presidential battleground states except Nevada. A little more than four months before the Nov. 6 election, Obama narrowly leads Romney in statewide polls.

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The Battle for New Hampshire

New Hampshire, much like Iowa, receives a disproportionate amount of attention relative to its electoral importance due its primacy in the election calendar. Once the primaries finish, general election campaigns usually pay far greater attention to states possessing substantially larger electoral vote hauls.  Not this year:

There will be far more to the Granite State political story than even Mitt Romney, winner of the Republican primary in January, could have contemplated.

A red state turned purple

A generation ago, no one would have thought that New Hampshire, with its sturdy Republican tradition, could possibly be a presidential battleground. Between Franklin Roosevelt’s last campaign in 1944 and Bill Clinton’s first in 1992, New Hampshire voted Republican every time but in the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide. Even then Carroll county went for Barry Goldwater, the only one in New England to do so. But since then this state, once resolutely red. Clinton won the state in 1992 by a hair, and then Gov. George W. Bush seized it by just as slim a margin — but would have lost both the state, and the 2000 election, had not Ralph Nader taken about 22,000 votes, almost all of them from Vice President Al Gore.

Now it is open to changing colors, from red to blue and then back again twice, and the irony is that this year’s election is between two men who were defeated in primary fights here in 2008 and left for dead, only to recover, Obama later that year and Romney in four years’ time. The velocity of the change in staid old New Hampshire has been stunning, which is why Romney’s forces believe they will prevail here — a notion that has prompted Obama to intensify his organizational efforts.

Republican routs at the state level

Two years ago, Democrats controlled the state House (224-176) and the state Senate (14-10), only to become the victims of a stunning GOP surge that gave the Republicans overpowering margins in both, 293-104 in the House and 19-5 in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Republicans took back two congressional seats, elected a senator to an open seat and overturned a 3-2 disadvantage on the Executive Council, an institution with colonial antecedents and functions so peculiar and inscrutable that no other state has copied it, and now have a 5-0 margin there.

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The Battle for Iowa

We have talked before how Iowa usually fades into the background of national politics following its disproportionate focus leading up to its first in the nation caucus. However, 2012 is a unique election in many regards and Iowa’s continued prominence remains top of mind with both campaigns.  Like many Battlegrounds, Iowa contains one of the central paradoxes of the campaign: while the national economy struggles, the Iowa economy is humming right along. Seema Mehta of the Los Angeles Times takes a look at the unique story that is the Battle for Iowa this election  season:

This year, the place where the race for president began may decide how it ends. No matter what the scenario for winning the presidency, Iowa and its six electoral votes are central to the mix. Des Moines and Cedar Rapids are among the top media markets in the nation for presidential campaign advertising.

Iowa economy outpacing the nation

Unemployment in the state is 5.1 percent, well below the national average. New homes are springing up in the suburbs of Des Moines. The farm economy is booming, driven by strong commodity prices and exports – 1 in every 4 rows of soybeans is bound for China.

Tailoring a message

Romney’s solution has been to play to the frugal Midwesterners who populate the state. A campaign television ad released Friday vowed that on his first day as president he would attack the deficit “starting with $20 billion in savings.”

“By Day 100, President Romney is working toward a balanced budget, making sure the government lives within its means,” the ad continued. “President Romney’s first 100 days: For the people of Iowa, they mean fewer worries about their future and their children’s future.” That echoed the thrust of his speech in a May visit to Des Moines, when he invoked heartland imagery as he argued against leaving such a burden to future generations. “A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and across the nation, and every day we fail to act we feed that fire with our own lack of resolve,” Romney said. “… This is not just bad economics; this is morally wrong and we must stop it.” Political analysts say it is a smart argument. The state’s pay-as-you-go ethos is evident; Iowa’s residents carry the lowest average credit card debt of any state.

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The Battle for Wisconsin

Craig Gilbert, the authority on Wisconsin politics, provides a statewide voting breakdown of the Wisconsin recall results and identifies the areas likely to decide the 2012 Presidential race for the Badger State:

In geographic terms, the big story of the state’s June 5 election was Walker’s striking performance outside the Milwaukee and Madison media markets. In demographic terms, it was Walker’s rural landslide. Is what happened “out-state” a warning sign for Democrats — and President Obama — in November?

No matter how huge their margins in Milwaukee and Dane counties, Democrats can’t win statewide if their geographic base is as narrow as it was June 5, when Tom Barrett won only 12 of 72 counties and only six outside the state’s southern tier. Much of the swing vote in Wisconsin can be found outside the Madison and Milwaukee TV markets, which contain the state’s most partisan Democratic counties (Milwaukee, Dane) and most partisan Republican counties (Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee).

  • Wausau TV market contains 11 counties in north central Wisconsin. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle won the Wausau market by 11 points in 2006. Democrat Barack Obama won it by 12 in 2008. Then Republican Walker won it by 12 points in 2010 and by 18 points in 2012.
  • Green Bay market. Obama carried it by seven points in 2008 and Walker carried it by 23 in 2012.
  • La Crosse-Eau Claire market. Obama carried it by 19 points in 2008 and Walker carried it by nine points in 2012.

Many of the same out-state counties Obama carried by single or double digits in 2008, Walker ran away with in 2012. (To take just one example, Obama won Kewaunee County by 11 points in ’08; Walker won it by 29 on June 5).

The fact that Walker won them by such unusual margins is clearly an encouraging sign for Republicans in November. By the same token, Walker’s performance in some areas of outstate Wisconsin was so exceptional it may be hard for other Republicans to duplicate.

The changing geographic split in Wisconsin:

Wisconsin has long had an East-West partisan divide, with Republicans stronger in the East (excluding Milwaukee) and Democrats stronger in the West. But this race featured a North-South divide as well, thanks in part to what happened with rural voters.

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The Battle for Michigan

A couple months ago few people put Michigan in the Battleground territory except Mitt Romney, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and this blog. Recent polls demonstrate Obama’s narrowing lead and weakness in suburbs raising GOP hopes in the Great Lakes State. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Michigan ahead of the Romney bus tour visit on Monday:

Barack Obama breezed to victory in Michigan in 2008 and, until recently, his bailout of the state’s auto industry looked to have armored him well for November. But signs of trouble are brewing in the Great Lakes State. If they grow, they would signal broader problems for the president in the industrial Midwest. Across Michigan, but particularly in several key counties that hug Detroit,veteran GOP strategists point to evidence of ebbing support for the president among independents, despite an improving economy egged on by the booming car sector.

Ramping up and hitting the ground running:

Conservative groups from outside the state are now showering Michigan with television ads, at a cost already of around $3 million, about three-quarters of what the campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain spent here during all of 2008. Their aim is to soften the ground for Mr. Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney, whose own campaign is now staffing up in the state. Recent polls vary widely but generally point to a narrowing lead for Mr. Obama.

Risks to Obama:

An Obama loss in Michigan could imperil the president’s path to victory in the Electoral College, potentially requiring him to win one of the two hardest-fought states, Ohio and Florida. Heading into the fall, signs of weakness in the industrial belt also would require the Obama campaign to pour far more manpower and resources than planned into other states, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that Democrats have held in all of the last five presidential campaigns. “If Barack Obama can’t win Michigan, he can’t win the White House,” said Katie Gage, a longtime Michigan political operative and Mr. Romney’s deputy campaign manager. “We will compete there aggressively.”

Economy out front:

With the election likely to hinge on voter sentiment toward the economy, state job numbers released Friday by the federal government offered a mixed picture of the region’s economic health. Ohio gained 19,000 jobs last month and saw its jobless rate drop to 7.3%. But Michigan lost 5,000 jobs and saw its unemployment rate tick up to 8.5%, slightly higher than the U.S. average. Both the campaign and Michigan GOP lawmakers cite several factors that appear to be giving Mr. Romney a boost. The unemployment rate, which topped 14% in the summer of 2009, has eased markedly under Gov. Rick Snyder, a former-businessman-turned-politician. That has allowed Republicans to argue that voters should trust Mr. Romney, who carries a similar resume.

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The Battle for Ohio

We know Ohio and Virginia are 1 and 1A in rankings of importance in this year’s election, and like many of the Battleground states, nothing is simple in this heartland state:

Ohio again is earning its reputation as the ultimate toss-up state. The proof is in the spending. Last week, the two campaigns and their allies poured more money into TV ads in Ohio — about $1.3 million each — than in any other state, including Florida. Democrats admit Mitt Romney has a real chance of putting the state back into the GOP column after President Barack Obama’s hard-fought win in 2008. Still, after a disastrous 2010 midterm election, Ohio Democrats and many independents rallied last year to defeat a Republican-backed labor union law. The big question this fall, Ritenauer says, is “whether they come out in full force for President Obama.” No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. Obama won it by 5 percentage points. Republicans hope 2010 is the best predictor of this year’s contest. Democrats hope it’s 2011.

2010 Landslide for the GOP:

No state saw a more sweeping GOP victory in the 2010 elections than Ohio. Republicans ousted the Democratic governor, enjoyed a landslide U.S. Senate win, replaced five Democratic U.S. House members and regained control of the Ohio House to take full command of the state government.

Overreach leads to repeal:

 The new governor, John Kasich, backed legislation to sharply reduce public unions’ bargaining rights. The move infuriated millions in a state largely built upon the unionized steel and automobile industries. Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected the law in a referendum last November, forcing Kasich to strike a more conciliatory tone.

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The Battle for New Hampshire

Mitt Romney kicks off his “Every Town Counts” tour tomorrow in the state and at the farm he launched his Presidential campaign barely over twelve months ago. According to the Associated Press, Both campaigns are flooding the tiny state with money and attention, suggesting more may be at stake than four electoral votes in an election each side expects will be a nail-biter to the end:

Perhaps no presidential battleground will test the leanings of critical independent voters more than the “Live Free or Die” state. Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney’s ties run deep in a place that has vacillated between Republicans and Democrats in recent years. “Gov. Romney has a very special relationship with New Hampshire,” says Jim Merrill, a top New Hampshire-based strategist for both of Romney’s presidential campaigns. Despite the familiarity, there is little doubt that Romney — sometimes dubbed an “adopted New Hampshire son” — faces a steep climb.

Advantage Obama:

Recent polls give Obama an early edge. Romney also is just beginning to awaken a local campaign apparatus that’s largely been dormant for months. Obama’s team, meanwhile, activated its grassroots network long ago. The walls were still bare in parts of Romney’s state headquarters last week, the same day Obama’s team hosted nearly two dozen house parties across the state. Scores of Democratic volunteers gathered at strangers’ kitchen tables, on front porches and in sewing rooms to make calls, recruit more volunteers and attack their Republican opponent.

Strong local economy:

New Hampshire’s unemployment rate stands at just 5 percent, among the best in the country, compared to the nationwide average of 8.2 percent. Romney argues that any economic success is in spite of — not because of — Obama’s leadership. That’s an argument Republicans are making in other swing states with below average unemployment rates — Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Colorado among them.

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The Battle for Virginia

Scott Conroy at real Clear Politics takes a look at one of the election’s most important states: Virginia.

In what both sides regard as one of the election’s three or four most critical swing states, Obama has opened up a slim yet significant three-point lead in the latest RCP average of Virginia polls.  Though he shows strength in other regions of the state, the president largely has the expansive D.C. suburbs to thank for that advantage.

Where the votes are: Fairfax, County:

In Fairfax, the Old Dominion’s most populous county, Obama bested John McCain by 61 percent to 39 percent in his seven-point Virginia victory in 2008. While he may not have to win the county by that wide a margin this time around, he is counting on Northern Virginia’s increasing diversity and its large federal workforce to provide a critical edge once again. “The economic influence of the federal government is probably outsized here,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat who represents Virginia’s suburban 11th District, where residents are among the wealthiest in the nation. “We [also] look a lot more like the face of the country as a whole than ever before, and what’s interesting about that is it tends to favor Democratic candidates.”

The changing face of Virginia:

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The Battle for Virginia

In today’s must read, the LA Times takes an in-depth look at one of the “ground zero” states in this year’s election: Virginia. If one candidate wins both Ohio and Virginia they almost certainly win the election.

A key fact in the piece about the state that cannot be overstated: “Northern Virginia is much wealthier than the rest of the state. It has much more of a connection to Washington, and so it’s unlike any other part of the country.” This is immeasurably important because when much of the country complains of stimulus spending and the incredible expansion of government, it is this geographic area that is THE beneficiary of the spending and expansion. Basically this is where all your money goes. They love Obama and can’t understand why the rest of the country isn’t doing as well as they are. This is the crux of the increasing difficulty for Republicans in the densely populated areas of Northern Virginia.

Nearly the entire article is fantastic so I encourage you to read the whole thing (as a wise man often says). Other than a brief foray into the “demography is destiny” reason for future Democrat dominance (that has been debunked many times) this article is chock full of most everything you want to know about possibly the key state in this election:

President Obama’s reelection depends heavily on young and minority voters. Candidate Obama capitalized on demographic shifts four years ago, mobilizing an army of newly registered voters and becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the Old Dominion since 1964. If Obama took Virginia again, he could afford to lose Ohio and Florida, larger swing states he also won last time. Romney, on the other hand, will find it very hard to get to 270 electoral votes if he can’t claim Virginia. “Virginia holds the keys to the kingdom,” said Rick Wiley, the Republican National Committee political director, who is working closely with the Romney campaign. Obama has a small lead in recent statewide polling, but Democrats and Republicans expect a close finish. Both sides say Virginia will ultimately be won or lost in the far suburbs of the state’s population centers, where women are a prized demographic — and the biggest worry for Republican strategists.

Serve and volley:

Romney made a campaign stop in northern Virginia last month for an event with female business owners. The Obama campaign responded when First Lady Michelle Obama gave a pep talk last week to campaign workers in Prince William County, an outer suburb that is a bellwether this year. The event revolved heavily around women’s issues and touched on a controversial Republican proposal in the Virginia Legislature that would have required women to obtain a transvaginal ultrasound before getting an abortion.

Control what you can control:

The unknown in 2012: the course of the economy. Virginia’s unemployment rate, at 5.6%, is the lowest of the 20 most-populous states. Yet parts of Virginia that had been booming and trending Democratic — including the Washington exurbs — are still hurting from the recession, which could reduce enthusiasm for Obama.

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The Battle for Colorado

The Denver Post looks at what is going on with Colorado‘s new found prominence as a Battleground:

Several dynamics this year make the Centennial State even more competitive [than 2008]— and critical to winning the White House. Unlike 2008 there are fewer states this time around that are truly up for grabs. Obama and Mitt Romney are eyeing Colorado’s nine electoral votes — in combination with other Western states such as Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona — to give them the win. The campaigns use a combination of history, demographics and polling to determine which states are solidly or leaning red or blue and which states are considered tossups. From there, it’s a matter of doing the math — finding ways to combine victories in winnable states to get the candidate to 270 electoral votes, the total needed to win the presidency.

Polls show the race is a dead heat:

A poll of 600 Coloradans by Purple Strategies found 48 percent favored Obama and 46 percent favored Romney. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points. A Rasmussen Reports poll of 500 likely voters showed both candidates with 45 percent, while 6 percent preferred another candidate and 5 percent were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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The Battle for Nevada

Nevada is one of the countries truest swing states with disaffected Californian’s moving in which helps Republicans while an increasing immigrant population helps Democrats.  Despite all the “demography is destiny” talk voters here express great concern over the economic woes that will likely determine the outcome in the Fall. The Associated Press breaks down the state of the Presidential race today:

Nevada is a true swing-voting state. It chose Clinton in 1992 and 1996, before swinging Republican in 2000 and 2004 for George W. Bush. It backed Obama in 2008. And if history is any guide, it could again choose the eventual White House victor, as it has every four years since 1980. The president is fighting against Nevada’s dismal economy while Romney faces a better-organized and better-funded state Democratic Party machine with a victorious track record. Those factors are leveling the playing field here, and Obama and Romney head into the summer seemingly locked in a close race in a state that both sides expect will be fiercely contested — and a true toss-up — throughout the fall.

It’s been largely a one-man show thus far:

At least $5.6 million in TV ads has been spent in the state, with Obama and his Democratic allies spending roughly $1.2 million more than Republican outside groups. Romney, himself, has yet to go on the air [Caveat not in the piece: Romney announced over the weekend a $113k ad buy in Nevada for this week in Las Vegas and Reno] …While Romney has yet to run any general election ads in Nevada, several outside groups are on the air and providing cover for him.

Who will decide the outcome:

Nevada’s outcome is all but certain to come down to a huge swath of independent and undecided voters here, many of whom say they’ll choose the candidate with the right economic prescriptions.perhaps more than in any other state, the race is shaped by the economy.

Challenges for Obama and his effort so far:

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The Battle for Wisconsin

Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin — Easily the most important state for the next 36 hours as we near the end of the near-permanent recall campaign ever since Governor Scott Walker fixed the state’s budget and economic woes.  The always insightful Jeff Zeleny picks up on the Wisconsin-specific changes in Presidential campaigning thanks to the expected success of Republicans in the recall elections:

A Republican resurgence here, which has burst into full view as the party determinedly defends its sitting governor in a rare recall election, is spilling into the presidential race. A Republican victory here could set off a wave of adjustments in the lineup of swing states. Even before the outcome of Tuesday’s vote is known, Democrats are warning that Wisconsin is far from a surefire win in November. “We are tremendously polarized,” Mike Tate, the Wisconsin Democratic chairman, said in an interview on Sunday. “We’re going to remain a very competitive state heading into the fall.” … “I think it will be hard for Obama to get re-elected,” said [Obama supporter Laurie] Gilson, who works at Shopko, a discount store. “I hope he gets back in, but the economy is in the toilet and too many people don’t want him around anymore.”

What makes Wisconsin unusually important?

President Obama holds multiple paths to re-election, with a handful of battleground states being able to slip away without leading to his defeat. But each possible outcome on his campaign map has always shared a common trait: winning Wisconsin.

Enter the Romney campaign:

Romney is within striking distance of Mr. Obama in Wisconsin, according to several public and private polls and interviews with strategists in both parties, and he intends to start building a campaign operation off the robust get-out-the-vote machinery assembled for Mr. Walker. The decision by the Romney campaign to try to contest Wisconsin is the first sign that Republicans are eager to expand their targets of opportunity and compete on terrain that not long ago seemed squarely on Mr. Obama’s side.

White House distances itself from the recall:

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The Battle for Pennsylvania

Despite our enthusiasm for the prospects in the Keystone state, not everyone shares our excitement including, it would appear, the Romney campaign. However, considering the demographic changes in the state, Obama’s well documented difficulties with Pennsylvania-like voters in his “uncontested” primaries and controversies over anti-business decisions like scuttling the Keystone Pipeline or killing coal plants, Pennsylvania remains a hot topic for political watchers. The Washington Post takes and in-depth look at voter sentiment in the coal country foothills of Western Pennsylvania:

This is coal country, even if there’s hardly any coal anymore. Hidden in the brush are the ruins of the beehive ovens that turned coal into coke and blackened the skies along the western slope of the Alleghenies.

The big play now is natural gas. Fayette County, which borders West Virginia about an hour’s drive south of Pittsburgh, is in the heart of the Marcellus Shale. Civic leaders hope that fracking — the hydraulic fracturing of the shale rock to liberate the gas in its pores — can reverse the fortunes of this depressed region. This part of Pennsylvania is a political and economic battleground. It’s on the front line of America’s economic doldrums, and it is not incidentally a swing county in presidential elections.

John Kerry carried Fayette County in 2004, but four years later John McCain squeaked by Barack Obama. McCain’s margin, 25,669 to 25,509, represented barely enough voters to fill half a basketball court. No one would call Fayette a bellwether, but it represents one very vivid brick in the foundation of American political and economic life: the rural industrial region in a post-industrial age.

Party Affiliation Does Not Equal Party Voter:

This is an overwhemingly Democratic county by party affiliation, but it is politically conservative. It’s full of prototypical Reagan Democrats. That said, Obama has the lead in Pennsylvania polls and handily won the state four years ago. It’s not clear whether it’ll be as competitive as Ohio next door or some of the other swing states. But the president faces headwinds here. Fayette County’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average. And the memory of coal and the dream of gas will not help Obama as he mines votes in this part of Pennsylvania.

The administration has touted its support for natural gas drilling, but many people here see Obama as unfriendly to fossil fuels. They cite his blocking of the proposed Keystone pipeline in the Great Plains. They talk about the administration’s tougher regulations on pollutants from coal-fired power plants. They’re wary of environmentalists who view fracking as a threat to the water supply.

Antipathy Toward Obama is Strong:

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