President Barack Obama is on the verge of winning re-election in what will likely be one of the closest contests in history, despite presiding over a floundering economic recovery and falling short of the expectations of many of his 2008 supporters.
Obama's path to victory over Republican rival Mitt Romney relies on a slowly but meticulously built ground game and savvy campaigning in critical battleground states. By taking advantage of demographic advantages — such as an exploding Latino population and state-specific messages — the Democrats are hoping they can cobble together a winning coalition.
But the real key to Obama's chances at retaining the White House was a move he made early in his administration: the decision to use federal funds to bailout the bankrupt auto industry. Because the controversial move was ultimately successful in turning around Detroit's big three, manufacturing jobs throughout the Midwest were saved or revived. Those same white working- and middle-class voters, buoyed by his intervening action, are not supporting Obama by wider margins in other swing states. But in Ohio, they are providing an electoral firewall for the incumbent.
While the president was left reeling after the first debate, his campaign's attention to detail renders Romney's narrow national tracking poll lead almost irrelevant. That's because Obama is leading his opponent—though often within the margin of error — in most of the swing-state polling.
According to averages compiled by RealClearPolitics, Obama is up by 3.7 percentage points in Wisconsin, 2.3 percent in Ohio, 2.7 percent in Nevada, 2.2 percent in Iowa, 1.3 percent in New Hampshire, and less than a point in Colorado. Romney holds the edge in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina. If those margins hold, Obama wins the 270 electoral votes necessary for his re-election.
Though voter enthusiasm among Democrats is far less than it was in 2008, a wave election, the Obama campaign is banking on their get-out-the-vote operation to make up for the lost ground. And by highlighting the auto bailout in the Midwest, the popularity of his move to allow young illegal immigrants to avoid deportation among Hispanic voters, and his expansion of Pell grants to college students, Obama has given voters reasons to support a second term.
The president has also used portions of his unpopular health care reform law, which even he now refers to as 'Obamacare,' to woo voters. His campaign has touted prescription rebates to seniors, the end to health insurers' discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, and the ability for people up to the age of 26 to remain on their parent's health insurance policies.
The Obama campaign has also been handed a couple of unforced errors by their competition. Romney's comments at a high-dollar fundraiser referring to "47 percent" of voters as dependent on government clearly had an impact with working-class voters who had been let down by the slow economic recovery.
A series of high profile Republicans making gaffes while speaking about abortion and rape have also galvanized women voters that might have been otherwise been disengaged in the election or supported Romney on economic issues.
Obama, who canceled three days of campaigning to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, is now blitzing across the country, making stops in Wisconsin, Nevada, and Colorado before stops in New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.