Now that the general election campaign has officially begun, we can count on two things—stories about how candidates are "tacking to the center" and a first wave of polls.
Polls that pit President Obama against now-presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney have emerged at a furious pace in the opening week. Some give President Obama a slight edge; others have Romney leading by a narrow margin. Still others point out that Romney leads among white men, but the president leads among women, etc. It's already gotten so thick that Nate Silver of the New York Times has crafted a handy guide to how to interpret all this fresh data.
The early results portend a close election so long as current conditions—high unemployment, spiking gas prices, enormous budget deficits—persist and neither candidate endures a Michael Dukakis "tank moment." Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake of The Washington Post cited a Pew Research poll that says as much as $2 billion will be spent on this campaign, but just 7 percent to 12 percent of all the voters in America are actually "persuadable."
But, as University of Virginia political prognosticator Larry Sabato says, "National polls are nice, but Electoral College math is what matters." In other words, it all comes down to which candidate can achieve 270 electoral votes.
With so many voters having already made up their minds, it should come as no surprise that the outcome of the election has largely been determined in at least 35 states. Sorry dreamers, but Massachusetts is not going to flip for its former governor, and Texas is not going to go for the president.
Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says President Obama can count on somewhere around 237 votes as of today, and Gov. Romney can expect at least 206. Rothenberg counts Nebraska and Maine, which apportion electoral votes by congressional district, as winner-take-all, and he gives North Carolina's 15 electoral votes to Romney, which I'm not quite ready to do.
That leaves eight truly swing states: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), New Hampshire (4), Nevada (6), Ohio (18), Virginia (13) and Wisconsin (10).
Jennifer Rubin, author of The Washington Post's Right Turn blog, says all Romney must do to win is return traditional GOP strongholds such as Virginia, Nevada, Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina to the fold and hold states Sen. John McCain captured in 2008—Arizona and Missouri first among them—to claim the White House.
Romney's outlook doesn't seem that rosy to me. He has a feasible path to victory, but he must sweep Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina. If he loses any of them, President Obama almost certainly will win re-election.
The task for Romney then might be simple, but it won't be easy. He will need resources and an experienced staff in all those states. He will need get-out-the-vote planning and a well-executed ground game. And he will be playing catch-up in not only those battleground states but in others, such as Michigan (16), New Mexico (5) and Pennsylvania (20), that are winnable under the right conditions.
The early numbers tell us Romney indeed can pull it off. But it will take a lot of work and nearly perfect execution. The message to Republicans: It's time, right now, to roll up your sleeves and get to work.