How close? Obama-Romney contest could come down to four states

The day Rick Santorum suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination saw President Obama in Florida. He’ll be back in the Sunshine State on Friday.

Floridians can expect to see a lot of the president, and of Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, as well as a deluge of television advertising over the next seven months. Florida is one of a handful of states – maybe as few as four or five – that likely will decide the election.

Right now, Obama appears to have at least narrow leads in most of those states, judging by the most recent polls – two last month in Florida had him up by between three and seven points, for example. With more than six months to go before the election, however, plenty of time remains for those polls to turn around.

Some strategists in both parties believe that ultimately the race will come down to Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. That scenario has Obama losing Florida, which was among the states hardest hit in the recession and one where the economy remains bad. Others think Florida will stay in play down to the wire.


Some optimistic Republicans think Romney can gain enough ground to keep the outcomes in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in doubt, although Pennsylvania last went to a Republican presidential candidate in 1988 and Wisconsin has not done so since 1984. Romney currently trails in both states, according to repeated polls by several organizations.

Democrats believe that of the states Obama carried in the last election, they likely will lose Indiana. They also concede an uphill fight in North Carolina, which Obama won last time by the slimmest of margins. Otherwise, they hope to hold on to their 2008 states.

For those who want to bet that the election will turn out extremely close, here’s one scenario: Assume Obama holds onto Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but loses not just Indiana, but also both Florida and North Carolina as well as New Hampshire and Iowa, two small states where Republicans think they may have a strong shot. If all the other states fell in line with their 2008 outcomes, then under that scenario, Obama would have 247 electoral votes, Romney would have 245, and who gets to 270 would depend on the outcomes in Virginia (13 electoral votes), Ohio (18), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6). Political junkies can examine any number of scenarios on this interactive site.

Obama currently appears to lead in those four states, with his lead most solid in Ohio, based on recent polls, although one recent public poll has given Romney a lead in Virginia.