It almost got lost in the brouhaha over the Democratic Convention, but the Romney campaign’s decision to pull ads from Michigan and Pennsylvania while launching a massive ad campaign in eight states (omitting not just MI and PA, but also Wisconsin among the usually-cited battleground states) is pretty important, unless it’s a feint. Jon Chait does the math:
The reason this looks worrisome for Romney is that he’s pursuing an electoral-college strategy that requires him nearly to run the table of competitive states. The states where Romney is not competing (and which aren’t obviously Republican, either) add up to 247 electoral votes. The eight states where Romney is competing add up to a neat 100 electoral votes, of which Romney needs 79 and Obama just 23. If you play with the electoral possibilities, you can see that this would mean Obama could win with Florida alone or Ohio plus a small state or Virginia plus a couple small states, and so on.
Unless I’m missing something badly here, Romney needs either a significant national shift his way — possibly from the debates or some other news event — or else to hope that his advertising advantage is potent enough to move the dial in almost every swing state in which he’s competing.
We’ve all adjusted so quickly to the new electoral map that it’s easy to forget that Virginia went Republican in every single presidential election from 1968 through 2004, with North Carolina only going Democratic in that stretch once, in 1976. That these two states are still up in the air in a close election is a sign that for all the earlier talk about MN, WI, MI and PA moving towards Republicans, the only difference between the landscape in 2004 and 2012 (aside from EV shifts) is that Obama’s still competitive in two southern states that Kerry basically wrote off, even though his running-mate was from NC. Romney certainly has the money to “carpet-bomb” the battleground states, but he still has little margin for error, and some of these states will likely be close enough that national trends may not dictate their results.