President Barack Obama and his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are virtually tied in the crucial swing states of Ohio and Florida but the incumbent retains a solid lead in Pennsylvania, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday. The three states could determine the outcome of November’s election.
Romney has yet to be nominated by the Republican Party but lacks opposition on the right, allowing him to focus on voters in the center, the roughly 10 percent of the population which has no party preference.
The challenge for Romney is to win back states that propelled Republican George W. Bush to victory in 2000 and 2004. Besides Ohio and Florida — which wield 47 out of the 270 electoral votes needed to win between them — that includes Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, western states with large Latino populations that were all won by Obama in 2008. This year, they’re good for twenty electoral votes.
Recent polls give the president a narrow victory in Nevada and New Mexico while Colorado is tied. A mild swing in either direction could put these states in play.
Hispanic voters in these states, many of them Catholics, are socially more conservative than other racial minorities, which should benefit Republicans, but they tend to be wary of the party’s tough talk on illegal immigration.
Romney’s favorability among Latinos nationwide is just 23 percent compared to 42 percent unfavorable. In Florida, it’s higher. 40 percent of Latinos have a favorable view of the former Massachusetts governor but many of them are of Cuban descent and generally favor Republicans over Democrats because the former are firmly opposed to lifting sanctions on the communist regime in Cuba from which they fled.
At 11.5 percent, the unemployment rate among Latinos was higher last year than the 8 percent among whites. Out west but also in swing states across the Midwestern United States, the recession doesn’t seem to have gone away yet.
That Americans remain insecure about the future explains the president’s low approval ratings in swing states.
In the upper Midwest — industrial states like Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio which account for seventy electoral votes — the Democrat has again to win the white, blue-collar, typically unionized voter whose economic prospects haven’t markedly improved during his presidency.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted last year found that 43 percent of the white working class didn’t believe that it would be better off in ten years. It was the most negative view of any of the groups polled and helps explain why, in the 2010 congressional election, blue-collar voters gave Republicans 63 percent of their vote, thirty more points than for Democrats.
Romney’s main problem isn’t his record anymore (which right-wing voters questioned in the primary) but his image. A former businessman and millionaire many times over, he is perceived as “out-of-touch” with the working man. Democrats are glad to exploit this disadvantage but the Republican candidate, for his part, has refused to apologize for his wealth.
“If people think that there is something wrong with being successful in America, then they better vote for the other guy,” Romney said in an interview with Fox News Sunday in February, “because I’ve been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and that knowhow to help the American people.”
He has a long way to go convince voters. As it stands, the president has a good change of winning reelection. He can afford to lose a lot.
In 2008, Obama won 359 electoral votes, including a lone elector in the state of Nebraska. Even if he loses Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, where the impact of the recession has been severest, but wins the three western states and Florida and Pennsylvania, he would still have the 270 votes needed to win. If he also lost his one vote from Nebraska, the race would be tied.
As in 2000, Florida and 29 electors could decide the election if neither candidate sweeps the Midwest.