Presidential Election Map Narrows at Romney’s Expense

President Barack Obama seems on track to replicate his Electoral College success of 2008.

Ahead of Wednesday’s first presidential election debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the incumbent enjoys a comfortable lead in the Electoral College vote. Unless Romney is able to reverse the trend in the next five weeks, the president has only to improve his poll numbers in a single state to win the 270 electoral votes needed to win reelection.

As NBC News’ Chuck Todd pointed out on Meet the Press this Sunday, in Iowa, Ohio and New Hampshire, the president leads the Republican in favorability, job approval and his handling of the economy. Romney only wins in all three categories in North Carolina which voted for Obama in 2008, largely due to high turnout among blacks, but has been won by every Republican presidential candidate since 1976.

Assuming that those four states will vote accordingly, the president has 265 electoral votes compared to 206 for Romney. The latter would have to outperform Obama in every of the five remaining swing states to win the election.

The president won Colorado, which has nine electoral votes in this election, in 2008 after the state had voted Republican in eight of the last nine presidential elections. Recent polls have been tight but Obama continues to lead in most of them.

Nevada, with six electoral votes, is less reliably Republican but hadn’t voted for a Democrat in three decades before Bill Clinton won there twice in the 1990s. Democratic support is largely concentrated in the cities of Las Vegas and Reno whereas Republicans are strong in the countryside.

As in Colorado, right-wing voters tend to be more libertarian in Nevada than elsewhere. The state’s dire economic prospects could swing the election in Republicans’ favor. Nevada has the nation’s highest rates of home foreclosures and unemployment as well as a large Mormon population that could benefit Mitt Romney. Currently, he is doing only slighter better in the state than Republican John McCain did four years ago but Obama’s popularity has fallen several percentage points.

Virginia, which has thirteen electoral votes, is usually deeply conservative. It hadn’t voted for a Democrat in more than forty years since Lyndon B. Johnson won there in 1964. Obama carried the state by 6 percentage points in 2008, owing to high turnout in the eastern and northern metropolitan areas, especially among young voters and racial minorities. Romney should be able to win Virginia if enthusiasm among potential Democratic voters remains lackluster and he boosts turnout among working-class voters and in the state’s rural areas.

The addition of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket cements the state’s role as a battleground. Democrats narrowly carried the state in the last six presidential elections but with ten electoral votes up for grabs, Republicans can ill afford to lose there again. Romney hasn’t led in any opinion polls in the state since August, however.

As in 2000, the biggest battle could be for Florida which has two more electoral votes than last time: 29. A growing population of retirees, who aren’t necessarily put off by Republicans’ plans to reform Medicare, the federal health program that finances care for seniors, offers Romney hope but the outcome of the election could hinge on Hispanics who voted 56 to 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004.

Romney’s favorability rating among Latinos nationwide is just 24 percent, which seems to rule out a Republican win in New Mexico and possibly Nevada, but in Florida, 40 percent of Hispanic voters has a favorable view of the former Massachusetts governor. Many of them are of Cuban descent and favor Republicans over Democrats because the former oppose lifting sanctions on the communist regime in Cuba from which they or their parents fled.

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 Colorado, Florida and Nevada besides the other states that he carried previously, he would still have the 270 votes needed to win. If he also lost his one vote from Nebraska, the race would be tied.