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Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Franklin County in-person absentee voting location in Columbus, Ohio November 5, 2012. (Matt Sullivan/Reuters)

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Franklin County in-person absentee voting location in Columbus, Ohio November 5, 2012.

(Matt Sullivan/Reuters)

How Ohio, Colorado or Iowa could swing the election Add to ...

In a presidential campaign such as this, with both candidates locking up the Electoral College votes in several parts of the country, the contest has boiled down to just a handful of states, ones that could swing either to Barack Obama or to Mitt Romney. These are the ones that matter most:

OHIO (18 Electoral College votes)

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Political strategists agree: If the election comes down to the Electoral College votes of just one state, that state is most likely to be Ohio.

While most public opinion surveys continue to show Mr. Obama with a three to five percentage point lead in the state, the candidates themselves continue to spend the most amount of time and advertising money in Ohio of all the states. They would not be doing this unless their own strategists believe the state is very much up for grabs.

While Mr. Obama won Ohio in 2008, defeating John McCain by just more than 200,000 votes, the Republicans are better organized today than they were four years ago. In a race as close as this one, getting out the vote is the most important element at this stage of the campaign.

COLORADO (nine), IOWA (six), NEW HAMPSHIRE (four) and WISCONSIN (10)\

The Romney campaign knows that no Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio but, just in case, it has been laying the groundwork for an alternative source of Electoral College votes sufficient to put it over the 270-vote threshold.

The scenario that looks most promising would have the Republican candidate capturing Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire, with a total of 19 Electoral College votes. Colorado has been in play all along (a survey last Sunday showed just a two-point difference between the candidates, well within the poll’s margin of error), while Iowa and New Hampshire have shown a recent decline in Mr. Obama’s narrow lead. The Midwest state of Wisconsin, home to Romney running mate Paul Ryan, also could be vulnerable as the Obama advantage there has narrowed.

PENNSYLVANIA (20)

A surprise scenario that could have Mr. Romney capture another significant state also has appeared at the last minute: Pennsylvania, and its bounty of 20 Electoral College votes. Just two weeks ago, Pennsylvania looked to be a lock for Mr. Obama – he had won the state four years ago by more than 600,000 votes and held a more than five-point lead over Mr. Romney in the latest polls.

But two things have changed that perception: Mr. Obama’s lead fell to fewer than five percentage points (campaign tracking samples suggest it might have fallen even further), and Hurricane Sandy struck.

The superstorm disrupted early voting in coastal areas where Obama support is concentrated and its effects may well still be felt on Election Day as well. Getting out its vote is crucial to the Obama victory strategy.

Sensing weakness, the Romney campaign moved quickly early last week to take advantage. Even as the storm was lashing the state, the Republicans and their supporting groups shrewdly bought up large amounts of TV advertising time, and the candidate rearranged his schedule in order to campaign there this past weekend.

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