In Election 2000, Florida was the decisive state in the Electoral College. In 2004, Ohio was the ultimate battleground that put George W. Bush over the top. This year, it might come down to Wisconsin.
That’s a state President Obama won by 14 points four years ago. But Wisconsin has gone through an amazing two years of nonstop campaigning since Gov. Scott Walker was elected in 2010. After he took on the teachers unions, there were efforts to recall several Republican state senators and then Walker himself.
The governor not only survived, but he won more votes in his recall election this year than he won on Election Day in 2010. But it’s not what happened in Wisconsin that could make the state decisive in Election 2012; it’s what’s happening all around the country.
All signs point to a close race with just over a week to go. In fact, current polling suggests it might be close enough to produce a split decision, with Mitt Romney winning the popular vote and the president keeping his job with a victory in the Electoral College.
Most national polls show Romney with a very slight lead of around 2 percentage points.
Still, it’s Obama who has the edge in the Electoral College. Rasmussen Reports currently projects that the president should win states with 237 Electoral College votes. Romney has enough states to win 235. Those projections assume Florida and North Carolina end up in the GOP column — an assumption the Obama campaign contests.
That leaves seven toss-up states — Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada.
To move into the White House, Romney absolutely needs to win Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. If he can accomplish that goal, he just needs to win Ohio and one other swing state to reach the magic number of 270 for victory.
Romney has never led in Ohio according to scores of public polls. The numbers in the Buckeye State so far suggest that the race is either tied or leaning slightly in Obama’s favor.
If Ohio goes for the president, Romney has a few perilous paths to victory available to him. All require him to carry Wisconsin and its 10 Electoral College votes.
The simplest path without Ohio would be for Romney to win Wisconsin, Colorado and one other swing state. It’s plausible, but an uphill struggle. The latest Rasmussen Reports polling in Wisconsin shows the president up by 2 points.
Despite the polls, some conservative activists in Wisconsin think it’s possible to pull off an upset. They point out that, unlike Ohio, the state was not flooded with anti-Romney ads over the summer (in Wisconsin, they were still fighting about the governor’s election recall at the time). That means more voters may be open to supporting the GOP candidate.
Additionally, in Ohio, almost all analysts believe the Democrats have a better ground game to get voters to the polls. That’s not the case in Wisconsin. The Republican ground game got a good and very successful dry run during the recall election in June. And, of course, the man on the ticket with Romney is from Wisconsin. If Paul Ryan is able to pull in just a few extra votes, it could make a lot of difference.
On election night, the first places to watch will be Virginia and Florida. If Romney wins there, watch Ohio. If the president wins Ohio, Wisconsin is likely to be the decisive battleground state of Election 2012.