Way back in December 2011, President Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina presented five possible paths for his boss to get the necessary 270 electoral votes and they all looked difficult. But ten months and many polls later, they are looking a lot easier. On Tuesday, the Associated Press went so far as to report that the Obama campaign might be competitive in the most out-of-reach state it floated back in 2011: Arizona.
The Obama reelection campaign's paths were based on the states John Kerry won in 2004 -- shown at right -- plus either 1) Florida, or 2) Ohio and Iowa, or 3) Virginia and North Carolina, 4) Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Iowa, or 5) Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico without New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Pundits' reaction was one of skepticism. Real Clear Politics' Sean Trende wrote, "the truth is that all of these routes are awfully tenuous." Why?
For starters, Obama looks to have an extremely tough time holding on in New Hampshire. Losing that state would ax the “West” and “Midwest” paths (both of which are further complicated by the president’s high disapprovals in Colorado and Ohio). The “expansion” path is complicated by the president’s low standing in Arizona, while a 43 percent approval rating in the Sunshine State will make the “Florida” path very difficult to pull off.
Trende was not alone. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake wrote that Ohio, especially, would be hard for Obama. "The state is populated by older, white voters who have traditionally been the demographic group most resistant to Obama," they said. Arizona? "But, the politics of immigration may make that an impossibility." Virginia? Two elections straight favored Republicans.
But ten months can make a big difference. The Associated Press' Julie Pace reports that Obama's campaign "is considering making a late play for traditionally Republican Arizona -- either to win it or to force rival Mitt Romney to spend money to protect GOP turf -- but advisers are weighing the potential that a move like that could backfire by leaving fewer resources for more competitive states." (There's a good chance they just want to make Romney spend money -- Romney is averaging an 8.4-point lead in Arizona.) Elsewhere, much has changed. Ohio is trending toward Obama, though Romney's campaign says its internal polls show a much closer race. Romney has effectively conceded Pennsylvania -- super PACs backing him have aired ads there, but he's spent just $1,000. Before the weekend, Romney hadn't been to Colorado in seven weeks. Obama is averaging a 2.5 point lead in Florida, a 4-point lead in Iowa, a 4.4-point lead in Ohio, a 4.2-point lead in Nevada, a 2.3-point lead in Colorado, a 10-point lead in New Mexico, a 1-point lead in New Hampshire, a 4.5-point lead in Virginia.
There's still good news for Romney. North Carolina leans toward him. And the electoral map has changed in ways that weren't expected in 2011; Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate has made Wisconsin more competitive, for instance. And pollsters might be assuming voter turnout levels among Obama's supporters that are too close to 2008, and the 2012 turnout will reflect waning enthusiasm for the President. Romney's counting on the conventional wisdom being proved wrong one more time.