In 2008, Barack Obama carried nine states that George W. Bush won in 2004. According to the latest polls and the assessments of seasoned observers, it’s going to be tough for Obama to win them again.
Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa are the red states that turned blue in 2008. Obama has fallen behind in some of them and is running about even with Republicans in others. Where Obama is ahead, his lead is shrinking, and where he’s matched up against lesser-known GOP hopefuls, his small leads are hardly a show of strength. His approval ratings are sinking everywhere: Even where he beats a Republican challenger, voters in these states don’t like the job he’s doing.
If the president wins every state he won last time save these nine, he will be 24 electoral votes short of the 270 he needs to win a second term. Here’s the outlook 15 months before the 2012 election:
Obama’s recent numbers in the key state of Florida (29 electoral votes) suggest he’ll have a hard time here. According to a Sunshine State News poll in July, only 38 percent of Floridians approve of the job the president is doing, and 54 percent disapprove.
Ohio (18 electoral votes) would be next on the list of “must-wins”—but it’s not locked up. A Quinnipiac poll from July shows Obama’s disapproval among Ohio voters at 50 percent, while only 46 percent approve. Of the state’s independent bloc, only 40 percent say that Obama deserves reelection.
Fritz Wenzel, a Republican pollster from the state, says that Ohioans believed Obama when he ran as a moderate and are disappointed that his policies turned out to be on the left. “Governor Ted Strickland . . . turned left as soon as he was elected, [and] voters kicked him to the curb in 2010,” Wenzel says.
The Quinnipiac poll still shows Obama beating Romney by 4 points, and both Bachmann and Perry by more than 10 points. But a record 58 percent of Ohioans disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy. Ohio senator Rob Portman says that a candidate who challenges the president on jobs and the economy can win his state.
Obama will have an even tougher job in Virginia (13 electoral votes). The state, which Obama won by 6 points in 2008, is now split 48 percent to 48 percent on his performance in office, with 4 percent undecided. That’s good news for Republicans in a state where they have typically won presidential elections.
North Carolina (15 electoral votes) and Indiana (11 electoral votes) also appear unlikely to go blue again. In 2008, Obama won them by scant margins, 0.4 points and 0.9 points, respectively, and now those leads have disappeared. The latest polls show Obama flat out losing in both.
In Indiana, Obama loses to an unnamed Republican by double digits, getting 35 percent to 46 percent, according to a recent Bellwether poll. Obama is doing poorly because Hoosiers are used to “fiscal prudence” at the state level, says Ryan Streeter of ConservativeHome USA. “Governor Mitch Daniels is popular in Indiana because he has put the state’s budget in order. . . . Obama has made America’s fiscal condition worse and alienated ordinary people along the way.”
In North Carolina, a Civitas poll has Rick Perry winning by 3 points. “Obama is falling like a rock” in the state, says Marc Rotterman, a Republican consultant. Rotterman is sure that “2008 was an aberration. . . . [The president] will not carry North Carolina in 2012.”
Out west, Romney and Obama are practically tied. In Nevada (6 electoral votes), Obama leads Romney by a single point, 47-46 percent, according to the left-leaning firm Public Policy Polling. While this is good news for the president (in April the same poll showed Obama losing to Romney by 3 points), only 47 percent of the state’s voters approve of the president’s work. The right challenger could make headway.
In New Mexico (5 electoral votes), Obama’s approval rating is at 50 percent, a decline of 5 points since February—and among independents, the decline is 11 points. He carried the state by 15 points in 2008, but “Barack Obama will not sell as well” in 2012, says Allen Weh, former New Mexico Republican state chairman. While the race is still uncertain, Weh asserts that Obama will be “running uphill” to retake the state in 2012.
And speaking of hills, Obama will “have a hard time” winning over the Rocky Mountain region, says Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
Republican political consultant Walt Klein noted that Colorado (9 electoral votes) is where Obama signed the stimulus into law back in 2009, a fact Obama would probably like Coloradans to forget. They won’t, Klein said, because, as everywhere else, the economy is weak and unemployment is high.
Richard Wadhams, former state chairman of the Republican party, says Colorado will be “very competitive” in 2012. “Colorado voters go a third Republican, a third Democrat, and a third unaffiliated, and that third swings heavily.”
The swinging third consists largely of “socially liberal, fiscally conservative women in the Denver suburbs,” Wadhams says. These women “will vote for a Republican they disagree with on social issues if they think he’s prioritizing economic and fiscal issues.”
Consultants across these states agree: Make the election about money, and Obama’s on the ropes. But the president’s problems aren’t limited to the economy. There’s also an enthusiasm deficit among Democrats.
In Iowa (6 electoral votes), voters are “unhappy,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “I’ve talked to a number of people on the left who say they worked for Obama in the caucuses but feel let down. . . . Iowa’s a pretty evenly balanced state and it doesn’t take much to tip it,” Yepsen said.
He added that Republicans will have “one hell of an organizational edge out of their organizing for the [Iowa] caucuses. They’ll have superior lists, good workers on the ground, and the networks identified to go dig out marginal supporters all over the state. Meanwhile, Democrats are sitting around in a funk.”
It’s clear the Republican presidential candidate has a reasonable chance to win in 2012. That doesn’t mean he or she will. The campaign—and especially the candidate—could make all the difference.
Kate Havard is an intern at The Weekly Standard.