2012 Battlegrounds

Most of America’s 50 states are dependably Democratic or reliably Republican. Less than a dozen states, however, remain undecided. It’s in these states - variously described as battleground, swing, toss-up, bellwether, pivotal or purple states - that Mr Barack Obama and Mr Mitt Romney are fighting the keenest battles of the 2012 presidential race. Victories here will enable one of them to clinch the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the White House.

USA Mr Barack Obama wowed this state in 2008, winning here with a nine percentage point margin. It had last voted a Democrat in 1992 when it swung for Mr Bill Clinton. Colorado has a growing Hispanic population, which tends to be Democratic. But this Western state presents a challenge for Mr Obama this time because it has an anti-incumbency streak and distrusts the idea of big government. For Mr Romney, the battle lies in convincing women and independent votes. It also is unclear if the state’s evangelical Christian community will side with Mr Romney, a Mormon. Nevada gave Mr Barack Obama a comfortable 12-point victory in 2008 and its growing Democratic-leaning Hispanic population is a plus for him this time too. However, what goes against him is that this state bears among the harshest scars of the 2008 recession, with high unemployment rate and a severe home foreclosure crisis. It is thus fertile ground for Mr Mitt Romney to make inroads. The large Mormon congregation here is also a source of strength for him. Iowa gave Mr Barack Obama a memorable victory in 2008 with a thumping 10 percentage point margin although it swung narrowly between the two parties in the two previous elections. This year, it proved a good investment for Mr Mitt Romney who campaigned extensively here ahead of the Republican primaries. Although he lost in the party election, he was able to make a lasting impression and eat into Mr Obama’s margins in the polls. The almost entirely white and rural state that has just six electoral college votes could prove critical if the election is close. Mr Barack Obama swept this state in 2008 with a 14 percentage point win but in the two previous elections, the Republicans lost out by a whisker. The state has tended to support Democratic candidates and its strong union movement goes in Mr Obama’s favour. On the other hand, its Republican Governor Scott Walker is a political force and buoys Mr Mitt Romney’s hopes. The GOP won the governorship and a Senate seat in the 2010 mid-term elections. In addition, this is the home state of Mr Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan which also accounts for the narrowing of polls here. Since 1960, no presidential candidate has ever been able to win the White House without Ohio, a classic swing state. In the 2008 election, Mr Barack Obama carried Ohio by five percentage-points; his predecessor George W. Bush had a two-point margin of victory in 2004. The wretched economy, the top voter issue in the 2012 race, may work in Mr Obama’s favour here. His message that his Administration saved the American auto industry, which extends into Ohio, seems to have enhanced his appeal. But his #1 challenge remains that the white, working class male voters, who tend to lean Republican, are distrustful of him. Mr Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is hopeful that the gains the GOP made in this state in the 2010 mid-term elections are repeated in November. Of the nine battleground states, the Sunshine State holds the most number of electoral votes. If Mr Romney loses Florida’s 29 votes, he will have to sweep nearly all the other battleground states to win. Mr Obama scored here in 2008 with a coalition of Hispanic, African-American and independents who contributed to his three percentage point win. But with high unemployment and home foreclosure rates, the ground is tougher this time. Jewish voters are another critical constituency. Mr Obama picked up 78 per cent of the Jewish in the last election but is unlikely to repeat that feat amid perceptions that he has not been supportive enough of Israel. On top of it all, the state’s Democratic Party is in disarray after the 2010 mid-term elections saw the GOP triumph in spectacular fashion. Still, as polls show, Mr Mitt Romney has an uphill task if he wants to carry this state. The lack of specifics in his economic policy is one reason that he has not been able to claim the mantle as Mr Fix-it who can address the top issue for Floridians - the battered economy. Considering that Mr Barack Obama squeaked through in North Carolina with a 0.3 percentage point win, this southern state remains a good bet for the Republicans. Mr Obama, in fact, was the first Democrat to claim victory here since Mr Jimmy Carter in 1976. The large turnout of the sizeable Black population and a growing Hispanic minority - both of which tend to be Democratic - helped but it may not prove enough this time. The deeply conservative state voted in favour of a state constitutional ban on gay marriage earlier this year, which tallies with Mr Mitt Romney’s stance on this divisive issue and will drive voters to the polls. New Hampshire is a study in contrasts. Considered a liberal state with a highly-educated population, it has frequently sprung surprises by picking Republican presidential candidates. Mr Barack Obama won it with a 10 percentage point margin in 2008 but the Republicans made a strong showing in the 2010 mid-term elections. Today, it is seen as the only state in the north-eastern corner of the US where Mr Mitt Romney has a credible chance of winning. His small government and low taxes are a draw for the independent voters here. Having been the governor of neighbouring Massachusetts also bolsters his candidacy. Still, a cautionary tale from the case of Mr John McCain in 2008 who - like Mr Romney - sailed in the Republican primaries but lost the state in presidential elections. Until Mr Barack Obama won this state by 6.3 percentage points in 2008, this state with 13 electoral votes had always been a reliable red state. Many analysts argue that Mr Mitt Romney will have to wrest back Virginia – as one of the three “must-win” states alongside Florida and Ohio – if he is to have a serious chance of winning. The state remains conservative although its large Black population and the growing Hispanic minority is a plus point for the Democrats. The growth of the northern Virginia, which borders national capital Washington, DC, is another factor. Mr Romney’s campaign plank of being anti-big government crumbles here since this area has a large number of government employees.