Over the late summer, public surveys and articles citing internal campaign polling began to suggest that Romney had a real problem in Ohio. But since the DNC, Romney has a new and somewhat underreported problem—Virginia. Before the conventions, Obama held a slight 1.5 point edge among likely voters in Virginia. But since the DNC, Obama has jumped out to a 4.5 lead, slightly more than his 4 point lead in Ohio and nationally.
For all the talk about Romney’s issues in Ohio, his position in Virginia could be even worse. While Obama’s 4 point lead in Ohio is similar to his advantage in Virginia, he averages just 48.4 percent of the vote in the Buckeye State, while Obama holds 49.3 percent of the vote in Virginia. Obama exceeds 49 percent of the vote in 6 of 8 Virginia surveys, compared to 5 of the 10 polls in Ohio.
The importance of holding 49.3 versus 48.4 percent of the vote shouldn't be overstated, but it is potentially meaningful. Once you factor in third party candidates, 49.3 percent of the vote is good enough for victory, so there’s a strong case that Obama already holds the votes necessary to win Virginia, let alone after winning over any outstanding undecided voters.
Getting to 47 or 48 percent is relatively easy. In Ohio, for instance, Kerry and Gore-plus Nader each received 48.5 percent of the vote. After the first 47 or 48 percent, every additional vote is more important and, in a GOP-tilting state like Ohio, more difficult. So it’s potentially relevant that Obama appears to have persuaded the voters necessary to win in Virginia, but still might have more persuasion ahead in Ohio.
The race is more complicated than 48.5 versus 49.5. Obama is more dependent on support from low-turnout groups in Virginia, so Obama’s standing in Virginia is more vulnerable to the risk of underwhelming Democratic turnout. Romney’s unfavorability rating is above 50 percent in the Buckeye State, which makes it hard to argue that Romney has a plausible comeback route. On the other hand, Virginia has fewer swing voters, so perhaps a late Romney comeback might be more pronounced in Ohio.
But the bottom line is that Romney’s challenge in Virginia is at least comparable to his uphill climb in Ohio, and that puts him in an extremely difficult position. Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin (where Obama appears to exceed 50 percent of the vote) would give Obama 278 electoral votes, more than enough to win the presidency. And even if Obama didn’t win Ohio, a win in Virginia would still put him at 260 electoral votes, where any two of Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, or Nevada would put him over the top.
Romney can’t depend on winning three of those four states in a close election. All of them tilted-Democratic compared to the country in 2008, and Obama has led a majority of polls in these four states. In New Hampshire, for instance, only one poll has shown Romney ahead since he secured the nomination, while Romney hasn't led in a single poll of Nevada. So although it’s technically possible for Romney to win while losing Wisconsin and Virginia, it’s not an especially realistic scenario.