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GOP candidate Romney works to carry over momentum

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SANFORD, FL - NOVEMBER 05: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign rally at Avion Jet Center on November 5, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. With one day to go until election day, Mitt Romney is making one final push throughout swing states. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 11:58 p.m.

Mitt Romney's road to the White House plows right through conventional wisdom.

Seasoned political junkies and casual observers alike know to watch battleground states during Tuesday's vote count to see whether the Republican nominee pulls an upset over President Obama. Romney has two likely paths to victory.

Conventional wisdom suggests Ohio is the do-or-die state for Romney. He will make a campaign stop in Moon Township on Tuesday afternoon on his way to a rally in Cleveland.

Barring a win in Ohio, he could amass the 270 electoral votes he needs by winning Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and either New Hampshire or Iowa.

Start by keeping an eye on a few states in which polls close early, said Bruce Haynes, a Washington-based Republican strategist.

Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire

“All these states will be close, but networks will release some aspects of their exit polling shortly after polls close,” Haynes said.

Exit polls contain clues: turnout among Democrats and Republicans, and how Obama does with independent voters, Haynes said.

“If Republican turnout is even with or within a couple of percentage points of Democratic turnout, and Romney is winning independent voters by double digits as some current polls suggest, Romney is likely headed toward victory,” Haynes said.

If Romney wins those five states, Haynes said, “his momentum was real, and he's riding that wave into the White House.”

Factoring in other states that lean toward Romney in other time zones, those five states should put him at or over 270 electoral votes. Anything less and roadblocks appear on his path.

“If North Carolina goes to Obama, or takes as long for networks to call as Virginia and Ohio, then it's a bad signal for Romney overall,” said Jeff Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College in Lackawanna County.

“If Romney loses Ohio or Virginia but wins the other four, he probably needs one win from a pool of larger states — Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota — and a win from a pool of smaller states — Iowa, Colorado or Nevada — to make up for those electoral votes,” Haynes said.

Lara Brown, an Electoral College expert and author of “Jockeying for the American Presidency,” thinks New Hampshire's four electoral votes matter.

“New Hampshire is small, but important,” Brown said.

Haynes agrees: “There is a scenario where Romney can win Ohio, Virginia and Florida but lose New Hampshire and lose the race — if all the battleground states in the West and Midwest fall to Obama.”

Pennsylvania and other Rust Belt states

In the final weeks of the campaign, Pennsylvania gained unique status with polling that indicates Romney could close the gap here. The Keystone State favors Democrats by a 1 million voter registration advantage, so if Romney wins Pennsylvania it becomes the game changer.

“It's probably a leading indicator of a Romney win,” Haynes said. “Its 20 electoral votes are votes Team Romney was not counting on.”

More significantly, he said, a win in Pennsylvania indicates that Romney's momentum since the October debates was real and could mean he'll win “the rest of the swing-state map.”

Patrick Murphy, a Democrat and former congressman from Bucks County, is convinced people need to watch only Pennsylvania to see how the election will go.

“If it is staying close here all night, then that means Romney is probably going to have a good night in other Rust Belt states,” he said.

In addition to Pennsylvania, states typically associated with the Rust Belt — the area that once was the country's industrial heartland — are Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, as well as parts of Wisconsin, New York, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Murphy, a conservative who lost his congressional seat in 2010, expects Obama to win Pennsylvania but said Romney impressed him by drawing an estimated 30,000 people to his Bucks County rally on Sunday night.

“Win or lose, tonight Democrats have to get back to earning the support of the middle class in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio,” Murphy said. “We need to do a better job. That is where Romney has made inroads and who can turn tonight's election.”

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