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President Obama sets sights on locking up important states

| Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, 11:58 p.m.
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a point at a campaign event in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 5, 2012.    
Reuters | Larry Downing
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a point at a campaign event in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 5, 2012. Reuters | Larry Downing

President Obama begins Election Day with more paths to victory than his Republican rival, but the possibility remains of an election so close that it might not be decided until Wednesday or later.

“This starts from the premise — widely held and, I think, credible — that President Obama has more Electoral College votes either comfortably in his column or leaning in his column than does Gov. (Mitt) Romney,” said Mark Nevins, a Democratic strategist and partner at The Dover Group in Philadelphia.

Democrats hoping for an early night will set their sights on three states first.

New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia

“Obama needs Pennsylvania more than any other state,” said Michael Federici, chairman of the political science department at Mercyhurst University in Erie. “He's had a significant lead there. Democrats have been winning it all the way back to the '88 election. It has a large number of electoral votes — the second-largest number of electoral votes in that toss-up column.”

Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes are second only to Florida's 29.

“It's hard to imagine a scenario in which he loses Pennsylvania but wins the election,” Federici said.

If it isn't apparent early in the night that Obama is winning Pennsylvania, that could signal trouble for him.

“In all likelihood, it means undecided independent voters are not only breaking Romney's way, but breaking heavily. If they're all close and can't be called, that may indicate it's going to be a really long night and we might not know until the next day who won the election,” Federici said.

Virginia is Romney's must-win state of those first three.

“If Virginia goes Obama, I think the election is over,” Federici said.

Obama needs to rack up large margins in Stafford and Loudon counties in northern Virginia to counter Romney's strongholds in southern and rural parts of the state, said Brad Todd, a Republican political strategist with the firm OnMessage Inc. in Alexandria, Va.

The deciding votes will be cast in the Hampton Roads area, Todd said.

“That's the first objective: Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk,” Todd said.

If Obama doesn't lock up re-election with those three, attention turns to the next group of swing states.

Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin

“If Florida goes for Obama, this thing is over. If Ohio goes for Obama, it's probably over,” Federici said.

But if Romney wins both, “put on a pot of coffee because it's going to be a long night,” Nevins said.

Obama doesn't need Florida to win re-election; he likely could amass enough electoral votes in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin.

“If you see those three states go to Obama, or two of those three to Obama, I think the road map for Gov. Romney becomes very difficult,” Nevins said.

Obama's chances fade if Wisconsin slips away.

“There aren't many scenarios for Obama that don't include Wisconsin,” Todd said. Obama needs to rack up a wide margin in Dane County, which surrounds Madison, to counter the votes Romney is expected to get from Waukesha County.

“Traditionally, elections in Wisconsin are won and lost in Wausau and La Crosse,” Todd said.

Obama won those three states comfortably in 2008, a feat he's unlikely to repeat.

“Throw out 2008. That was a landslide. There were some factors there that weren't typical — no incumbent, the first African-American president, fatigue of the Bush presidency,” Federici said. “The margin of victory in Iowa and Wisconsin in 2000 and 2004 was less than 1 percent.”

As the night wears on, people will turn their attention to the final holdouts.

Colorado and Nevada

“Depending on how the rest go, we could still be undecided when we're waiting on the call from Colorado and Nevada,” Federici said.

At that point, Obama's electoral vote tally likely would look worse than it is, Federici said.

“Because, on the West Coast, Obama is going to get a lot of electoral votes — Washington, Oregon, California — it's going to look on the board like he's still a long way away, but in reality (Obama will have more electoral votes locked up) because the West is pretty settled,” Federici said.

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or

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