Conventional wisdom has Romney with only one pathway to 270 electoral college votes, and a very narrow one indeed. Most analysts see the 2012 election as a replay of the last three presidential elections. In this view, only a small number of states are in play: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado. Romney begins with the McCain base of 180 ECV plus Indiana for a total of 191 ECV. To defeat Obama, he must win Florida (29), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13) and one of the remaining four states. Lose Florida or Ohio and the election is over. Lose Virginia or North Carolina and he has to run the table of the remaining 4 states.
But Romney has another pathway to victory. Call it the "Rust Belt" or "Great Lakes" strategy. Again, one assumes the base of 191 ECV. Of the 8 traditional "swing states", however, Romney would only have to win Ohio and North Carolina, which are certainly the two most likely Romney pick-ups and it's difficult to imagine him winning without those two. This brings Romney's total to 224 ECV. To arrive at 270 ECV, Romney would only need to win the following three rust belt states: Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), and Wisconsin (10). Both RCP and 270toWin have Wisconsin, as well as Ohio in the toss-up category. RCP also has Michigan as a toss-up and 270toWin has Pennsylvania as a toss-up, so that this is a completely plausible result. And if Romney wins only Pennsylvania from among these three, then a Romney win in Florida would put him over the top.
There are good reasons to believe that Romney has a better-than-average chance of success in these states. Sean Trende's excellent analysis of voting trends by state in presidential elections from 1980 - 2008 clearly demonstrates that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin (and Minnesota as well) are more like Ohio than they are like Blue States. And in 2010, these states were in full tea party revolt against Obama and the Democrats. All three elected Republican governors, while Pennsylvania and Wisconsin elected Republican U.S. Senators and Republican majorities in both houses of their state legislatures. In fact, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan are beginning to look a lot more like Indiana.
These states, which are the core of the industrial heartland of America, are also the place where Romney's economic message should resonate the strongest. Here, he should renew the attacks on China that he tested in the Republican debates. These are voters that are more interested in having "fair trade" with Asia and Latin America than they are hearing about the rich paying their "fair share" of taxes. This is a region that has been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs and the flight of capital. This is a coal-producing region whose electric power grid depends on coal, where voters understand how Obama's policies will cripple the region's economy. This is a region where people live in the suburbs and commute to work and who have been hurt the rise in gas prices. Here, people's mortgages are underwater, as home values have collapsed and the housing market has dried up. This is a region that understands how federal regulations are a real threat to mining, manufacturing and agriculture and whose voters' eyes don't glaze over when a candidate talks about the EPA. In short, this is a region where Obama has failed the greatest and where Romney can succeed.
There will be those who say that Romney can't win Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Michigan. There are those who believe that the Democrats have a "Blue Wall" that starts at the borders of Ohio. To those, I would say, "In this election, it's time for the Republicans to Go Big." It would be a shame to lose the presidency by a handful of votes in Florida. Just ask Al Gore.