Romney’s Playing Field Narrows

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Photo: Matt Sullivan/2012 Getty Images

Mitt Romney’s team announced last night, in the immediate wake of the Democratic convention, that it was unleashing a massive swing-state ad blitz. Since the announcement came well before the lousy jobs report, and even before the mixed reviews for Obama’s speech, it ought to be seen as an attempt to give Republicans a reason for enthusiasm. A closer look suggests more reason for GOP concern.

Romney is targeting eight states: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire. No Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. This is surely not because Romney is husbanding scarce cash. Campaign aides also told Fox News yesterday that they basically have so much money they have to come up with ways to get it out the door, Brewster’s Millions–style, before election day. (“We have $100 million we've just raised. If you look at our burn rate to date and our cash on hand, there's not much more we can spend on infrastructure. So we've got to start spending our general election funds in a big way, because you know what the value of that money is on the day after the election? Zero.”) And it’s probably not because they want outside super-PACs to spend in those states, either — they can’t legally coordinate, and the super-PACs will take their cues from the Romney campaign about where to fight. (The GOP super-PACs have already pulled out of Michigan and Pennsylvania.)

The reason this looks worrisome for Romney is that he’s pursuing an electoral-college strategy that requires him nearly to run the table of competitive states. The states where Romney is not competing (and which aren’t obviously Republican, either) add up to 247 electoral votes. The eight states where Romney is competing add up to a neat 100 electoral votes, of which Romney needs 79 and Obama just 23. If you play with the electoral possibilities, you can see that this would mean Obama could win with Florida alone or Ohio plus a small state or Virginia plus a couple small states, and so on.

Unless I’m missing something badly here, Romney needs either a significant national shift his way — possibly from the debates or some other news event — or else to hope that his advertising advantage is potent enough to move the dial in almost every swing state in which he’s competing.