The 2012 Battleground map is evolving faster than the US Constitution these days. A year ago, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Colorado weren't really supposed to be swing states heading into the 2012 presidential election. President Obama won those states by between 9 and 16 points back in 2008, but they have already been placed into swing-state status as Mitt Romney has shown some unexpected strength early on in those contests. But other states, while not yet in battleground status, show more troubling signs for the president and the increasing possibility of a swing-state map expansion.
In New Mexico, where Obama won by an uncompetitive 15-point margin over John McCain, a new Public Policy Polling survey has Romney within 5 points, down just 49-44%. In Washington, Obama scored 58% of the vote but is now stuck at 46% in a Survey USA poll and his 18-point victory then has been reduced by half. It was a 54-44% victory for Obama in Minnesota four years ago. Today? A KSTP Survey has it just 46-40%.
Other "sure things" for Obama are also showing a bit of resistance. In New Jersey, Obama polls at just 49% in a new Quinnipiac poll. (Most analysts consider an incumbent scoring under 50% in polls as "in trouble.") But this is New Jersey were are talking about. A Maine survey duplicates this finding, and Obama sits at 49% here, too. And In Oregon, an 18 point victory for Obama over McCain has turned into a much tighter 50-42% contest now. While few predict a Romney victory in these states, requiring Obama to spend time in money in these contests could have an impact on the entire election.
Romney is experiencing the opposite trend. He isn't only reducing the margin in blue states, he is increasing his strength in red states from where McCain was in 2008. McCain won North Dakota by 8 points, but Romney leads by 15 points now. In Georgia, Romney holds a 12-point lead (was just a 5-point win for McCain). In Montana, a slim 2.5 point McCain win has moved to a 9 point Romney lead.
What's this all mean? Four years ago, Obama was able to ignore certain blue states that he was winning handily and invest his $750 Million war chest in both swing states (total domination) and even red states (where he captured North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia unexpectedly and showed some strength in Montana). Obama will likely now have to forget about making a play for a number of red states as he fights to keep New Mexico, Minnesota, or Washington from getting too competitive or entering battleground status. If Romney continues to show he is within 5% in those states, it could turn into a costly endeavor for Obama.
On the flip side, McCain had to spend money (which he did not have a lot of) just to hold onto "sure things." Now, Romney is looking safer in many of the red states and he could save considerable cash in those contests. If Obama has to diversify his advertising funds to twice as many states as 2008, that could be a good state-by-state advantage for Romney.
And speaking of money, June reports show that Romney and the Republican Party have $170 million cash-on-hand, while Obama and the Democratic Party has about $145 Million cash-on-hand. While Obama has raised more money, they are heavily outspending Romney, including 4-1 advertising advantages. President Obama has also spent more money than they brought in for two months in a row, while Romney continues to show restraint. (Perhaps those business instincts kicking in?). And remember all of these poll numbers reflect that huge spending advantage by Obama at this point. An advantage that will likely be wiped out and surpassed by Romney in the post-Olympic campaign season.