Presidential Campaign Strategies Based on Swing States

by Chris Beaulieu // Published May 4, 2012

With former Senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently departing from the presidential race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is all but guaranteed to be the Republican nominee for the 2012 presidential election in November. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is ramping up campaign efforts and holding events and fundraisers across the country in an attempt to secure a second term in office. But, both Obama and Romney are zeroing in on the swing states where either candidate could come out on top in the November elections.

Recently, Obama has traveled to college campuses in several swing states in an attempt to rally the youth voter base, which overwhelmingly supported him in his 2008 bid. He visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he taped an episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, as well as the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Iowa, and is planning on making stops at Ohio State University and Virginia Commonwealth University this weekend. All five are widely seen as swing states, and his campaign hopes that regaining the youth vote's enthusiasm in these states will help swing these states in his favor.



Over the past few weeks, meanwhile, Romney has made visits to several key battleground states alongside Republican leaders who are rumored to be on his short-list to be Vice Presidential nominee. He has had high-profile visits in Wisconsin with Representative Paul Ryan, Florida with Senator Marco Rubio, New Hampshire with Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Virginia with Governor Bob McDonnell.

President Obama's campaign this spring released several "road maps to victory," mapping out states the campaign is focusing on to try to ensure winning a second term in November. This focus on swing states seems to be at odds with his victory speech after his historic 2008 victory, in which he stated, in part, "...we have never been just ... a collection of red states and blue states; we are and always will be the United States of America." Of course, he has to win under current Electoral College rules that divide the country into just these partisan divisions.

The Obama campaign has highlighted four main strategies for winning a second term in Washington, D.C. There are the "West Path," which focuses on Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Iowa; the "Midwest Path," which prioritizes Iowa and Ohio; the "South Path," which concentrates on Virginia and North Carolina; and the "Expansion Path," which hypothesizes Obama winning Arizona and Virginia, while (presumably) Romney would take New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. All four plans take into account the states that Democrat John Kerry won in his 2004 bid for the presidency (nineteen, plus the District of Columbia), as well as the changes in the number of Electoral College delegates in each state as a result of 2010 Census-related redistricting.

On one hand, it appears the president is giving up on certain states in the South and Midwest largely due to historical voting patterns. After all, many states in the South and Midwest have voted almost exclusively for Republican presidential candidates in the past, such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. On the other hand, it can be argued that he is only reserving campaign resources for states where the Democrats have a better chance at winning in November.

With super PAC money dominating the campaign finances of the 2012 election cycle thus far (especially for the Republicans), candidates are spending vast amounts of money on advertising in order to bring their message to the voters. For instance, advertisements are being run on television in swing states criticizing both candidates on issues ranging from the economy to energy policy.


Meanwhile, in shifting to general election mode, Romney is already targeting battleground states as well, as Virginia, New Hampshire, and Florida are all seen as toss-ups for the 2012 race, and Wisconsin is also considered a possible target, pending next month's recall election on Governor Scott Walker. Also, with his appearances with high-profile Republican officials, he seems to be seeking to stir up excitement within the party, which in turn will likely bring Republicans to the polls in November. 


The unusual amount of attention given to certain states while others are essentially left by the wayside illustrates the disparity between the campaigns we have under the current Electoral College system and what we would have with a national popular vote in which every vote in every state would count the same. As Obama and Romney focus on certain areas of the country, others are left largely ignored, which appears to countervail the American ideals of equality and fairness. That explains why FairVote has been a leading proponent of the National Popular Vote plan for president--and why many hope it will govern the 2016 election.