Memo to Romney: Forget Ohio, Florida is Everything

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Brian Snyder / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney pauses while speaking at a campaign stop at American Spring Wire in Bedford Heights, Ohio Sept. 26, 2012.

There’s been ample talk this month about how Mitt Romney might “shake up” or “turn around” his campaign. A lot of it involves things like bringing in new strategists, tweaking the campaign’s message or maybe “unleashing” Paul Ryan. Maybe those things would work, but I’m skeptical.

A more promising approach might be a shift in Romney’s electoral-map strategy. Romney is currently spending a lot of time and money in Ohio. As a fresh-back from the Buckeye state Adam Sorensen noted earlier, Ohio is looking awfully tough for the GOP nominee. But Romney can beat Obama without carrying Ohio. What he cannot do, realistically, is beat Obama without carrying Ohio or Florida.

While the press always seems more interested in Ohio, Florida is the more important of the two–and the more winnable. Important because Florida has eleven more electoral votes than does Ohio (29 to 18). That means Romney could beat Obama with a Florida win and an Ohio loss, even without carrying Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, which is looking doable but not likely. Granted, Romney would have to virtually run the table in all the other swing states, though he could afford to lose one or even two small one like New Mexico, Nevada or New Hampshire. Play with the electoral map yourself here. (This scenario, by the way, is a plausible path towards a 269-269 electoral college tie; that would throw the election into the House of Representatives, most likely producing a President Romney.)

Florida is more winnable for a couple of reasons. One, the polls have consistently been tighter there than in Ohio. That’s in keeping with 2008’s results, in which Obama won Florida by less than 3 points while carrying Ohio by nearly 5 points. Romney also has some high-caliber surrogates in Florida, including Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush; Ohio’s GOP leadership, including an only semi-popular Governor John Kasich, doesn’t have the same juice.

Florida no doubt presents big problems for Romney, including its substantial black and student populations. There’s also the small matter of Medicare, an issue of paramount importance to the senior citizens who are Romney’s most solid backers. This week’s Washington Post poll showed Obama with a 15-point advantage on Medicare among Florida voters.

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But I’m not saying Florida will be easy for Romney. I’m saying it’s easier than Ohio, and more important. If Romney wants to “shake up” his campaign, he and Paul Ryan should spend no more than a token amount of time and money in the Buckeye State, which requires a lot of both to win, and pour everything they can into Florida.