Why five states may decide the presidential election

With less than two weeks until Election Day, the candidates are making their final stops around the country. Instead of spending their time evenly in as many states as they can, the candidates are now focusing their attention on just a few toss-up states. President Obama just kicked off a two-day campaign tour where he will visit eight states. Both campaigns are pouring money into buying ads in crucial swing states.

To become President of the United States, you may think that you just have to get the most number of votes. Truth is, it is much more complicated than that. The Electoral College is used to allocate votes based on state races. A candidate must win 270 electoral votes (out of 538) in order to win the presidency, and each state holds a certain number of electoral votes depending on its population size.

In all but two states, electoral votes are allocated on a winner-takes-all basis, so this makes campaigning in Massachusetts or Texas, for example, almost pointless, because they are strongly leaning in one direction. Candidates instead focus on "swing" states which are still up for grabs. Most predictions give Obama a slight edge in the Electoral College, but with several states still considered a toss-up, anything can happen on Election Day.

RealClearPolitics.com currently has Obama at 201 definite electoral votes, and Romney at 206 definite votes, with 131 votes still in a a toss-up, with this prediction map:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This election could come down to the following states:

1. Florida

Electoral Votes: 29

Florida has always been an important player in presidential politics and a fierce battleground state, and this election is no exception. Although Obama ended up carrying the state in 2008 (and let's not talk about what happened in 2000), it is a toss-up again this year. There are two key demographic elements to consider. One is the growing number of conservative retirees in the state that could give Romney an edge. The other is the growing importance of the Latino vote, and which candidate can win over this important and complex group.

2. Ohio

Electoral votes: 18

Most political experts are saying that Romney has a very slim chance at winning the presidency if he does not win Ohio. It is referred to as a "bellweather" because it has accurately picked the winner in the last 12 elections. Even though rural portions of the state are conservative, it's possible that the slowly recovering economy could help tip the voters in Obama's favor.

3. Virginia

Electoral votes: 13

Even though portions of this state are deeply conservative, changing demographics could favor Obama. Obama won assertively here in 2008, but judging by the amount of time the campaigns have spent here, they expect it to be close.  Most polls are saying the candidates are in a virtual tie.

4. Wisconsin

Electoral votes: 10

Obama won this state in 2008, but the presence of Wisconsin's Representative Paul Ryan on Romney's ticket makes the state a true battleground state. Wisconsin has voted for a Democrat in the last six presidential contests, but both campaigns are pouring a lot of money into the state, and Romney hopes he can change voters' minds about the economy.

5. New Hampshire

Electoral votes: 4

How does such a small state become so important? When an election is expected to be close. This state always receives a lot of attention during the primaries because of its early voting. Obama carried the state in 2008, but the Romney team is hoping it can win over the independent-minded voters, and also capitalize on the New England aspect, because Romney used to be governor of Massachusetts. This could be Romney's best chance to win a state Obama had in 2008.

Here is how it went in 2008 (from npr.org):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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