For months GOP strategists have been determining where to concentrate their efforts and money to get to the all-important 270 votes in the electoral college, the minimum required to win the presidency. “We’re going to win Virginia,” Rep. Eric Cantor, majority leader of House Republicans, told Fortune in Tampa. Cantor represents that state’s 7th district in Richmond. Virginia is one of the three states in the so-called “3-2-1” scenario. These states must be wrested back from President Barack Obama, who won them from the GOP in 2008. The other two are North Carolina and Indiana. Collectively the three states account for 39 electoral votes.
Rich Beeson, the Romney campaign’s political director, said his team has identified “just under 300” possible methods of nabbing 270 votes in the electoral college “and the Obama campaign has 305.” Presumably some of the scenarios include unlikely victories, such as if Romney were to win California or New York. Beeson, who declined to disclose whether computer algorithms are used to identify particular winning combinations, said the campaign has named some of the 17 or so it sees as most plausible. Code names include “granite hawkeye,” “I-80,” and “W’s way west, light.” The last has a connection to winning Nevada, he said.
Beeson said Democratic strategists “were crowing” just a few months ago that Georgia, Montana and Arizona — won by the GOP in 2008 — were in play. Real Clear Politics, the website, currently lists Georgia and Arizona leaning toward Romney and Montana solidly for the GOP challenger. “We are a campaign that is driven by data and metrics,” Beeson added.
The premise of 3-2-1 is that GOP nominee Mitt Romney must win all 22 states that John McCain won in 2008, which resulted in 173 electoral votes. Those wins would bring 179 votes today, following gains and losses in those states due to population change. The “two” in the strategy refers to the two big swing or battleground states of Ohio and Florida, which together bring 47 electoral votes. (Ohio has two fewer electoral votes this time, Florida two more.)
The “one” comes from a list of eight smaller swing states, all but one of which went to the Democrats last election. Michigan is one of them. Bobby Schostak, chairman of the GOP in that state, said he’s confident that Michigan can and will go for Romney, adding 16 electoral votes to his column and putting him over the top for the presidency. He expects the candidates and other major political figures to make numerous appearances in the state over the next 10 weeks.
Organizing the campaign’s ground game — i.e. putting organizers in place to make sure likely supporters are registered and go to the polls on election day — may trigger a change in strategy. In 2008 John McCain folded his campaign organization in Michigan just a month before the election when his staff realized that Barack Obama was adding to his lead. The result was a blowout 16-point victory in the state for the Democrats and their candidate.
The computer jocks on both sides of the presidential race are almost certainly assessing their ground games carefully and may decide weeks or even days before November 6 how best to optimize their chance of success.