Publicly, neither President Obama nor Republican challenger Mitt Romney will admit that they are giving up on any battleground states. But as the campaigns begin the seven-week sprint to the finish, the way each side is spending its money suggests the number of paths Romney can take to get to 270 electoral votes is shrinking.
Since formally accepting the Republican presidential nomination on Aug. 30, Romney’s campaign has ramped up its advertising spending. Between Sept. 11 and Sept. 17, the Romney campaign is spending just over $8 million on television ads, according to sources watching the market.
Obama’s campaign is spending $8.2 million this week, slightly below his weekly average during the month of August. Priorities USA Action, the Obama-backing super PAC, is spending an additional $2.6 million on the president’s behalf, while American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the Romney-backing outfits, are spending about $900,000 on television ads.
The spending is concentrated in nine battleground states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
And it appears to be an acknowledgement that Republicans are giving up on hopes of winning Michigan and Pennsylvania, two states that have voted Democratic in every presidential contest since 1992. Before last week, Republican outside groups had spent more than $10 million on advertising in Pennsylvania and about $7.7 million trying to put Michigan in play. Democrats had spent $8.1 million on Pennsylvania airtime, but as Republicans have drawn down their spending, so too have Obama and his allies.
This week, the Republican Jewish Coalition, which had placed nearly $5 million in total advertising, canceled about $1.2 million they had reserved for Pennsylvania. In response, Priorities USA Action dropped plans to spend about $5 million in advertising in the Keystone State in order to redeploy those assets elsewhere.
Much of the new spending is focused on Wisconsin, a state at the center of the political battlefield for much of the last two years. Priorities has reserved more than $3 million in advertisements in Wisconsin over the next several weeks, according to the advertising data, while Obama’s campaign has begun a $670,000 media blitz there. Romney’s campaign is making its first foray into the state with a $360,000 ad buy this week, and Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, spent about $2 million there last month.
It’s not clear whether Wisconsin is truly winnable for Romney, or whether Democrats are simply playing smart defense after Romney tapped Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to serve on his ticket. Both Republicans and Democrats say their internal polling gives them reason for optimism. The two most recent public polls, conducted in mid-August by Quinnipiac University and Marquette University, showed Obama clinging to small leads within the margin of error.
If Michigan and Pennsylvania are truly off the table, Romney’s path to the Oval Office begins to look perilously slim. Awarding those two states’ electoral votes, plus the Democratic-leaning, non-competitive states to Obama, would mean the president stands at 237 electoral votes — just 33 shy of the 270 he needs for a second term. Without allocating any swing states, Romney would stand at 191 votes. Obama then could reach the magic 270 mark by winning just Florida and New Hampshire. Ohio, Wisconsin, and another swing state would be sufficient; so would Ohio, Virginia, and another competitive state.
Consider Romney's precarious situation another way: If Obama wins every blue state he’s expected to win, plus Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin — all states he won by healthy margins in 2008 — he would reach 272 electoral votes. Even if Romney won all four big remaining prizes — Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina — he would still come up short if he can’t pick off another state.
All told, both sides have spent more than $616 million on television advertising since the general election began. Obama and his Democratic allies have dropped $299 million on advertising. Romney’s campaign has spent $88 million, while outside groups have combined to spend another $229 million on his behalf. That means Republicans have outspent Obama and his Democratic friends by about $18 million so far this year.