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Tightly Balanced in a Tipping Point State Tightly Balanced in a Tipping Point State Tightly Balanced in a Tipping Point State Tightly Balanced in a Tip...

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Tightly Balanced in a Tipping Point State

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

December 21, 2011

The new Quinnipiac University survey out this morning in Virginia spotlights the delicate tightrope President Obama must walk to retain many of the fast-growing, new battleground states that he captured in 2008 - and why Mitt Romney may be better positioned than Newt Gingrich to snatch those prizes from the president.

In 2008, Obama became the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to carry Virginia, attracting nearly 53 percent of its vote. In that election, Virginia was a luxury for the president because he also swept the table of Rust Belt swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota that have often decided presidential elections. But given his difficulties with blue-collar white workers, it will be difficult for Obama to repeat that performance in the Heartland. That could make it a necessity for him in 2012 to carry many of the emerging Sun Belt swing states defined by rapid growth, increasing racial diversity and (generally) high levels of white education - a list that includes Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico in the Southwest and North Carolina, Florida and Virginia in the Southeast. Of all those places, Virginia may be the closest to a tipping point state most likely to decide a close race.

Demography should help the president in these new Sun Belt battlegrounds: given the steady growth of the minority community in those places, the non-white share of the vote in them should be slightly higher in 2012 than 2008. That will likely reduce the share of whites he needs to win those states, even if economic discontent slightly erodes the preponderant share of the minority vote he captured in all of them three years ago. His problem is the share of the white vote he can attract may be declining even faster than the share that he needs - especially in the white working class.

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