Obama will also need to focus on playing defense in the region because of the upcoming reapportionment. The problem for Obama is that the states that are slated to gain congressional districts because of population growth -- and, consequently, Electoral College votes -- are Republican-leaning states. Texas is estimated to gain four seats, while Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina and Utah are all projected to pick up one each. Meanwhile, the majority of states projected to lose seats and Electoral College votes -- such as Massachusetts (1), Illinois (1), Pennsylvania (1) and New York (2) -- are Democratic leaning.
That means that 2012 Republican nominee starts with about 180 electoral votes just from the states Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried in 2008 that netted him 173. So if the Republican nominee holds McCain states, they need 90 more votes to get to the White House. Winning Ohio and Indiana would put the GOP a third of the way there.
The bottom line for the GOP is that the most realistic path to victory requires the party's nominee to win at least two states bordering the Great Lakes. As for Obama, winning back the White House means winning back the Rust Belt, if for no other reason than defense.