An overwhelming majority of Republicans think Ohio will play the biggest role. Fifty-four percent of them named the state the race's most important, compared to just 19 percent who picked Florida. The result shouldn't be surprising considering the state's history with the GOP - no Republican presidential nominee has ever won the White House without winning the Midwest battleground.
As one GOP Insider put it, "No Ohio, no victory."
History also weighed heavily on the minds of Democrats when they picked their top presidential state - Florida. Famously, the 2000 presidential race between Republican nominee George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore came down to a protracted recount there, with Bush's narrow margin of victory handing him the presidency. Forty percent of Democrats picked Florida, whose 29 electoral votes loom large in the fall.
"Obama is more likely to win in Florida than in Ohio, and he needs to win one of them," a Democratic Insider said.
Added another, referencing the 365 electoral votes President Obama won in 2008, "I just don't see how the Republicans peel off 93 electoral votes without Florida."
Ohio finished a close second among Democratic insiders, with 36 percent of them naming it the most important state.
"It always comes down to Ohio. If you can't win in Ohio, you'll have difficulty throughout the Midwest," said one liberal operative.
Both states have historically been crucial in presidential elections because each have been representative cross-sections of the country, comprising key demographic groups who have swung elections to either party. Ohio's electoral makeup consists of white, working-class voters who have shifted toward the Republican Party but will nonetheless by hotly contested for again by both Obama and putative GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Florida is more racially diverse, and has large populations of seniors, Jewish voters, and conservative-leaning Cuban-Americans.
But neither state represents the country's new demographic mix - or the electorate that forms Obama's coalition - better than Virginia. Its surge in minority and white, college-educated populations have turned the traditionally red state blue in the last decade, culminating in Obama's victory there in 2008. The president has already targeted Old Dominion as a key state in 2012 -- and Republicans and Democrats each named it their third most key battleground.
"Romney will win Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Florida," said one Democratic Insider. "Obama will win Ohio and Pennsylvania. Virginia is anybody's guess."
Two other states that have emerged only recently as general election bellwethers, Colorado and Nevada, also lagged behind in the view of insider's for 2012. Both states - each with a large Hispanic population and, in Colorado's case, a large college-educated base -- finished fifth and sixth respectively in the poll among both parties.
"Colorado, like Nevada and other southwestern states, is pivotal terrain in the new Democratic majority, as Democrats have no hold in the South," according to one left-leaning Insider.
Republicans and Democrats were also cool toward another traditional swing state: Pennsylvania. The Keystone State finished fourth among both groups. Romney's appeal to upscale, suburban moderate voters -- pitch-perfect for the wealthy suburbs surrounding Philadelphia - gives him hope for being the first Republican to win the state since George H.W. Bush in 1988.
"Romney is ahead, and his conservative brand doesn't frighten eastern [states]," said one Republican. "If Obama can't hold the Keystone State, he's toast."
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