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POLITICS: White House

More battlegrounds make race too close to call

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Photo - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo)
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

Those who like suspenseful endings, rejoice: The race for the White House couldn't be any closer heading into the final week of the campaign.

This year it's not just traditional battlegrounds like Ohio and Florida that remain up for grabs. Smaller states such as New Hampshire and Iowa are closely contested and could be the difference in reaching the magical threshold of 270 electoral votes.

As much as President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney project an unwavering confidence in victory, it's pure bluster. Either could claim the electoral spoils on Nov. 6.

"Look, you'd probably have to go back to John Quincy Adams to get a race that was more in flux than this right now," said Christopher Hahn, a Democratic strategist. "If anyone thinks this race is wrapped up, they are sorely mistaken."

With an expanded map in play, both campaigns are pushing forward with an all-out blitz, fighting for at least eight states that will crown the next president -- and neither side has any intention to pull back resources from those coveted areas before Election Day.

"It's like playing three-dimensional chess," said Patrick Griffin, a Republican consultant. "There are so many paths these campaigns are looking at right now. You can't take any of these states for granted."

Echoing that point, Obama returned to New Hampshire Saturday yet again for a campaign rally. And in an Iowa stop on Friday, Romney vowed, "Don't think this is the last you're going to see of me and Paul Ryan."

Both sides have taken their cues from recent political history. Though Florida received all the limelight in the razor-thin 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, the former Democratic vice president wouldn't have needed the Sunshine State had he carried New Hampshire, for example.

For decades, the holy trinity in presidential politics was Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Most expected that Virginia would upstage the Keystone State and join the ranks of the

biggest battlegrounds. But with Romney showing greater strength in both Virginia and Florida, a new calculus is emerging.

"It's a Midwest thing," Hahn said.

Whoever loses Ohio a week from Tuesday immediately becomes a major underdog in the race. Without the Buckeye State, both Romney and Obama would need to claim victory in at least Wisconsin or Iowa to keep their presidential hopes alive.

Ultimately, analysts said, the election will be decided by the collision of two political forces: Democrats' superior ground game versus Republicans' more reliable voters. Republicans claim to have cut into Democrats' grassroots advantage, but early voting totals still show team Obama ahead by that metric.

In the homestretch of the election, presidential campaigns typically move resources from less favorable battlegrounds to swing states where the margin is still narrow. But with the benefit of flush war chests, both Republicans and Democrats are confident they can maintain current spending and have enough cash on hand to make it to the finish line.

"We are not leaving anywhere we are tied or ahead," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a conference call with reporters. "Romney has been unable to knock us out of a single battleground."

Responding to that claim, a Romney aide said, "Bring it on. We're going to win this."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner