JUDY WOODRUFF: And as Romney heads to those two key swing states, we assess the presidential contest.
And for that, we are joined by NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni, and Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report. He’s also a columnist for Roll Call.
Thank you both for being here on this Memorial Day.
So, only five months to go. Tomorrow is really the kickoff of the summer campaign season. I want both of you to tell me how you see the state of this race right now.
Stu, what do you — what does it look like to you?
STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: Well, Judy, I look at two things.
I look at the fundamentals, how states have performed in the past, how the country has gone. And then I look at where we are right now with the economy, the reputation of the parties, the president’s standing. It looks like a real horse race. I know everybody is saying it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t possibly be true.
I think the race is very close and it’s going to be decided by what happens between now and November. So events are really going to matter and how the two candidates respond to them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Christina, what does it look like, 50/50?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yeah, absolutely.
You’ve got — first of all, you’re going to see dozens and dozens of polls over the next five months. And some of them are going to be a little bit more important than others. But one of the things that you’re seeing nationally is that, since it’s been clear that Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee here, he’s starting to inch up a little bit on the president in national perspective.
But in the battleground states, where the president’s team has really invested a lot of money in their ground game, their campaign infrastructure, hiring a lot of people and registering voters, you’re seeing it a little bit stronger for the president in some of them and then Romney having a little bit of ground to make up in both.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, speaking of those battlegrounds states, if you look at a map of the United States — and we just happen to have our Vote 2012 Map Center right here to show everybody — you see those states in blue that are considered either solidly or leaning Democratic. In red, we’re showing the states that are solidly or leaning Republican, and then yellow, eight states that are tossups.
So, Stu, let’s talk about those. And let’s start on the East Coast and work our way west with Florida, which keeps everybody guessing, at least at this stage of the campaign. What does Florida look like?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Right, certainly as it did in 2000.
Well, there’s a recent NBC News/Marist poll that has the president up by four points, 48 to 44. That’s among registered voters. If you look historically at Florida, Judy it performs more Republican than the country as a whole. That is a few points more Republican. So, although President Obama won it last time, he didn’t win it by anything close to the over seven points he won nationally.
I think you have to look at Florida in a number of ways. Hispanics are an important constituency, senior citizens, of course. But really Florida is three states in one. North Florida performs the way the South does. It’s conservative. South Florida, particularly the Gold Coast, the Miami-Broward portion of the state, is more like New Jersey. So Florida is going to be determined probably by swing voters in the I-4 Corridor, that central part of the belt stretching from Orlando all the way over to Tampa-St. Pete.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Which we hear about in every election.
So, let’s move up a little bit north there to Virginia.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Right. Virginia is the battleground of all battlegrounds. Of course, it did not vote Democratic — it voted Democratic in 2008, but it hadn’t since 1964. This was a big win for Barack Obama in 2008.
And they did that in part by targeting a lot of the expanding suburbs in the Washington area in Northern Virginia and also looking at this military region, Hampton Roads, and also targeting younger voters and the changing demographics of Virginia.
So, this is something — you’re going to see this, both campaigns put a lot of energy and resources there. It’s very easy for the president to cross over into Virginia and campaign here. You saw him hold one of his first reelection rallies in Richmond.
And you’re going to see a lot more there. And Mitt Romney has made very clear he’s going to contest here. When you look at where these campaigns are advertising, Virginia is almost always on the list for the campaigns and the super PACs that are backing them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So long, as you say, a state the Republicans could almost take for granted, but not anymore.
So, Stu, let’s turn to the Midwest, and quickly look at three states there, starting with Ohio.
STUART ROTHENBERG: So there’s a recent NBC News/Marist poll that shows the president up by five points, though only in the mid-40s, against Mitt Romney. Ohio went for Bush in 2000 and 2004.
It then went for President Obama, not the way it did it nationally. Nationally, the president won by seven. In Ohio, it was about 4.5 points. I think one of the interesting things about Ohio is the economic recovery. The automobile industry and the overall sense that the economy is coming back, will that help the president enough to help him carry a state that, all things being equal — and they are never equal, Judy — but all things being equal, the Republicans have a slight advantage in.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Okay, and near and still in the Midwest, Christina, Iowa.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Iowa, this is a really interesting state because it has swung for both parties over the presidential years.
And, obviously, it’s very near and dear to President Obama’s heart because it is where he was able to sort of start his path to the Democratic nomination in 2008 by winning the caucuses. He put a lot of investment in getting the young college voters in that state to get engaged for him. He has campaigned there many times.
He has sent the vice president there many times. But it’s also an interesting state because the economy is a little bit better in Iowa than it is in other parts of the country. And you’re also seeing a pretty strong Republican effort in some of the down-ballot races. So, you have got some competitive congressional races. You’re seeing a lot of advertising at that level.
So, this is not a state that the Obama campaign can take for granted this year.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Stu, quickly to Wisconsin, which is a state that all — that also has a very closely watched governor recall.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Right. Right.
And the state is very polarized. The recall shows the race close, as Gov. Scott Walker facing a recall against Tom Barrett. Fascinating state, Judy. In 2000 and 2004, this state went Democratic by each time less than one-half of 1 percent. And yet in 2008, it blew open. The president won it by almost 14 percentage points.
The question is, now, is it going to come back? Some of these Upper Midwest states like good government candidates who talk about bringing the country together. I think the thing to watch here is white working-class voters and to what extent are they dissatisfied with the economy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going to touch just very briefly now on these last few states we want to talk about.
Christina, in New Hampshire, it’s only four electoral votes, but in a close race, that could matter.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Especially when you have got Mitt Romney, who was the governor of Massachusetts. He owns property in New Hampshire. He has spent a lot of time there. He’s beloved by a lot of these residents and it really has got this independent streak. It backed President Obama in 2008, but they do like to make a little bit of a switch here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Stu, moving out west, Colorado?
STUART ROTHENBERG: I would say the two keys here are Hispanics and suburban voters. This is the West, but it’s not the West like Wyoming or Arizona or Montana.
There are a whole bunch of suburban voters here around the Denver area that probably will decide this election and again the Hispanic turnout.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Christina, the last of these swing states we’re looking at is Nevada.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Yes. And the Hispanic turnout is very, very important in this race.
And you have also got the president was able to activate a very strong Democratic base in that state in 2008. He helped Senator — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid win reelection in 2010 with that. And that’s what he’s trying to do now. And we have noticed these campaigns are not advertising there, in part because the president is standing strong.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So let’s finally look at the map again and talk just quickly about what the president and what Gov. Romney have to do to get to that 270, which is what they need. Several paths, Stu, for the president, but maybe only a few for Gov. Romney.
STUART ROTHENBERG: That’s true. Romney must win Ohio and Florida.
And then I think the key is going to come down to Wisconsin, Virginia, Colorado. I think Virginia is going to be a crucial state, Judy. And I don’t say that just because we’re located in Virginia at the moment. You know, when you do the math, if the Republicans win the states that they have in the past, if Romney wins them, it’s going to come down to a handful of states.
The president has a lot more opportunities. If he can pick off Ohio, for example, he makes it impossible for Mitt Romney to win.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick last word.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: And you can take a look on our Map Center. Basically, if the president is able to win all of these states, he wins reelection fairly easily. But if Mitt Romney is able to pick off just a few — he’s going to need a lot more than that. He’s basically going to run the table with some of these states to be able to make this happen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And when our — I should just say that our viewers can go online to our Web site, look at this map. You can play with it. You can see what it means when different states go Romney or Obama. You can see the different paths and make it turn out any way you want. Is that right?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes, sure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Unlike in November, when it really counts.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Christina Bellantoni, Stu Rothenberg, thank you both.
STUART ROTHENBERG: Thanks, Judy.