No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio, and that would appear to be true for Mitt Romney as well — without Ohio's 18 Electoral College votes, the Republican nominee's path to the White House is exceedingly narrow. The problem for Romney: He's losing Ohio. A new Washington Post poll has President Obama up by 8 percentage points in the Buckeye State, and while "that's on the high end of recent margins," says Alexander Burns at Politico, "the trend is unambiguously in the president's favor." Even with early voting moving up the vote-casting starting gun, Romney can still win Ohio — and the presidential race — but it won't be easy. Here are five ways Romney can turn things around and solve his big "Ohio problem":
1. Make his Romney-Ryan bus tour count
As it turns out, this is Ohio week for the Romney campaign — the candidate and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are on a three-day bus tour of the state. It's the first time in three weeks that Romney and Ryan, a favorite of conservatives, have appeared together, and Romney is pushing an aggressive Ohio-specific attack that claims Obama has let China cheat at trade. This is Romney's last, best chance to win over his most crucial swing state, says NBC News' First Read team. "If this week's bus tour doesn't move the needle, as the Romney campaign might say, they very well could decide to all but write off the Buckeye State."
2. Convince Ohio voters to like him more
Romney's biggest obstacle in Ohio is that voters there just aren't that into him, says Nate Cohn at The New Republic. Since early September, "Romney's unfavorable ratings exceeded 49 percent in every poll of likely voters," and his favorable ratings are, on average, 7 points lower. "Obama has never been Ohio's favorite son, but it's hard to envision how Romney pulls off a comeback if a majority of voters outright dislike him." Whether it's through glowingly positive ads or some other means, "if Romney is to have any shot at all, he needs to turn around his image over the next month."
3. Rev up the Republican base
Even among voters who do like Romney, he faces a notable "Ohio enthusiasm gap" with Obama, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. In the new Washington Post poll, Romney and Obama fans are roughly on par in their excitement about their candidate. "But, drill down another level and you see some differences emerge": 56 percent of Obama voters are "very" enthusiastic, versus 46 percent for Romney. "That's not an insignificant difference when it comes to the likeliest of likely voters." The poll's brutal 8-point Obama lead is based on a Democrat/Republican/Independent sample that skews Democratic: 37/30/30, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. "That's a far cry from the  midterm 36/37/28 — but it's not that far off from 2008's 39/31/30." To win, Romney has to make the electorate look more like 2010 than 2008.
4. Crush Obama in the debates
Romney strategists say the campaign's internal poll numbers are much tighter than the public polls, putting Romney within the margin of error. But that could mean a 4-point deficit against Obama — about the average of recent polling. "Team Romney's hope is that they can tighten the race to just a couple of points heading into the first debate," says Politico's Burns, then "make up the rest of the difference through a combination of strong debate performances and a robust field operation." That isn't too different from their national game plan, "except the stakes are even higher in Ohio."
5. Give up on Ohio and focus on other states
Look, "at some point in every election, it becomes clear that certain states regarded as 'toss-ups' are probably lost causes for one candidate or the other," says Liz Marlantes at The Christian Science Monitor, and in Ohio, we've perhaps "reached a point where Romney should just cut his losses and move on," focusing "like a laser" on Florida, Virginia, and the other remaining states "he can — and, in fact, absolutely must — win." One proponent of this theory? Karl Rove, who pointedly noted on Fox News this week that "there are 11 different ways to win without Ohio." When the man who engineered George W. Bush's 2004 victory on an Ohio-focused strategy declares "the Buckeye State a lost cause," says Alec MacGillis at The New Republic, it's probably time to listen.
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