Mitt Romney's post-debate poll bounce has improved his standing in Ohio — tremendously lifting the spirits of his supporters, who know full well that no Republican has won the presidency without taking the Buckeye State. The consensus among political strategists is that Romney's odds of winning without the state's electoral votes are perilously thin. And as Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a top Romney campaign surrogate, put it Sunday, the GOP nominee "can probably win the presidency without Ohio, but I wouldn't want to take the risk." Still, there is at least one path to victory that doesn't run through Ohio.
Romney needs to start with every state now leaning Romney, and then pull off a few key upsets, says John Cassidy at The New Yorker. Colorado, New Hampshire, and Virginia are key building blocks for the GOP. Together, they have a potentially critical 26 electoral votes. "If Romney were to sweep the three of them, and also win all the states now classed as leaning towards him" — a group that now includes Florida and North Carolina, both of which Obama won in 2008 — he would wind up just nine electoral votes shy of the 270 he needs to win. There are three ways he could make up the difference — by taking Ohio or Wisconsin, or Iowa plus Nevada. "That's a big ask. But in all four of these states, Obama's lead is looking a lot less secure than it did ten days ago."
Without Ohio, says Jim Geraghty at National Review, the Nevada-Iowa two-fer is probably the most likely way for Romney to make up the nine-electoral-vote gap. He could also do it by picking up Wisconsin, though, and with the help of local son Paul Ryan, his running mate, Romney has whittled down Obama's lead to just two or three percentage points. Obama's still favored, but he's got to defend Wisconsin or it could be the state that puts Romney over the top. Of course, if Romney can put Ohio in his corner, he's the "genuine favorite."
But keep in mind that to win without Ohio, says Mark Halperin at TIME, Romney has to take "six of the nine battleground states, many of which still show significant deficits for the challenger." That's no easy task, especially since Romney lacks the "long-built ground game machinery" Obama has in those states. Clearly, "Romney's debate performance hasn't solved his Electoral College problem."