With just twelve days left in this most contentious of presidential campaigns, the incumbent holds a lead of 26 electoral votes over his challenger in states that strongly favor their candidates.
Obama is strongly favored in California, Oregon, and Washington (a Democrat hasn't lost a West Coast state since 1988, when George H. W. Bush rode the popularity of the Reagan Administration into his only term), New Mexico, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and his home-state of Hawai'i, for a total of 217 electoral votes. Romney, meanwhile, is strongly favored in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and West Virginia, for a total of 191 electoral votes.
No states currently lean Republican, but three states lean Democratic at this point in the race: Nevada (with 6 EV), Wisconsin (with 10 EV), and Pennsylvania (with 20 EV). Another seven states - New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Virginia (13), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18), and Florida (29) - could fall in either direction. As of this morning, Pennsylvania supports Obama 50%-44%, Ohio supports the President 48%-46%, and Florida supports Romney 47%-48%, so the incumbent's most likely path to a second term seems to be through the Keystone State. That said, he could get back to the White House through one of four broad lanes of victory, one of which is a rather narrow avenue.
To win, the President will have to take one of the three big states - Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida - or, failing that, he will have to take both North Carolina and Virginia. With Pennsylvania appearing likely to go blue, a solely Keystone Path would require at least five small toss-up states to cross the 270 threshold. Among those states must be Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire: adding in Wisconsin (where the Democrat enjoys a 50%-46% lead) would give Obama 272 electoral votes, adding in Virginia (where the Democrat has a 48%-47% edge) would give him 275 electoral votes, or adding in North Carolina (where the Republican enjoys a 49%-47% lead) would give him 277 electoral votes.
An Appalacian Path to victory, in which the President takes both Pennsylvania and Ohio, would necessitate two smaller states - Wisconsin and Nevada would give him 271 electoral votes; Virginia and New Hampshire would give him 272 electoral votes; Colorado and either Iowa or Nevada would give him 270 electoral votes - or a victory in North Carolina, which would also give him 270 electoral votes. A Keyshine Path to victory, in which the President takes both Pennsylvania and Florida, would require a win in only one smaller state: winning New Hampshire would give him 270 electoral votes, while winning Iowa or Nevada would give him 272 electoral votes. A so-called Sunstone path, in which the President sweeps Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, would give him 284 electoral votes.
If Obama can only manage to win Ohio, then a solely Buckeye Path would require wins in four or five smaller states, including at least Nevada, Wisconsin, and Iowa. If he also takes Virginia, he'll reach 270 electoral votes; if he also wins Colorado and New Hampshire, he'll get to 270 electoral votes; if he also wins North Carolina, he'll wind up at 272 electoral votes. A so-called Buckshine Path, in which the President takes Ohio and Florida, would require only one smaller state for victory: winning colorado would give Obama 273 electoral votes, while winning Nevada or Iowa would give him an even 270 electoral votes.
If the President can only manage to win Florida, then a solely Sunshine Path would require wins in three or four small states, including at least Colorado. He can reach 271 electoral votes if he also wins both Wisconsin and Nevada, or Wisconsin and Iowa, or if he also wins Nevada, Iowa, and New Hampshire.
The most narrow road to victory is the Mideastern Path, in which the President must win both Virginia and North Carolina, as well as four or five more smaller states. Also taking Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire would give him the requisite 270 electoral votes; also winning Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire would give him 271 electoral votes; also winning Wisconsin, Colorado, New Hampshire, and either Nevada or Iowa would give him 274 electoral votes. Also winning Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado would give him 276 electoral votes, while a clean sweep of the seven smaller toss-up states would give the President a total of 280 electoral votes.
In short, the President must win every state in which he is strongly favored, as well as at least one of three big toss-up states - Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida - and at least three additional small states. Of the ten most contested states, Romney currently leads in only two: Florida and North Carolina. The President's most likely path to victory, then, goes through Appalacia: winning Pennsylvania (where he leads by 6%), Ohio (where he leads by 2%), Nevada and Wisconsin (both of which he leads by 4%) will give Obama 271 electoral votes. If, on the other hand, he manages to sweep every state in which he currently leads, he will amass 318 electoral votes, and another four years in the White House.