FORT WORTH, Texas (MCT) — Just one week.
What a difference it has made in the race for the White House between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Not long ago, pundits and polls were saying Obama was on the verge of pulling away.
But since the first presidential debate Oct. 3, Romney has gained ground in the polls, and fewer states appear locked in for Obama in the Electoral College. The race is shaping up as a dead heat.
The candidates are targeting a few battleground states, trying to sew up the 270 Electoral College votes needed to clinch the presidency.
So as the campaign enters the final three weeks, most states shouldn’t expect much personal attention from the candidates.
“The states where you know what the voters will do are not important,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “The key states are where the polls are close and either candidate stands a chance of winning.”
Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida are among the top battlegrounds.
“Everybody thought it would be close and indeed it is,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “But Romney does, at this time, seem to be gaining momentum and waging a much better and determined campaign than John McCain did for the Republicans at a similar time four years ago.”
Romney’s resurgence was particularly striking in Florida, where a poll last week showed him moving from a 1-point deficit to a 7-point lead.
A new Reuters/Ipsos nationwide poll showed that Romney leads Obama 47 percent to 44 percent among likely voters.
A new Fox News poll showed Romney with a slim lead, 46 percent to 45 percent. And a Pew Research Center poll shows Romney ahead 49 percent to 45 percent among likely voters responding to that survey.
But what ultimately decides who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is the Electoral College, which has 538 members — one for each senator and representative and three additional electors for the District of Columbia.
Election Day is Nov. 6. Electoral College members don’t cast their ballots until Dec. 17.
As of this weekend, Obama holds a slim 201-181 lead in presumed Electoral College votes, with 156 votes in a dozen states considered up for grabs, according to RealClearPolitics.com, a nonpartisan polling-data and political-news organization based in Chicago.
Less than a week ago, Obama had a 251-181 electoral advantage in the RealClearPolitics.com totals. The numbers are based on the latest polls in each state.
“It’s a close race and the candidates now go to the battleground states,” said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, an associate political science professor at the University of North Texas in Denton.
Now the candidates are trying to determine “which states they need to win, what’s the best strategy and how do they best get to 270 votes,” he said.
Only four times in history has a candidate won the popular vote but not the Electoral College vote.
Democrat Al Gore was the most recent, in 2000.
Gore won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College after the Supreme Court stopped a recount of some Florida votes.
That essentially gave the Sunshine State and its 25 votes to George W. Bush. He won the Electoral College, 271-266 (one voter abstained).
The other times when the president won the Electoral College but not the popular vote were in 1824, 1876 and 1888.
Through the years, critics have argued that the Electoral College is an antiquated system that disenfranchises voters across the country.
This year, Gore called for letting the popular vote determine the presidency.
“The logic is it knits the country together, prevents regional conflicts, and it goes back through our history to (address) some legitimate concerns,” Gore said.
While this year’s election is expected to be tight, some say, it’s unlikely to produce a president who didn’t win the popular vote.
“There is an outside chance that one candidate could win the popular vote … and lose the electoral vote, but (it’s) very dubious this time around,” Saxe said.
On Dec. 17, 538 Electoral College voters will head to capitol buildings nationwide to formally cast their vote. Whoever gets at least 270 will win the White House.
The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College — and put it in the Constitution — as they tried to find a middle ground between letting Congress and qualified voters nationwide elect the president.
RealClearPolitics.com indicates that states including Massachusetts, California and New York are expected to go to Obama. States such as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are among those likely to go to Romney. Texas, with its modern history as a GOP stronghold, appears to be in Romney’s column.
That means neither candidate is likely to head here unless he needs to refill his campaign war chest.
“They are going to the battleground states,” Eshbaugh-Soha said. “They will still come to Texas because there are donors here. But they are going to buckle down on the battleground states, targeting the remaining days and finding states where campaign appearances may excite people.”
As of late last week, 12 states were in the tossup column.
Those states, and their number of Electoral College votes: Colorado, 9; Florida, 29; Iowa, 6; Michigan, 16; Missouri, 10; Nevada, 6; New Hampshire, 4; North Carolina, 15; Ohio, 18; Pennsylvania, 20; Virginia, 13; and Wisconsin, 10.
That’s where the candidates will spend most of their time, Jillson said.
“They know … the only way to be sure you win the presidency is to get those Electoral College votes,” he said.