GAHANNA, Ohio -- By the time Mitt Romney took the stage Monday night for his next-to-last Ohio "Victory Rally" at the Columbus airport hangar of Landmark Aviation, thousands were already lining up to see him 750 miles east in New Hampshire, where the Republican presidential candidate was scheduled for a rally three hours later. Romney's campaign speech was nothing new, the text having scarcely changed in the past week, but what was newsworthy were the crowds -- large and enthusiastic or, as Barack Obama often said during his historic 2008 campaign, "fired up and ready to go."
If Americans want to know whether Romney has the executive skill needed to deliver on his promises to revive the U.S. economy and restore the nation's morale, let them look no further than the brilliant campaign the former Massachusetts governor and his staff have run. Against all odds, and despite the enormous challenges of taking on an incumbent Democrat adored by the media elite, Romney has brought the GOP to Election Day with a real hope of victory.
A win by Romney will be difficult, but it is clearly a real possibility. Monday was a big day for predictions. Several bloggers offered their own Electoral College maps, with many predicting that Romney would win with more than 300 Electoral College votes (ECVs), but anything more than 270 ECVs is a victory, and Republicans will be celebrating even if Mitt squeaks by with the narrowest of margins.
Predictions are above my pay-grade -- let the "experts" handle that -- but describing contingencies is certainly within my capacity, and there are three such "if/then" scenarios that would take Romney to victory by the most direct path:
Contingency One: Virginia. Polls close at 7 p.m. ET in the Old Dominion, the earliest of any major battleground state. The key question here -- the big "if" -- is whether the actual votes for Romney exceed his numbers in opinion polls. Nearly every recent poll shows Virginia a virtual tie, with President Obama holding less than a one-percent advantage in the Real Clear Politics average of polls for the state. But folks on the ground in Virginia report high levels of Republican enthusiasm, and there are indications from early voting that Obama will fall well short of the numbers that made him the first Democrat to win Virginia since 1964. Watch as the results Virginia come in tonight: If Mitt establishes a steady lead of five or six points (52 or 53 percent) as the night goes on, this will mean that the polls (which show Romney at about 48 percent) have substantially underestimated GOP strength. Therefore, if the actual Republican vote exceeds the poll predictions in Virginia, then the same is likely true elsewhere. On the other hand, if Romney doesn't win Virginia -- perish the thought! -- his road to 270 ECVs becomes nearly impossible. Keep an eye on Loudoun County, which George W. Bush won with 56 percent of the vote in 2004, but Obama won with 54 percent in 2008. Should this affluent Northern Virginia county tip back toward the GOP column, it would not only likely mean a Romney win in Virginia, but could be a bellwether of results in other similar upscale suburban communities that shifted from Republican to Democrat four years ago.
Contingency Two: Florida. Polls in the Sunshine State have gyrated wildly in the past two weeks. By mid-October, it seemed Romney had such a solid advantage in Florida that there were rumors that the Obama campaign had scratched the state off its map. However, when subsequent polls showed Obama recovering in Florida -- including a Marist survey that put the Democrat ahead by 2 points -- the Romney campaign was compelled to schedule extra visits there. Like Virginia, Florida is a must-win in any realistic Electoral College map for Romney. The bellwether in Florida is Hillsborough County, which Bush won with 53 percent in 2004, but Obama won by the same margin in 2008. Whoever wins Hillsborough will likely win the whole state.
Contingency Three: Ohio. If Romney loses either Virginia or Florida, he's toast, but Republican operatives I trust assure me that both of those states look like winners for the GOP. Therefore, the crucial vote will probably come in the Buckeye State. Should Mitt add Ohio's 18 ECVs to his column, Obama's hopes for re-election will be desperately endangered. And as I've been telling people for the past week, the key to Romney's hopes in Ohio is Butler County. The Cincinnati suburb is the largest repository of Republican votes in this state. As the results begin coming in from Ohio tonight, I'll be keeping an eye on Butler County: If Romney's totals there look like Bush's 66 percent in 2004, then you can probably start calling him "President-elect" Romney. If, however, Romney's results in Butler County are closer to the 61 percent that John McCain got in 2008 …
Perish the thought. There are alternative scenarios whereby Romney could lose Ohio and still get to the 270 ECVs needed for election, but none of them are very likely. If Romney loses Ohio, he is unlikely to win any of the states that figure into the alternatives -- Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire or Pennsylvania. In all likelihood, it's Ohio or bust for Mitt, but the hopeful news is that the Buckeye State is clearly winnable for the Republican. The margin of victory may be largely due to an unprecedented get-out-the-vote effort by the GOP here.
There has been endless talk, much of it speculative in nature, about which party was doing better among early voters, but the ultimate Republican edge could come down to the old-fashioned Election Day turnout. Yesterday, Republican National Committee political director Rick Wiley sent out a memo bragging that Republicans "are poised to blow the Obama campaign out on Election Day thanks to a superior GOTV program and a historical GOP Election Day advantage."
Is that a mere boast? It's hard to tell, but the smile on the face of RNC chairman Reince Priebus seemed entirely genuine last night when he appeared on Fox News and told Greta Van Susteren: "We've got all the energy on the ground and the Democrats don't."