2012 battleground states look a lot like the ones of '08, only redder

Obama's state-by-state Gallup job approval ratings are one way to gauge competitive hot spots in 2012 election. Of five likely battleground states, four now have GOP governors. Their performance could be crucial.

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama greets supporters after giving closing remarks after a small business forum at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Tuesday, Feb. 22. Among the 50 states, Obama state-by-state job approval ratings are one way to gauge competitive hot spots in 2012 election.
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Among the 50 states, President Obama has the highest average job approval rating in his native Hawaii (66 percent) and the lowest in Wyoming (28 percent), based on Gallup polling data from 2010. The District of Columbia came in with the highest figure of all, at 84 percent.

But between those goal posts there lies a story about the challenge Mr. Obama faces heading into his presumed 2012 reelection campaign. Overall, Obama’s average job approval has dipped 11 points, from 58 percent in 2009 to 47 percent in 2010. (And he is currently hovering around the 47 percent mark, according to Gallup.) Only 13 states, all of them reliably blue, show him above 50 percent.

Below that 50 percent mark, 20 states are within three percentage points of Obama’s national average: Michigan is highest, with 49 percent. Indiana is lowest, at 44 percent. In between, from high to low, are New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa, Ohio, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, and South Carolina.

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Those 20 states “may well provide a preview of where the most intense campaigning will occur in the coming 2012 presidential election,” writes Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief.

But it’s easy to eliminate some of those as potential swing states. Surely, Texas, Nebraska, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi will all be reliable Republican states in 2012. Indiana is a question mark, but probably Republican. And Maine, Oregon, and Minnesota all seem to be safe Democratic states. Though if former two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty gets the GOP nomination, he would presumably win his home state.

Gallup suggests a more narrow definition of the 2012 battleground, based on the president’s state-by-state ratings.

“Obama’s 2010 presidential approval ratings would suggest that states such as Florida [46 percent], Pennsylvania [46 percent], North Carolina [47 percent], Ohio [47 percent], and Nevada 47 percent] – all of which have average Obama approval ratings within one point of the national average – may once again be the battlegrounds of the coming election,” Mr. Newport writes.

Of those, only one – North Carolina – has a Democratic governor. The other four have new Republican governors, and in the cases of Pennsylvania and Ohio, those governors took over from Democrats. How those governors perform could play an important role in the eventual Republican nominee’s chances.

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