Is Mitt Romney's Ohio bus tour a waste of his time?

Yes, no Republican has won without Ohio, but it is doable, and polls show the state is looking increasingly out of reach for Mitt Romney, who might be better off spending his time in Florida.

J.D. Pooley/AP
Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan waves to supporters from a bus, Monday, Sept. 24, at the Veterans Memorial Civic & Convention Center in Lima, Ohio.

Should Mitt Romney really be spending any more of what little time he has left in Ohio? 

We ask this as Mr. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, embark on a three-day bus tour in the Buckeye State (actually, it’s a three-day tour for Mr. Ryan; Mr. Romney is joining the tour a day late).

Yes, Ohio has long been seen as critical for Romney. At this point, anyone and everyone who follows politics can probably recite the mantra: “No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio." And it’s true that pulling out of Ohio would likely be interpeted as a sign of bigger troubles for the Romney campaign.

But at some point in every election, it becomes clear that certain states regarded as "tossups" are probably lost causes for one candidate or the other. And for some time now, Ohio has not looked good for Romney. President Obama has held a lead in the Buckeye State for many months, and recent polls show that lead is growing. A new Washington Post poll out Tuesday has Obama up in Ohio by eight points – prompting The Post’s political blog "The Fix" to move the state from “tossup” to “lean Obama.”

The reasons behind Ohio’s more Obama-friendly environment range from the auto bailout (which remains popular in a state where one out of eight workers is employed in auto-related jobs) to the fact that Ohio’s economy is actually in better shape than the nation’s as a whole. Romney has also failed miserably at telegraphing the kind of cultural populism that has traditionally boosted Republican candidates among Ohio’s white, working class voters.

All of which makes us wonder if we've reached a point where Romney should just cut his losses and move on? Forget about Ohio, and focus like a laser on the remaining states that polls show he can – and, in fact, absolutely must – win. By which we mostly mean: Florida.

You see, Romney can still win without Ohio. It wouldn’t be easy, but it’s technically doable (he would have to win Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire - all states where current polls show Romney behind, but none of which look quite as bad for him as Ohio). But take Florida out of the equation for Romney, and the math becomes nearly impossible. (Without Florida, Romney has to win all the states listed above, plus Wisconsin, which is looking more and more uphill for him, plus, of course, Ohio – which brings us back to where we started.)

Right now, polls show Romney is also behind in Florida, but not by much – Tuesday's Washington Post poll shows Obama with a four-point lead. And unlike Ohio, where Obama has been strong pretty much throughout the campaign, Florida has actually had Romney in the lead at different times. It’s not hard to envision him regaining an edge there again.

Bottom line: with just over 40 days to go before Election Day, the Romney campaign needs to think hard about how – and where – they’re spending every hour and every dollar. Evidence suggests that these three days in Ohio might be better spent elsewhere. 

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