Now back to the real world. The last Democrat to win the White House without carrying Ohio was John F. Kennedy, who pulled off the feat with 73 electoral votes from south of the Mason-Dixon line and another 26 from the border states of West Virginia, Missouri, and Arkansas. Obama’s likely haul from that territory: zero. And as Seib points out, the president is facing an uphill climb in much of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region—including Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, all of which went his way by larger margins than did Ohio. (For more evidence, see the latest Pennsylvania survey, which finds that 54 percent of registered voters disapprove of Obama’s performance and 51 percent don’t think he deserves reelection, while it has him running even with Romney in a state he carried by 10.3 points in 2008.) In short, the president won’t have the luxury of building his campaign on a solid-blue foundation of 242 electoral votes in 2012.
So what does this all mean? Barring unlikely circumstances, the core challenge facing the Obama campaign is not to execute a thread-the-needle Electoral College strategy. It is rather to spend the next thirteen and a half months giving the people credible reasons to believe that the economy will fare better in a second Obama term than it did in the first.