An early electoral college guide: Which states will and won't matter

If Romney were to win Virginia and New Hampshire, he’d be on track for 270 EVs and could afford to lose Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. If he took Virginia but lost New Hampshire, any one of the remaining three states would put him over the top. If he took New Hampshire while losing Virginia, he’d need Colorado plus either Iowa or Nevada. If he lost both, he’d need all three.

It’s a little different for Obama. Assuming that Obama had 247 EVs from the 45 states already accounted for, Virginia and New Hampshire together would bring him to 264, so he’d need one of the remaining three. If he took Virginia but not New Hampshire, he’d need two of the three. If he took New Hampshire but not Virginia, he’d need all three. If he lost both, even winning Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada would leave him with only 268 EVs, two short of a majority…

This scenario means that we’re likely to know quite a bit about the outcome fairly early on election night. If Romney loses Florida, the contest is over. If Obama loses Virginia, he needs to run the table. And if he goes down to defeat in both Virginia and New Hampshire, he’d be on track to lose the election—unless he could replace their electoral votes by hanging onto North Carolina. If not, Obama’s reelection would hinge on the most traditional of all pivots—the Buckeye state. This year, we may well know the name of the next president before we cross the Mississippi.