Quizzed on Karl Rove’s “3-2-1” 2012 victory formulation, the operatives flip through a binder of at least half-a-dozen alternative victory scenarios (they underscore the point that 3-2-1 isn’t Romney’s only route), but eventually settle on the page dedicated to Rove’s calculus. Under this model, Romney would have to flip six states from blue to red to win the presidency. Of the first three – Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia – the campaign is most concerned with the Old Dominion State. “Virginia is very competitive,” Newhouse says, “I’m not going to make any news there.” The next two states are Florida and Ohio. “I feel pretty bullish on Florida,” Beeson says. “Obama’s issue metrics are really weak there, on unemployment and on foreclosures.” He also name-checks two key surrogates who will help limit Obama’s advantage among Hispanic voters in the Sunshine State: Senator Marco Rubio, “who is extremely effective all around the state, and especially down in Miami Dade” county, and Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno, who is an asset with the large Puerto Rican population along central Florida’s I-4 corridor. “Florida was a turnaround state for us in the primaries because of our turnout operation,” Newhouse recalls. “We feel really good about our ground operation in Florida.” Ohio is a separate beast. Both Beeson and Newhouse insist that people writing Romney off in the Buckeye State are far off base, but concede that there’s work to be done. It’s not an easy state, they say, but the campaign is devoting a special effort to winning it. “Ohio is going to be a knife fight until the very end. It’s that simple” Beeson intones. “Low single-digits, and a battle” Newhouse says flatly.

If Romney manages to win those first five states, the final piece of Rove’s puzzle is “one.” One additional state — any additional state — to put the GOP ticket over the top. Beeson brands this part of the conversation “fun,” eagerly pointing to a large US map on a wall perpendicular to his desk. He and Newhouse talk up Iowa, where polls show a virtual tie. “Iowa launched [Obama] in 2008, but the thrill is gone. He’s been camping out in Iowa for a reason,” Beeson says. “And he didn’t move the numbers there,” Newhouse adds, finishing Beeson’s sentence. Even though Iowa’s employment picture is superior to many of its neighbors’, the Romney strategists say Iowans have an acute intolerance for debt, a topic Romney ads have hammered in the Hawkeye State. They run through a litany of other winnable states, from rosier pictures (Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada) to the heavier lifts (New Hampshire, Michigan, Pennsylvania). Beeson circles back to his home state of Colorado. “We’re doing pretty damn well, all things considered,” he says. “It’s legitimately a one point race. It’s going to come down to [Denver’s] collar suburbs.” He rattles them off, pointing at the laminated map.