By Patrick Murray | October 18th, 2012 - 3:01pm
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Which state is the must-watch harbinger for this year’s election?  Is it Ohio, or Iowa, or even Wisconsin?  All of those states are keys to victory in one way or another.  But the make or break state this year is Florida.

This is not the same situation as the nail-biter in 2000.  It is unlikely that Florida’s 29 electoral votes will ultimately be responsible for putting either candidate over the top in this year’s Electoral College count.  Florida, though, will determine whether Mitt Romney can win.

Political pundits of the bean counter ilk have come up with a variety of Electoral College scenarios that would put Mitt Romney in the White House (a good one is here).  But it’s important to note that all of these scenarios hinge on the assumption that Romney takes Florida.

A win in Florida does not guarantee a Mitt Romney victory, but a Sunshine State loss almost certainly hands Barack Obama another term.

With little more than three weeks to go before Election Day, eight states are currently considered to be the battlegrounds based on polling and where the candidates are spending their resources.  These are New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada.  Among this group, Florida is probably the most likely to go for Romney based on recent electoral performance.

In 2008, John McCain lost Florida by less than 3 percentage points.  He lost Ohio by 4, Virginia by 6 and each of the remaining 2012 toss-up states by 9 points or more.  In 2004, George W. Bush won Florida by 5 points, second only to his 8 point margin in Virginia among these eight states.  Bush won Colorado by just under 5 points, Ohio and Nevada by about 2 points each, and Iowa by 1 point.  He narrowly lost Wisconsin and New Hampshire to John Kerry.

In other words, if Mitt Romney loses Florida, he is unlikely to have an edge in any other battleground state.  In fact, if he loses Florida, he would have to run the table in those seven other states in order to be elected.  Highly improbable.

On the other hand, if Romney does take Florida, his path to victory is a little easier than it appeared just two weeks ago.  For instance, he could sweep the five smallest states (NH, WI, IA, CO, and NV).  Or swap out Iowa and Nevada for Virginia and Romney would still win.  All without Ohio!  Based on recent polling, this is not outside the realm of possibility.

We’ll find out – hopefully – on November 6th.  As Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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