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Associated Press/Photos by (Obama) Pablo Martinez Monsivais and (Romney) Charles Dharapak

High-stakes states

Politics | The race for the White House could be decided by just nine key battleground states. Here’s an Election Eve preview of what’s at stake

By the time voters finally go to the polls on Tuesday, campaigns across the nation will have spent an estimated $6 billion. That’s about $700 million more than what was a record amount spent in 2008. The presidential contest between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will account for about $2.6 billion of that total, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And the bulk of that campaign cash has been poured into a handful of battleground states. While the race for the White House is a national election, it is the fights in the following nine states that will likely determine which candidate wins the 270 electoral votes needed for victory:

Colorado (nine electoral votes)

In 2008 President Obama became just the second Democrat to win Colorado in more than 40 years. His 9-point victory was largely due to a growing Hispanic population, which could represent 8 percent of Colorado voters in 2012. Republicans have a 100,000-plus edge over Democrats in registered voters this year, but more than a third of Colorado voters identify themselves as independent. That’s a higher percentage than those who say they are Republicans or Democrats. While many states that Obama won in 2008 saw Republicans make gains in statewide races during the midterm elections two years later, Democrats here won a U.S. Senate seat and the governorship in 2010. The epicenter of the fight is Denver, which is the third most saturated market in the country for campaign ads this election season.

Florida (29 electoral votes)

Wonder why Republicans held their convention in the Tampa area during the humid month of August? It’s because the corridor along Interstate Highway 4 is the most hotly contested region in one of the nation’s most competitive states for presidential elections. Three of the four Florida counties that flipped from Republican to Democrat in 2008 are situated along this corridor from Orlando to St. Petersburg. A Republican has not won the White House without Florida since Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

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No state has a greater history of tight presidential elections. Obama won by 3 percentage points in 2008. This time Gov. Romney is spending more money than Obama, but the president has a decided advantage in field offices with almost 100 across the state. Romney has a solid roster of surrogates in the Sunshine State to help him make his case, including GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s mother who lives in Florida and has helped rebut Democratic attacks that Romney and Ryan will dismantle Medicare. With seniors making up 30 percent of the state’s electorate, the future of Medicare is Florida’s key issue. Romney counters Democrats’ attacks on Republican Medicare plans by accusing Democrats of stripping $500 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. And with Ryan as Romney’s running mate, Florida will be a test ground for the Ryan-led argument that voters’ fears over federal debt now outweighs voters’ desire to protect entitlements. In Florida, the GOP holds the governorship, both houses of the state legislature, and every statewide office but one.

Housing and Hispanics are the state’s other top issues. Florida has the nation’s third highest foreclosure rate. Hispanics make up 13.5 percent of state’s electorate, up from 12 percent in 2008.

Iowa (six electoral votes)

Obama’s surprise victory in the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses was a catalyst toward the presidency. He won the state by 10 percentage points in the 2008 general election. But this year Iowa’s results should more closely model the 2000 election when Democrat Al Gore won the state by less than a percentage point. Polls show that Iowa voters today are disappointed in the president’s job performance and are worried about the nation’s economy. While Democrats held a 17-percentage point advantage in registered voters four years ago, a dramatic shift has given Republicans a current lead of about 20,000 registered voters. Romney struggled in the GOP Iowa caucuses against candidates with better conservative credentials, but the former Massachusetts governor’s moderate reputation may help him win over independents and moderate Democrats on Tuesday.

New Hampshire (four electoral votes)

With just four electoral votes, New Hampshire is the smallest of the battleground states. But the fact that neither candidate has ignored the Granite State illustrates that both camps believe Election Day will be tight. Seniors made up 14 percent of the vote here in 2008 when Obama won the state by 9 percentage points. In 2004, New Hampshire was the only state to switch from Republican to Democrat, with John Kerry winning that year by 1 percentage point over George W. Bush. Bush won the state in 2000, also by 1 percentage point over Al Gore. The state currently is split with a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor. Republicans won both U.S. House seats and retained a U.S. Senate seat in 2010. The fiscal conservative reputation of the state favors Romney, but the socially liberal views of most of its voters (in 2010 the state enacted a law authorizing same-sex “marriages”) benefits Obama. Romney, as the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, won New Hampshire easily during the GOP primary earlier this year. He also has roots in the state, owning a summer residence in Lake Winnipesaukee.

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