The world of political punditry seems convinced that the 2012 presidential election will be won in ten swing states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. Two other states, Indiana (lean Republican) and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (lean Democrat) could probably go either way in a close election.
If the election is a landslide, as many conservatives, including me, believe, then these thirteen swing states will not matter. Obama will likely get stuck with a group of northeastern states and a smattering of others. If the election is close, however, those dozen states will likely decide the election.
Almost wholly overlooked in the election is an advantage which Mitt Romney will have in those thirteen states which could well be decisive: heavyweight political muscle in the state governments. This is a consequence of the sweeping nature of the 2010 Republican landslide.
In those thirteen states, Republicans have a governor in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. North Carolina and Missouri have gubernatorial elections this year, or Republicans might have had ten of the twelve governors instead of eight. These governors can be surrogate campaigners who know their states' voters and can focus on constituencies which can be persuaded.
The enviable record of Republican governors on unemployment can be hammered as well, and the grand theme of governance, as I have written about before, can be used against Obama -- particularly since his Republican opponent has been a governor and since Obama himself seems so incapable of governing.
The Republican state government edge, however, runs much deeper in these swing states. In nine of the thirteen -- Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana -- Republicans control both houses of the state legislature. In two other states -- Wisconsin and Virginia -- Republicans essentially control the legislature. The Colorado and Iowa legislatures are divided, and only in Nevada are both houses controlled by Democrats.
This means that in several key states -- Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia, and (effectively) Wisconsin -- Republicans control the executive and legislative branches of state government. This means that Republicans can use state government power to help Romney, but much more importantly, it means that Obama cannot rely upon Democrat state machines to help him at all in those seven key states. Moreover, in all of the twelve key states, Republicans have powerful checks on the use of state government to help Obama.
Even more critically, Republicans are secretaries of state, which in most states are the key officers in counting votes, in eight out of the thirteen swing states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado. Democrats are secretaries of state in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Nevada.
Counting the votes is important, but having a state attorney general who will vigorously prosecute voter fraud can also be a powerful deterrent. The attorney generals of these nine swing states are Republicans: Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Democrats are attorney generals in North Carolina, Missouri, Iowa, and Nevada.
In six key states -- Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana -- Republicans have all the political offices: the governorship, both houses of the state legislature, the secretary of state position, and the state attorney general position -- needed to deny Obama any help from state government in winning votes for Obama and to keep Democrats from engaging in safely stealing votes for Obama.
Might the state government victories for Republicans in 2010 help defeat Obama in 2012? Absolutely.