Of the remaining 13, 11 are true swing states and account for 162 electoral votes. Obama needs 74 of those to secure a second term. Doing so means cobbling together a few western states trending Democratic, like Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, with traditional Rust Belt battlegrounds.
Both parties can claim advantages in those Rust Belt states. The so-called "blue wall," states that have gone Democratic in the last five presidential elections, includes union-heavy Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Republicans argue that their recent success in all three means they can crumble that blue wall.
But envision the Obama team's scenarios: He wins 20 electoral votes out West, where Latinos will play a much bigger role than they did even in 2008, and the blue-wall states' 46 votes, putting him at 262 votes. Then he would need just eight more to secure reelection. Those could come from winning any of the following: Iowa and New Hampshire (10 total); Ohio (18); Virginia (13); North Carolina (15); or Florida (29).
However, it's not just Obama's national poll numbers that are sagging. He trailed the likely Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in recent polls in Michigan, New Hampshire, and Florida. (Reliable polling has shown Obama winning Pennsylvania and Ohio.)
Obama's slump in those key states, and Republican success in 2010, both are attributable to white voters, primarily those without college degrees. Obama lost that demographic by 18 points in 2008. He lost white voters with college degrees by four points. In 2010, noncollege whites backed Republican House candidates by a 30-point margin, while their advantage with college-educated whites skyrocketed to 19 points.
Changing demographics, however, are shrinking white voters as a segment of the electorate. A new, comprehensive study of the electorate in 12 swing states conducted by Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin of the liberal Center for American Progress shows minorities' slice of the electoral body since 2008 will rise between 1 and 4 points in those states by Election Day, while the segment of noncollege educated white voters will shrink by 1 to 5 points.
In practical terms, that means the coalition Obama's team used to win in 2008 is expanding, while the coalition that fueled Republican wins in 2010 is dwindling.
Take Ohio, the perpetual battleground state. In 2008, Obama won the backing of 83 percent of minority voters, who constituted 17 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls. He won 49 percent of college-educated whites (33 percent of the electorate) and 44 percent of noncollege whites (50 percent of the electorate). That means he won 52.28 percent of the two-party vote. (Even exit polls have a slight margin of error.)
Account for the aforementioned demographic changes, however, and the picture gets slightly better for the president. If minorities account for 18 percent of the electorate, college-educated whites make up 35 percent and noncollege whites are 47 percent. Using the Teixeira and Halpin estimate, Obama's portion of the two-party vote would increase to 52.77 percent--a 1-point shift.