Middle Class Angst and the Battle Over Swing Counties

The Zeitgeist: Polling by ABC/Washington Post and NBC/Wall Street Journal confirmed what we have been seeing, feeling, tasting for the past couple of weeks: The race for the White House is a pure out toss-up. After a volatile GOP primary in which front-runners changed as quickly as the weather, the general election is shaping up to an incredibly stable affair. Don't expect any big swings on the ballot test for the  next few months. Instead, expect a long slog until November.

Theme of the Week: Middle-Class Angst

Understanding the cross-pressures middle-class voters feel is critical to understanding this election. Our latest ABC/Washington Post poll showed that self-described middle-class voters believe that President Obama will do more than Mitt Romney to help them and their families. When asked who they thought would "do more to advance the interests of the middle class," Obama had an 11-point lead over Romney (52-41 percent). On the question of "who will do more to advance the interests of you and your family," middle-class voters give Obama a 20-point lead (54-34 percent).

But when asked which candidate they believe would do a better job on "creating jobs" and handling the economy, middle-class voters were evenly divided. On who would do better job on the economy, 49 percent of middle-class Americans said Romney, 45 percent picked Obama. When it comes to who they see as best able to create jobs, the two candidates were statistically tied: 47 percent for Obama and 44 percent for Romney.

Middle-class voters believe President Obama "gets them," but they don't know if he is up to the job of getting the economy back on track.

By the Numbers - Part I: 47.8 percent to 48 percent  of voters  approve/disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president. That helps explain why this race is so dang close. Voters don't believe  he's doing an awesome job. But they don't think he's falling down on the job either.

By the Numbers - Part II: We all know there are just a handful of states that will ultimately decide the election. But  it's really just a handful of counties in a handful of states that actually matter.

The two states I think will determine the outcome of the election are Colorado and Virginia.

Colorado: Jefferson and Arapahoe Counties in suburban Denver are  the swing counties in the state. In 2008, those two counties contributed 565,000 votes - or 25 percent of the 2.2M cast.

Virginia: Five key counties determine the winner of the state: Henrico (Richmond suburbs), Loudon and Prince William (suburban Washington, D.C.), Virginia Beach  and Chesapeake City. Total votes cast by these five counties in 2008: 764,000 (20 percent of total votes cast in the state).

Next Week:

Romney Wraps It Up: Mitt Romney will almost certainly clinch the GOP nomination on Tuesday: To surpass 1,144 in ABC's delegate estimate, he'll need just 45 percent of the vote in Texas..

The major presidential-primary story, however, could again be Obama's vote total, after his weak showings in West Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky. Obama could take around 60 percent again in Texas, where the ballot includes three other candidates, including Tennessee lawyer John Wolfe, who won 42 percent in Arkansas this past Tuesday. Obama polls poorly in Texas  but not as poorly as in those other states: When Gallup ranked Obama's 2011 approval in all 50 states in January, Texas gave him the 18th-worst showing. Compare that to West Virginia (5th), Arkansas  (7th)  and Kentucky  (11th). Voters cannot vote "uncommitted" or write in, leaving Wolfe, investor Bob Ely   and political-history author Darcy G. Richardson to vie for non-Obama votes among those who ask for Democratic ballots or seek out Democratic polling places. 

More Tea Party Infighting: The Texas Edition Ted Cruz, a young, Cuban-American candidate with Tea Party backing, is challenging an establishment favorite, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for the GOP Senate nomination. The most recent polling shows Dewhurst ahead. But  unless Dewhurst takes 50 percent of the vote in the four-way primary, he will have to face off against Cruz in a runoff at the end of July. Republican insiders are divided on whether Dewhurst can hit that 50 percent  threshold. But most agree that a runoff would give Cruz an excellent opportunity for an upset.  Click here  to check out Elizabeth Hartfield's story on the Texas  race.

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