Romney's campaign also is eying an expansion of the states it will actively contest, after having fended off a summer of attacks over his tax returns and his tenure at Bain Capital. Among those is Michigan, where Romney's father served as governor, even though the dynamics there currently favor Obama.
Romney's camp has yet to prove it is willing to gamble precious resources on Pennsylvania, a state that always appears close but hasn't voted Republican for president since 1988. But with voter uneasiness, particularly among blue collar Democrats in Western Pennsylvania communities dominated by the energy industry, the Romney campaign isn't ruling out a major bid to wrest the state's 20 Electoral College votes from Obama. "The fact that we're in a jump ball election, having been outspent is pretty amazing," said Rich Beeson, Romney's campaign political director. "We're playing on their turf."
Although the Romney campaign has been sanguine about its prospects in the Midwest, where Ohio voters are anxious about the economy and Iowa voters are angry about the deficit, confidence has only increased since Romney tapped House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. And, in Wisconsin, which Ryan has represented in the House for 14 years, the campaign has turned an Obama-leaning state into a toss-up. "It's amazing how wide the map is, and it looks like it will be well past Labor Day," Beeson said.
Presidential politics overlap in a handful of states that feature the closest Senate races. Republicans need to net four seats to seize the chamber. Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin, and perhaps Florida and Ohio, are among the states where voters will determine whether Nevada Democrat Harry Reid or Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell is the next Senate majority leader.
In Virginia, where Democrat Tim Kaine, a former governor, is battling Republican George Allen, a former governor and senator, the race is closely tied to the presidential contest. Kaine and Allen are running head to head, according to polls, and Kaine is likely to outperform Obama, so Allen is thought to need a Romney win to take the Senate seat.
Other contested Senate races in Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota are being waged in states where one of the presidential candidates is favored to win. Democrats are defending seats in Missouri, Montana and North Dakota - all of which are expected to go Republican in the presidential contest. Massachusetts Republican Scott P. Brown is seeking re-election in one of the most Democratic states. Even with Romney's tenure as Massachusetts governor, Brown would need to outperform Romney by a double-digit margin to win in November, analysts say. To do that, he will have to persuade middle-class and blue-collar voters to split their tickets, a possible prospect.
The battle for the House is far less joined. Barring a "wave" election similar to those of the previous three cycles, Democrats have little chance to gain the net 25 seats they need to control the chamber. Most contested House races are far from the presidential battle-ground: New York, California, Illinois and Florida have the largest number, with only Florida in play for the presidency.
Following the speeches from elected officials, the crowd stands at long tables as they dig into BBQ, brunswick stew, cadillac rice at the Law Enforcement Cookout at Wayne Dasher's pond house in Glennville, Ga., on Thursday, April 17, 2014.