Mitt Romney has an extremely narrow path to an electoral-college comeback victory, a trend that has befallen the Republican Party's presidential nominee every year since the 1988 election.
Not since George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle swept through the Electoral College map in 1988 has a Republican been able to breeze through a presidential election.
The reasons behind the GOP's tight electoral spot actually have little to do with Romney, and more to do with shifting demographics that favor President Barack Obama. The reality of the 2012 election is this: Obama has the luxury of being able to hold on to most of the states he won in 2008. Romney, on the other hand, has no room for error and needs to make some impressive comebacks in swing states to capture the election.
"It's not an exaggeration to say that Mitt Romney faces the toughest path to victory in recent memory," Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin.
Here's a look at the map of "safe" and "leaning" states for each candidate. There's a built-in advantage for Obama that gets him close to 270 votes, even without the battleground states:
That's a big shift from just 24 years ago, when Bush and Quayle romped to a 426-111 electoral-college victory over Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen.
Republicans dominated the electoral map with the candidacies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980s. Starting with Richard Nixon in 1972, the Republican candidate won four of the next five elections with at least 400 electoral votes. But no Republican candidate — not even the victorious George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 — has garnered more than 286 electoral votes since 1988.
Shifting demographics and Republicans' failure to take advantage has pushed former Republican strongholds into blue — or at least purple — territory.
"This is the concern among Republicans," Franklin said. "Looking at the demographics of the next 20 years, the groups that are growing are the groups that are leaning Democratic."
The changes are perhaps most evident in Virginia, which has seen an influx of younger women and Latino voters — who traditionally lean Democratic — into the northern part of the state. The result: After going red for 10 consecutive elections, Virginia shifted blue in 2008.
In North Carolina, too, there has been an influx of workers from the Rust Belt and Northeast that have helped make the state a toss-up. Until 2008, North Carolina had sided with Republicans in every election since 1980.
Republican strategists lament the fact that their party has shunned some of these groups — like Latinos, many of whom have been turned off by the GOP's hard line on immigration.
"At some point soon, the Latino population is going to get so huge that without a good percentage of the Latino vote in key states, any candidate is going to lose, whether they're Republican or whether they're Democrat," said Lionel Sosa, a former Reagan adviser who has worked on seven presidential campaigns.
As a result, Romney is boxed in to an electoral college strategy that leaves him with few options. If he loses Florida, for example, he has to win Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada and Virginia to get past 270. If he wins Florida but loses Ohio, he still faces the implausible path of winning New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, Virginia and Colorado.
Obama, on the other hand, can afford to lose Ohio, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina and still eek out a victory.
It's a problem that Republicans have to address heading to 2016 and beyond. Growing Latino populations in Arizona and, especially, Texas — and its whopping 38 electoral votes — are soon going to threaten Republican domination in those states. Meanwhile, Republicans don't have the same kind of prospects for favorable demographic shifts.
" It's a little hard to foresee big Republican gains," Franklin said. "The biggest demographic trend favoring Republicans has already happened — the conversion of old Democratic South to the new Republican South. That is the concern."
Still confused? Here's everything you need to know about the Electoral College >
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