Politics Counts: Measuring the Obama-Romney Overlap

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Among the many bits of conventional wisdom in presidential politics is the abiding belief that there are two stages in running for the country’s top job. There is the primary stage, where a candidate appeals to the party base to build enthusiasm with core voters. And there is the general election stage, where one pivots to capture moderate centrist voters.

Not so this year, at least for one candidate.

A few months and several contests into the 2012 primary calendar former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney seems to be challenging that idea. When you look at Mr. Romney’s votes and support, he is largely bypassing that first stage – or at least trying to bypass it – and appealing to general election voters during the nomination fight.

With the Republican Party more divided than usual, some clear fault lines have emerged in the GOP electorate around the current field of candidates. Social conservatives and less-wealthy voters have tended to side with either former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Other Republican primary voters have tended to side with Mr. Romney.

The result? Mr. Romney’s electoral “footprint” in some primary states bears a striking resemblance to that of President Barack Obama in 2008’s general election – particularly in swing states like Ohio and Florida.

The question is what that ultimately means for Mr. Romney’s chances in the fall.

Click on the graphic for a larger view.

In Florida, the similar patterns are obvious. Mr. Obama won 15 counties in the state in 2008, Mr. Romney carried 12 of them in January’s Republican primary in the state, including the most densely populated counties around Miami, Orlando and Tampa. Those counties gave Mr. Romney the win in January and Mr. Obama his win in 2008.

Tuesday’s results from Ohio are arguably even more remarkable. Mr. Romney won 12 of the 22 counties Mr. Obama carried in 2008 but again, most critically, the counties with the most population – Hamilton, Franklin and Cuyahoga (the homes of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland respectively). All three are categorized as big city Industrial Metropolises in Patchwork Nation’s demographic/geographic breakdown of counties. They appear in gray on the map below and without big wins in them Mr. Romney would not have won the state. (Mouse over the map and the icons below it to see vote totals and percentages.)

Read the rest of this week's POLITICS COUNTS column on the Wall Street Journal's Web site.

Read the rest of this week's POLITICS COUNTS column on the Wall Street Journal's Web site.