The 2012 election rides on basically the same group of states that have helped to decided the last several presidential elections. These battle-ground states are where you will see the candidates spend the majority of their time and money this fall, and fall into four categories.

The “rust-belt” states are a group of aging giants, who has felt the effects of the economic troubles worse than most, mainly due to the fact they weren’t doing so hot before the epic meltdown of 2007. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa are five that will play a major role in deciding who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania next year. Barack Obama won all of these states, peeling Iowa and Ohio away from the Republicans.

The “southern-swing” states are three states that have moved from being GOP solid, to being the key to President Obama’s victory in 2008. Florida, North Carolina and Virginia all went for George W. Bush in his two electoral victories, and all three went to Obama in ’08.

The “moderate-western” states are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Again, Dubbya won these states five out of the six times they votes over his two elections, with New Mexico the lone victory to Al Gore, but only by .06% in 2000. And, again, Barack Obama won all three of these states in 2008.

The “other” battle ground states that don’t fit so squarely in any of the four categories above are New Hampshire and Missouri. New Hampshire went Bush/Kerry/Obama in the last three cycles, with the first two being close and Obama winning the state by nearly 10 points in 2008. Missouri went to Bush twice, and was Obama’s narrowest victory in 2008.

So what does a Republican need to do to win? A lot. If you allocate each candidate electoral votes from the states they are all but certain to win, Obama can likely count on 196 electoral votes and the Republican candidate, which we will assume is Mitt Romney for the sake of this piece, should get 181 electoral votes.

Let’s eliminate a couple of these states based on some reasonable assumptions. Despite the fact that his father was once governor there, Michigan is likely a tough get for Romney. It has been solidly Democrat in the last several elections, and recent poll numbers have Obama up. On the other hand, given the narrow victory and GOP history, we could reasonably say that Romney will reclaim Missouri. Also, after a huge victory there, and the fact he governed its neighbor, I’ll swing New Hampshire into the Romney column.

That makes the map 212 to 195 Obama, with our wild, wooly swing states left to go. Every single state left on our board was won by the President in 2008, which means that Mitt Romney will have to take a little over 57% of those electoral votes away from Obama to win.

To put it in perspective, even if Romney can get Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina back into the win column for the GOP, he’s still five votes short in the electoral college.

There are hundreds of scenarios and a lot of time for them to develop.