Friday, September 12, 2008

Electoral Update - McCain Closes In

In our seventh Electoral Projection, John McCain continues to climb the electoral ladder, adding another 19 electoral votes to his total.  McCain, with 240 electoral votes, is closer now than ever to Obama (268).  There are now just three tossup states on the map. Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio, all of which George Bush won in 2004, are too close to call.

Virginia (13) continues to be a key battleground although there does appear to be a tiny shift toward John McCain. According to a recent CNN/Time poll, McCain is beating Obama by 9 points with Independent voters in Virginia.  It should also be noted that this same poll is the first to show either candidate with a lead outside of the margin of error (50-46) since May. Three consecutive polls now put McCain ahead in Virginia, thereby shifting its status from tossup to leaning McCain.

McCain Picks Up Montana, North Dakota & Alaska

The addition of Sarah Palin has without a doubt electrified the Republican base.  Montana (3), previous to Palin, was thought by many to be in play.  One July poll showed Obama leading and another had both candidates tied. The newest polling by Rasmussen now shows an 11 point lead for McCain. 

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The story is the same in North Dakota (3) where the race was competitive prior to Palin's entrance. Rasmussen's latest poll now show's a 14 point lead for McCain. Women, who previously favored Obama by 9 points now favor John McCain by 11. Independents have also shifted toward McCain.  It's safe to assume that Alaska (3) be a lock for McCain too.

Obama Picks Up Colorado, loses New Mexico

Barack Obama shows a net gain of four electoral votes this week.  New Mexico polling before the close of the Republican convention consistently favored Barack Obama.  A new poll now suggests McCain leading by just two points, well within the poll's +/- 4% margin of error.  New Mexico shifts from Obama to tossup.

Obama's lead in Colorado (9) mirrors that of John McCain's in Virginia. Polling in both states shows both candidates leading in three consecutive polls, albeit by small margins. Although McCain has undoubtedly benefited from a convention bounce in most states, there doesn't appear to be one in Colorado. The most recent polling in Colorado, by Insider Advantage, suggests that Obama still leads among Independent voters. The same poll also shows Obama leading McCain with women and men by the same margin, 49-46.  Obama also does well with Hispanics according to a recent PPP poll (58-34).  Colorado moves from tossup to Obama.

Pollsters have been busy in Michigan (17) lately.  Five polls have been conducted since the close of the Republican convention, and three of the five show the race as a statistical dead heat. McCain leads in the most recent Insider Advantage poll, his first lead here since May.

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In seven weeks, McCain has added 65 electoral votes to his total. Barack Obama, who had 268 electoral votes in our first projection, has neither gained nor lost any ground. Most of McCain's surge can be attributed to his success in solidifying the Conservative base. This is especially true in traditional Republican strongholds where McCain's support was once soft (MT, ND, AK, IN). Now, with Palin on the ticket, the electoral map is shaking out to look more like what it did in 2000 and 2004. Colorado (Bush 2004 +5%) and Virginia (Bush 2004 +8%) the two exceptions so far. For Obama, he absolutely must hang on to the Kerry states. He then must find a way to capture 17 electoral votes from states where Bush won in 2004*.  Obama appears to have a solid lead in IA (7). Ten more?  Any combo of CO (9), NM (5), and NV (5) would put him over the goal-line.  Florida (27) and/or Ohio (20) all by themselves get the job done too.  This is by no means the only scenario that Obama can win.  It is however the most likely scenario at this point in the race. [CLICK CHART TO ENLARGE]

* Kerry received 251 electoral votes (19 short).  However, Kerry would have received 252 had one elector from MN not voted for John Edwards (18 short of 270). If Obama wins the Kerry states plus 17 electoral votes from Bush states, both candidates tie 269-269. Obama is certain to win in the event of a tie as the state delegations in the U.S. House favor Democrats.  Read more here about 269-269 scenarios.
The big questions going forward are:
  • Can John McCain sustain his current numbers?  Much has been heard of the WalMart moms who are suddenly excited about Palin.  But if history is any indication, veep choices rarely matter.  Will Palin change all that?  Yes, she has a compelling story, but will that be enough to really sway voters?
  • Can Obama hang on to the Kerry states?  John McCain's hopes of winning this election ride almost entirely on Ohio and Florida.  Losing ground in either one could spell disaster for McCain.  For Obama, sustaining his leads in states where John Kerry won is absolutely necessary.  So far, Obama has protected these states, but Michigan is very close.  Wisconsin is not far behind.
  • Is there a page two of the Palin story?  It's all or nothing with Sarah Palin.  And John McCain can't keep Sarah Palin from the press forever. What more will we learn about Palin as the days and weeks go on? It's likely that McCain has gained the maximum potential out of Palin alone. What goes up usually comes down, even in politics. How much down remains yet to be seen. 

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