Third electoral ratings: Obama solidifies his base, though his edge narrows

It’s Wednesday, and two weeks have passed since my previous electoral college ratings. That means it is time to update the presidential chart. Two weeks ago, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin shifted out of the toss-up category and into the Obama column. This week, five changes are introduced, 3 in Obama’s direction and 2 in McCain’s. There are two main lessons out of today’s update:

  1. Obama’s base currently looks more secure than McCain’s. Obama now has 143 electoral votes rated as “safe,” versus 93 for McCain. His base (likely + lean) is now up to 193, versus 160 for his opponent. It is possible that, over the next four months, traditionally red states will return to be reliably Republican or that McCain will be successful in putting in play states that look more firmly Democratic this cycle than in past elections. But the shifts in partisan breakdown have only firmed up the Democratic leanings of blue states and McCain’s financial disadvantage makes it unlikely that the he will succeed in an offensive in Democratic terrain, while Obama has the resources to run ads and send paid staffers to states neither Kerry nor Gore thought about for a second.
  2. Yet, Obama’s advantage is cut in half to only 11 electoral votes. While the Democratic nominee has a lot going for him and his lead in national polls is consistent, how that will translate in the electoral college remains unclear and the Illinois Senator’s numbers in Ohio, Florida and Missouri are not as improved as his numbers in states like Alaska and North Carolina, leaving the electoral college in a toss-up situation.

I discuss Tom Schaller’s argument about Obama’s chances in Southern states in more detail in my run-down of Mississippi. Without further delay, here are the third 2008 electoral college ratings (states whose ratings have been changed are in bold). Remember that states that are in the “lean” category are still considered to be very competitive and certain to be hotly contested, but it is possible to say that one candidate has a slight edge at this time.

  • Safe McCain: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska (at large + 3rd congressional district), Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming (93 EVs)
  • Likely McCain: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska (1st and 2nd congressional districts), North Dakota, Texas (78 EVs)
  • Lean McCain: Alaska, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina (56 EVs)
  • Toss-up: Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia (73 EV)
  • Lean Obama: Iowa, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin (45 EVs)
  • Likely Obama: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington (50 EVs)
  • Safe Obama: California, DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont (143 EVs)

This gives us the following map (courtesy of the Washington Post’s interactive feature, though I was not able to color lean states a lighter shade) and totals:

  • Safe + Likely Obama: 193 electoral votes
  • Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 238
  • Toss-up: 73
  • Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 227
  • Safe + Likely McCain: 171

I will naturally not attempt to provide an explanation for every single one of these ratings and will concentrate instead on those that have shifted over the past two weeks:

Alaska, likely McCain to lean McCain: Four factors have determined this rating move. First, polls continue to find Obama amazingly close in this very red state. Second, a Democrat is unlikely to cross 50% here, so that Bob Barr’s candidacy is an essential weapon for Obama — though it is unclear whether Barr will be able to make any dent. Third, Obama started airing ads in the state! And while he did the same in North Dakota and Montana, his Alaska stunner was followed-up by reports in Alaska’s media that the Democrat might actually spend time visiting the state — something no Democrat has done since 1964 (courtesy TPM).

California, likely Obama to safe Obama: Unlike in Massachusetts, Obama never seemed to struggle in California . It is therefor not the recent surveys showing him with massive leads that prompted this rating change, but the fact that McCain is unlikely to possess the ressources to put Obama on the defensive. In fact, the more Democrats pull McCain to single-digits in states like AKand TX, the less time McCain will have to even visit California as Bush had done in the fall of 2000. This is one of the benefits of Obama expanding the presidential map and benefiting from the shifts in partisan identification: It prevents McCain from going on the offensive and forces him to fall back on a narrow strategy of defending Bush states.

Minnesota, lean Obama to likely Obama: The situation is certainly less dramatic here than in CA, but the bottom-line is the same: McCain might want to contest a state that Bush lost narrowly in 2004 and where independents are a strong political force, but will he dare spend resources here when Wisconsin and Michigan seem like more vulnerable Kerry states? Recent polls are showing a double-digit lead for Obama, and they are too consistent to ignore. If McCain selects Gov. Pawlenty as his running-mate, the state will be downgraded to lean Obama.

Mississippi, likely McCain to safe McCain: Obama’s ability to put staunchly red Southern states in play has been debated for months. While there is now little doubt that VA and NC will be competitive, I have never been convinced that Georgia will. And ever since the MS-01 special election, Mississippi has been added to the list based on the possibility of increased black turnout. Tom Schaller’s op-ed in the NYT dismisses th Democrats’ southern hopes. His first argument is that, contrary to the CW, blacks are not under-represented among voters. But I do not agree that that matters: This only means an increase would make them over-represented this year, which is hardly implausible. In fact, it is almost certain that Obama will somewhat increase black turnout, if only because his campaign will make an organized push in the South — something past presidential candidates have not attempted.

However, I partially subscribe to Schaller’s argument in that the white vote is a neglected factor here. Obama increasing black turnout will be a huge boost in VA and NC and at the non-presidential level in MS. But it is unlikely to get him close in Mississippi and its racially polarized voting. Kerry got 14% of the white vote there (!), as much as Bush did nationally among the black vote, and are we really to believe that a black candidate could do much better than that? Obama would need a significant increase among white voters to overcome Bush’s 20% margin. For now, there is no evidence that Obama will succeed in reducing racial polarization in Southern states. He does not need to dramatically do so to be competitive in VA and NC, but he does in Mississippi.

Missouri, toss-up to lean McCain: I changed Missouri’s rating to toss-up just two weeks ago based on the fact that Obama “will not give up on contesting Missouri.” In the meantime, not only did we get a new SUSA poll with McCain regaining the lead but a report by TPM that the Democratic nominee is barely up on air in Missouri whereas McCain is blanketing the state. Obama will no doubt pick up his spending, but McCain knows that this state is actually vulnerable and is acting accordingly (whereas he is unlikely to do much for now in places like Alaska and North Dakota). Missouri will remain competitive to the end (something that wasn’t obvious a few years ago), but McCain retains a narrow but clear edge.

History of Campaign Diaries’ electoral ratings:

  • July 3rd: +11 Obama (238 for Obama [143 safe, 50 likely, 45 lean] and 227 for McCain [93 safe, 78 likely, 56 lean])
  • June 18th: +22 Obama (238 for Obama [86 safe, 97 likely, 55 lean] and 216 for McCain [87 safe, 87 likely, 42 lean])
  • June 4th: +20 McCain (207 for Obama [76 base, 107 likely, 24 lean] and 227 for McCain [97 safe, 77 likely, 53 lean])

0 Responses to “Third electoral ratings: Obama solidifies his base, though his edge narrows”


  1. 1 Ron

    Georgia is different than Mississippi only because Barr will have a higher result. Otherwise Georgia would be safe for McCain too.
    Do you think Indiana is competitive?

  2. 2 Jaxx Raxor

    I think that Indiana is Lean McCain rather than likely McCain because recent polling shows them rather close. However I’m not sure how much of an effort Obama will make in that. I agree with the changes of Minnesota and California, as well as Missisipi. Schaller was actually one of my professors at UMBC and he talked alot about the South being a dead end for Democrats. Obama will get into single digits in Missisipi, but whites are too conservative and too racially polarized for him to win. Georgia is more of a safe state to me as well because I doubt Bob Barr will have enough of an effect based on his anemic fundraising. Maybe in a state like Alaska Barr will have his greatest effect as it is cheap to put ads in, but if Obama forces McCain to visit the state then its a good sign. If McCain totally ignores it and assumes it will be an easy GOP win then I think Obama could win Alaska by a narrow margin. Its if McCain decides to play defense that Obama will have problems in that state.

  3. 3 zoot

    The numbers in GA are interesting - 600 K unregistered black voters, 8%-10% McCain lead, per Realclearpolitics (end of June), Barr currently polling 1%-3%. (I’m ignoring the one outlier that showed a 1% McCain margin.)

    Probably not enough room for Obama to actually win there, but classic misdirection might force an underfunded McCain campaign to use resources there. Random thought - 527s organized by Obama supporters get active on behalf of Barr in GA.

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