As the presidential race started to fall into place and we started getting a better idea of which candidate had the advantage in the key battleground states, the number of toss-up electoral votes shrank in each installment. Today, Michigan and Florida migrate back to the toss-up column, bringing it back up to 100 electoral votes - the highest since June 4th. In fact, this is Florida’s first move out of the “lean McCain” category. This might not be the wisest of moves given that Quinnipiac’s poll of the “Big Three” (FL, PA and OH) will be released in just a few hours and could very well contradict me, but it is Wednesday night so I cannot delay my presidential ratings any longer.
With 8 states with 100 electoral votes considered up for grabs, the election remains wide open - and the latest national polls showing a tight race attest to that. At the same time, this does not mean that the eletion is a toss-up. In fact, Obama’s advantage is the biggest it has been and now stands at 38 electoral votes. To make matters worse for the Republican, his base keeps eroding - a phenomenon we have seen week after week. Only 200 electoral votes are now rated in McCain’s column and his base (safe+likely) has also reached an all-time low of 165.
Soon, the two candidates will announce their vice-presidential picks and that alone is likely to provoke some changes in the ratings. Not all potential picks would transform the electoral equations in their state, but Richardson, Bayh, Crist or Pawlenty picks could lead to some changes in their respective states - at least temporarily. I am still not convinced Mitt Romney would have as dramatic an impact in Michigan as some say he would, but that could be another question mark we will have to keep an eye on.
Furthermore, it has now been quite a while that the Obama campaign has been running advertisements in staunchly red states that McCain has been ignoring (North Carolina is the main one, but also North Dakota, Montana, Alaska, Indiana and Georgia), allowing Obama to get his message out in a vacuum - the best situation for a politician to be in. For now, I have rated none of these states as a toss-up, but it goes without saying that McCain could soon have more to fear in those states than in states like Virginia and Colorado where he is playing defense. He might either have to invest his own resources here (divesting them from places like NM and CO) or a number of these states could move to the toss-up column.
Without further delay, here are the fourth 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, Utah, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming (90 EVs)
- Likely McCain: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska (1st and 2nd congressional districts), South Dakota, Texas (75 EVs)
- Lean McCain: Alaska, Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota (35 EVs)
- Toss-up: Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia (100 EV)
- Lean Obama: Iowa, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin (45 EVs)
- Likely Obama: Delaware, Maine (at-large, 2nd district), Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington (42 EVs)
- Safe Obama: California, Connecticut, DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine’s 1st district, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont (151 EVs)
This gives us the following map and totals:
- Safe + Likely Obama: 193 electoral votes
- Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 238
- Toss-up: 100
- Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 200
- Safe + Likely McCain: 165
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:
Florida, lean McCain to toss-up: Throughout the spring, Florida was widely considered like the one battleground state from the past 2 cycles that started off in the McCain column and one state in which Hillary Clinton would have performed stronger than Obama. Over the past few weeks, however, a combination of factors have led Florida to rejoin the group of toss-ups. First, polls have shown is back to being a toss-up. These ratings are not determined by a compilation of the latest polls, but it is impossible not to take into account all 3 polls released in July (ARG, PPP and Rasmussen) have found Obama ahead within the margin of error. That is a progression from this spring, when Obama was routinely crushed by McCain in polls from this state (see Pollster.com’s graph).
Second, Obama is undoubtedly benefiting from the superior Democratic organization over the past few months. Since the beginning of the year alone, new Democratic voting registrations have outpaced Republican ones 7:1 for an advantage of almost 100,000 voters… Groups are working hard to register former felons, whose voting rights are being restored. Furthermore, the Obama campaign is working hard at organizing in the state, contradicting some suggestions that they might be looking to pass on the Sunshine State. They already have 16 offices in the state, far ahead of where Gore and Kerry were at this stage in 2000 and 2004.
Finally, Obama is stronger among key Florida constituencies than Democrats previously feared. He does not look to be suffering from any sort of problem with Hispanic voters. His weakness among Latinos in the Democratic primaries combined with McCain’s relatively moderate profile on immigration led some to speculate McCain might score gains in that constituency, but poll after poll have shown Obama crushing McCain among Hispanics nationally by a bigger margin than in 2004. In Florida, Republicans are stronger among Hispanics because of the Cuban vote but McCain’s hopes to improve on Bush’s showing seems to be illusory. Another group among which Obama might not have quite as big a disadvantage as thought is Jewish voters - an important constituency in Florida. It looks like McCain is having his own problems with Jewish outreach.
Michigan, lean Obama to toss-up: Michigan stayed in the Obama column for only two weeks, with two changes in back-to-back ratings. I confess I might have been driven by polls more than I wanted to in my previous ratings: Rasmussen, Quinnipiac and PPP had all showed Obama opening a larger lead and that seemed to fit with Obama’s gains in other blue states like Wisconsin and Minnesota. However, polls over the past week have shown tighter races, with Quinnipiac and PPP both scaling back their findings to Obama leads within the margin of error. EPIC-MRA - the most reputable pollster in the state - also found a 2% race.
It has long looked that the McCain camp is intent on replacing Pennsylvania with Michigan as the large blue state it will contest the most strongly. The past few week shave shown very little to contradict that, with the McCain campaign concentrating ad buys, media campaigns and field organization on Michigan to an extent that was not seen by the Bush campaign in 2000 and 2004. In fact, the amount of buzz Mitt Romney is getting in the GOP veepstakes seems mainly driven by the belief in Republican circles (as summarized by Bob Novak last week) that Romney would make his ticket much stronger in Michigan. There is only so much money the McCain campaign can spend on the offensive and so it is likely to concentrate its money hitting only a few Kerry states - reserving the rest for the defense of the many endangered red states.
Michigan is likely to get a large share of whatever budget the GOP has to play offense, and that alone should guarantee that this state remains tight.
North Dakota, likely McCain to lean McCain: North Dakota thus joins Alaska and Montana as staunchly red states that have somehow found themselves competitive. The most recent ratings were devoted to the battle of the Mountain West. Just as in Montana (and Alaska, which is not the Mountain West but is part of the same type of strategic consideration), it is not just that Obama is polling much stronger than expected but he is actually airing ads in the state and backing that up with visits. Since my previous ratings, a Research 2000 poll came to confirm Rasmussen’s earlier finding of a tight race, and that corroboration is enough for me to take North Dakota to the next stage.
Special note on Indiana and New Hampshire: Some commentators protested some of my ratings two weeks ago, most notably those in Indiana and New Hampshire. In the latter state, McCain’s two primary victories were won not because of the GOP vote but because of independents; in fact, a surprising number of independents chose to vote for McCain rather than Obama (the only time during the primary season the two candidates were competing over the same voters), costing the Democrat a victory against Clinton. In the past two weeks, 2 out of 3 polls have found the race within the margin of error.
As for Indiana, it is true that Obama is running advertisements in the state and that is leading me to seriously consider moving the state to lean Republican. In fact, Georgia and Indiana are the only two states among the 18 the Obama campaign is contesting that are rated likely or safe Republican. Simply put, the state’s heavily Republican bent (Bush won by 21% in 2004) is keeping me from moving the state towards a more competitive category. It is true that I am now rating ND, AK and MT (all staunchly red states) as lean McCain; but there is now a number of polls from each of these states showing consistently tight races. On the other hand, there is very little information coming out of Indiana. A poll in June found Obama up by 1%, yes, but it was also the only poll from the state released in the past two months.
History of Campaign Diaries’ electoral ratings:
- July 30th: + 38 Obama (238 for Obama [151 safe, 42 likely, 46 lean] and 200 for McCain [90 safe, 75 likely, 35 lean]
- July 16th: +28 Obama (255 for Obama [150 safe, 43 likely, 62 lean] and 227 for McCain [90 safe, 78 likely, 59 lean]
- July 2rd: +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])