This is not Wednesday - the usual day of my presidential ratings - but considering that the week ahead is supposed to that of the Republican convention, we will have enough to talk about then. Consider this a special veepstakes edition. McCain and Obama had an opportunity to reshape the electoral map with their vice-presidential pick. For Democrats, choosing Kaine, Bayh, Richardson could have boosted his chances in key battleground states; for Republicans, Romney would have helped in Michigan and Pawlenty could have sufficed to transform Minnesota into a toss-up.
Instead, both candidates chose a pick from states with 3 electoral vote - one of which was considered a swing state (Alaska), the other was not (Delaware). Thus, the veepstakes’ only immediate impact is to move Alaska out of the toss-up column. Democrats would surely point out that Biden solidifies Obama’s claim on Pennsylvania (the Keystone State was already rated lean Obama in my previous ratings). The Obama campaign is playing up Biden’s roots in Scranton, PA (even airing an ad only in northeastern Pennsylvania) and is hoping Biden can help among blue-collar voters who voted for Clinton on April 22nd.
Beyond this home-state phenomenon, it is very much possible Palin and Biden’s impact will be felt in some states with more strength than others. If Biden helps Obama among blue-collar whites, that could be significant not only in PA but in places like Ohio and Virginia; if he helps him with older voters by adding gravitas to the ticket, look to Florida as a place numbers could move. Meanwhile, if Palin helps McCain among undecided women, that could be particularly important in the suburbs of Pennsylvania and Michigan; if she boosts his conservative credentials, Republican turnout in conservative regions of the Midwest and the parts of the South that are contested could increase; and if she makes him look more libertarian, she could prove a boost in Western states like Montana, North Dakota and even Colorado.
For now, most states are remaining in their place, and the latest polling supports this stability. The latest from Pennsylvania continue to show Obama with a consistent edge while Ohio and Virginia surveys are among the tightest in the country. As for Florida, McCain was ahead in seven of the eight polls released in August (Obama was leading by 1% in the eight). Stability also reigns in Colorado, where polls have stabilized and find both candidates in the lead after months of Obama holding a clear lead. Results in Michigan, New Hampshire and Minnesota, meanwhile, are finding Obama ahead but by widely differing margins.
I have moved New Mexico and Indiana’s ratings this month, however. Both states were very rarely polled, but we three and two polls from these states over the past two weeks. Combined with what we know about the two campaign’s ad investments and ground game, that is enough for a change.
Without further delay, here are the sixth 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, Nebraska (1st and 2nd congressional districts), South Dakota, Texas (64 EVs)
- Lean McCain: Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota (73 EVs)
- Toss-up: Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia (68 EV)
- Lean Obama: Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin (60 EVs)
- Likely Obama: Maine (at-large, 2nd district), New Jersey, Washington (29 EVs)
- Safe Obama: California, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine’s 1st district, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont (154 EVs)
This gives us the following map and totals:
- Safe + Likely Obama: 183 electoral votes
- Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 243
- Toss-up: 68
- Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 227
- Safe + Likely McCain: 154
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, toss-up to lean McCain: To everyone’s surprise, the Obama campaign had included Alaska in its list of 18 targeted states and was airing ads in this traditionally Republican state. That was paying off in the polls, as Obama had taken the lead for the first time in a survey released mid-August; Obama trailed in low-to-mid single digits in most other surveys. But Sarah Palin joining the Republican ticket makes the state even more of an uphill battle than it was before. The state’s Governor has extremely high approval ratings (80% in a recent poll) and will Alaska voters reject this opportunity for one of their own to be on a winning ticket for the first time? That said, I am only moving this to the lean column for now, because Republicans still have much to fear in Alaska in the coming weeks (the local press will focus on corruption, Ted Stevens’ scandal and troopergate) and because the Obama campaign has said that it will continue airing ads in the state. But odds that Alaska move to the likely column are much higher than its migrating back to toss-up.
Delaware, likely Obama to safe Obama: Do I really have to explain why?
Indiana, likely McCain to lean McCain: Obama did not pick Evan Bayh as his running mate, depriving himself of a sure boost in the Hoosier state, but he has been airing ads in this red state for months now. McCain has yet to invest any money here. Despite this, I had left Indiana in the likely McCain column because of the lack of evidence and polling data to support Democratic confidence. A poll back in June showed a toss-up, but the GOP deserves the benefit of the doubt in a state Bush carried by more than 20% in 2004. But two polls released in the past two weeks have shown McCain leading by only 4% and 6%. Combined with the fact that one side is organizing in the state while the other is not, this is enough to move the state to a competitive category.
New Mexico, toss-up to lean Obama: After a summer of few polls, the last two weeks have brought us three, with widely differing results. While CNN found Obama leading by 13% and Rasmussen by 6%, Mason Dixon surprised by giving McCain his first lead in the state since April (4%). However, the CNN and Rasmussen numbers are more in line with other information coming from the state. For one, Obama’s hold on the Latino vote is much stronger than was expected earlier in the general election, as most polls are showing him over-performing Kerry’s showing among Hispanics. That will have obvious consequences in New Mexico, where Kerry only got 56% of the Latino vote.
Second, the Obama campaign is spreading its wings across the state into rural areas that Dems have neglected in the past. The Obama campaign has 17 campaign offices in the state, versus 1 for the McCain campaign (plus 5 by the RNC). Finally, most of the McCain campaign’s recent offense have been aimed at firing up the conservative base (the Palin choice) or appealing to blue-collar white voters. While both could have an impact nationally, it looks like the McCain campaign is more committed to climbing back in a state like Michigan, which is why MI remains in the toss-up column while NM is now out of it.
That said, New Mexico is certainly more tenuous a “lean Obama” state than any of the others in that category, but it is very much parallel to Florida - a state that could make its way back to the toss-up group in a heartbeat and where polling finds is not that consistent.
History of Campaign Diaries’ electoral ratings:
- August 31st: + 16 Obama (243 for Obama [154 safe, 29 likely, 60 lean] and 227 for McCain [93 safe, 75 likely, 59 lean]
- August 20th: + 14 Obama (238 for Obama [151 safe, 32 likely, 55 lean] and 224 for McCain [90 safe, 75 likely, 59 lean]
- July 30th: + 38 Obama (238 for Obama [151 safe, 42 likely, 45 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])