Three weeks is a long time in presidential politics, and what a change there has been since my fifth presidential ratings. It is one thing to over-react to every single poll, drawing unwarranted conclusions for even the smallest trendlines. It is quite another to take a look at the accumulation of polling data released since the beginning of August that shows John McCain gaining on Barack Obama and erasing much of the lead that the Democrat had built.
That applies to national polls (the latest Quinnipiac, NBC, CBS/New York Times, Bloomberg/LA Times, Gallup and Zogby polls have McCain gaining and even taking the lead, with some big swings) and also to state surveys. McCain has led in all five Florida polls released since the last ratings; he has also gained in Colorado and Minnesota. Quite logically, Obama’s advantage in the electoral ratings today is down to 14 electoral votes - the smallest margin since July 2nd.
In the next 15 days, the race will go through a complete upheaval. We will know the two vice-presidential nominees and the two parties will have gone through their convention. Starting on September 5th, it will be a whole new ballgame, but here is the situation at the end of the summer - and it is not a pretty one for either candidate. Obama has lost ground and is seeing his favorability numbers crumble; McCain has had as great a run as he could have hoped for and he is still trailing his rival - narrowly, sure, but this was the last stretch in which McCain could hope to remain on par with Obama financially.
What electoral path should Obama privilege in the weeks ahead? There seem to be two roads to the White House for the Illinois Senator. Assuming that Iowa returns to its Democratic roots (and it looks to be more solidly blue than many of the 2004 Kerry states), either one of the Florida/Ohio/Virginia/North Carolina would be enough to get Obama to the White House, even if he loses New Hampshire. If he loses all four of these larger states, Plan B would be compiling 10 electoral votes in the smaller Western states Obama is contesting (Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska, Montana, Nebraska’s 2nd…). Of course, a loss in Michigan would complicate everything and could go a long way towards opening the doors of the White House to John McCain.
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, Indiana, Nebraska (1st and 2nd congressional districts), South Dakota, Texas (75 EVs)
- Lean McCain: Florida, Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota (59 EVs)
- Toss-up: Alaska, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia (76 EV)
- Lean Obama: Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin (55 EVs)
- Likely Obama: Delaware, Maine (at-large, 2nd district), New Jersey, Washington (32 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: 183 electoral votes
- Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 238
- Toss-up: 76
- Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 224
- 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:
Alaska, lean McCain to toss-up: Alaska’s move to the toss-up column would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. This has been a dependable red state - one George W. Bush one by 25% in 2004. Yet, the GOP brand has been more tarnished in Alaska than in perhaps any other state. And the corruption scandals that have engulfed so many state Republicans are only now reaching fever pitch, potentially costing Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens the congressional seats they have occupied for decades now, nearly uncontested. The Obama campaign knows it has an opportunity to steal the state’s 3 electoral votes and has included Alaska in the list of states it is seriously contesting. And its investment is paying off, as polls are consistently showing narrow margins and Obama even grabbed a 5% lead in a mid-August survey.
Colorado, moving towards pure toss-up status: This is the first time I am providing explanation for why a state is even more strongly in its category that it’s already in - but given the changes in Colorado polls over the past few weeks it would seem wrong to not mention that Obama appears to have lost whatever advantage he had built in Colorado. Until July 24th, McCain had not led in a single poll from this state (here is my compilation of surveys from June 18th onward). Obama’s leads were always in the margin of error - but consistently so. In the past three weeks, however, three polls have found McCain inching ahead - Quinnipiac, Rasmussen and Rocky Mountain News. Keep in mind that the Democratic convention will be in Denver and the local coverage could help Democrats gain a narrow edge.
Florida, toss-up to lean McCain: Just 3 weeks after Florida moved to the toss-up column for the first time, the Sunshine State gets colored red again. And this one has got to hurt for the Obama campaign: They have spent millions in the Sunshine State whereas the McCain campaign has not invested anything on TV ads here. Yet, McCain has undoubtedly improved his position in the past month. After taking the lead in his first Florida poll on June 18th, Obama led in every single survey from the state taken in July; yet, McCain has inched back ahead in all 5 polls released in August - a clear enough trend to justify Florida’s second move in two ratings. As Obama’s favorability has taken a hit, it appears that conservative-minded independents, disaffected Republicans and former Clinton supporters are the ones who are abandoning him first - and the effect of that is amplified in a red-leaning and Clinton-friendly state like Florida.
Minnesota, likely Obama to lean Obama: Minnesota moved to the likely Obama column on July 2nd - almost another lifetime. At the time, the Illinois Senator was building big margins in a number of blue-leaning states and looked to be putting states like Minnesota, Oregon and Wisconsin away. Now, the past three surveys have found McCain posting massive gains and closing the race (Obama leads by 4% in Rasmussen, 2% in SUSA and in Quinnipiac). As McCain’s attacks have erased whatever gains Obama made during the first few weeks of the summer, the battleground states are returning to their natural condition - and that makes Minnesota a slightly Democratic state. And don’t forget that Governor Tim Pawlenty remains a top contender in the GOP veepstakes.
History of Campaign Diaries’ electoral ratings:
- 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])