It is no coincidence that the Democratic convention is being held in Denver this year. Demographic evolutions in the Southwest make the region attractive to Democrats - even states like Texas that still look to be heavily leaning towards the GOP. And as the census will shift more electoral votes out of the blue Northeast and into the redder West, Democrats have no choice but to make gains here.
My fourth presidential ratings, back in mid-July, focused on the battle of the Mountain West, as Obama has managed to put states like Montana, North Dakota and perhaps South Dakota, in play. This by itself challenges the dominance of the Midwest in the list of battleground states. But it is the Southwest that looks like it will be the key to November, more so, perhaps, than any other region in the country. Not only is there a high concentration of contested battlegrounds, but they were all won by George Bush four years ago, meaning that Democrats are entirely on the offense.
Today, a wave of polls released mostly by Mason Dixon from the region’s four key states confirms that we are in for a hell of a ride, because all these states are pure toss-ups: the Nevada and New Mexico polls contradict other results we got earlier this week, and two Colorado polls contradict each other. Here is the round-up (the margin of error for the Mason Dixon polls is a rather large 5%):
- In Mason Dixon’s New Mexico poll, McCain is narrowly on top 45% to 41%. His favorability rating (46-27) feats that of Obama (40-34).
- In Nevada, Mason-Dixon has McCain outside of the margin of error, leading by a comfortable 46% to 39%. Here again, McCain has a stronger favorability rating (48-25 compared to 43-37). Mason Dixon’s June poll from the state had McCain up 44% to 42%.
- In Colorado (polling history), it’s Obama on top 46% to 43%; his favorability rating is higher than in other states (45-35 compared to 42-29 for McCain).
- In another Colorado poll, Quinnipiac shows a 1% race, with McCain getting 47% to Obama’s 46%. Quinnipiac’s previous Colorado poll had McCain up by 2%. Interestingly, voters trust Obama more to handle energy issues.
- In Arizona (polling history), Mason Dixon finds a tighter than expected race, with McCain leading 47% to 41% in his home-state. This is even more surprising considering that McCain’s favorability rating is strong (50-27) while Obama’s is not (37-40).
- Mason Dixon also tested the ultra-red states of Wyoming and Utah, and no surprises there. McCain dominates, crushing Obama 62% to 25% and 62% to 23%.
Just two days ago, Rasmussen had Obama leading by 6% in New Mexico, while a Research 2000 poll of Nevada had Obama up 1% in Nevada. But a 7% large outside of the margin of error is certainly a very strong showing by the Republican in Nevada, particularly as Democrats were getting more optimistic about this state - first because of the registration gains and second because the Obama campaign is pounding McCain in the state with Nevada-specific spots devoted to Yucca Mountain. For now, that does not appear to be helping very much.
The New Mexico Mason Dixon poll is the first to have McCain leading in the state since April. It is only one poll, but should serve as quite a relief for Republicans worried that NM had gone Iowa’s way - even bluer than some of the Kerry states. The situation was the same in Colorado as of a month ago: Obama’s lead in polls were never big, but he was consistently ahead. That has not been the case since late July, with Quinnipiac, Rasmussen, Rocky Mountain News finding McCain inching ahead. Obama could receive a small boost from the local coverage for the Denver convention.
That leaves us with Arizona, and despite the surprisingly small margin McCain leads by in this poll (certainly the smallest of the summer) it still remains unlikely that Democrats can pull an upset here for a very simple reason - they are unlikely to try. If McCain was not the Republican nominee, the Obama campaign would surely be advertising here, alongside all the other red states it has invested in. Now, there is no doubt that McCain is much weaker than he ought to be in his home state - revealing some fundamental vulnerability of his - that doesn’t make it a clear enough opportunity for Obama to divest money to this state. If Obama wins Arizona on November 4th, he will already have won the region’s three other swing states and most surely captured the presidency.