Forget for a minute the dozen red states that Obama is contesting. There are, at this point, only three states to watch: Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado.
Obama is now substantially ahead in all of these states. In fact, all three are now rated “likely Obama,” marking the first time any red state other than Iowa and New Mexico have entered that category. All Obama needs to do to win the presidency is retain his advantage in Pennsylvania and in one of the two other states. So for the next 8 days, instead of getting nervous or excited about the latest development in Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina or Florida, keep an eye on polls from these three states: As long as Obama remains in control in Pennsylvania and either Virginia or Colorado, McCain has no path to the White House.
Things get only worse for the Republican nominee if we are to look at other red states that are being contested. Even if McCain somehow manages to pull out a victory in the Keystone State, Obama could easily replace the missing electoral votes with one of six other highly competitive red states - one of which make its first entrance in the lean Obama column (Ohio).
The conclusion is obvious: McCain will not win a state-by-state battle, nor on the basis of his ground game. To pull this through, he will need to dramatically shift the national numbers in order to solidify his position in the more Republican of the toss-up states (NC, IN, MO) while pulling Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio back into play. The trouble, of course, is that it is extremely difficult to alter the fundamentals of a race this late in the game - not to mention that many voters in some key swing states (in particular Colorado and North Carolina) have already cast their ballot.
Without further delay, here are the twelfth presidential ratings (states whose ratings have been changed towards Obama are colored blue, those whose ratings have been changed towards McCain are colored red):
- Safe McCain: Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska (at large + 3rd congressional district), Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming (116 EVs)
- Likely McCain: Arizona, Arkansas, Nebraska’s 1st district, South Dakota (20 EVs)
- Lean McCain: Georgia, Nebraska’s 2nd district, West Virginia (21 EVs)
- Toss-up: Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota (75 EV)
- Lean Obama:, New Hampshire, Ohio (24 EVs)
- Likely Obama: Colorado, Iowa, Maine (at-large + 1st district + 2nd district), Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin (122 EVs)
- Safe Obama: California, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont (160 EVs)
This gives us the following map and totals:
- Safe + Likely Obama: 282 electoral votes
- Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 306
- Toss-up: 75
- Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 157
- Safe + Likely McCain: 136
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 week:
Colorado, lean Obama to likely Obama: Obama has moved in such a dominant position in Colorado that the McCain campaign has scaled back its advertisement in the state. Given how important these 9 electoral votes are to McCain’s chances, they certainly did not take this decision lightly, and it is telling that McCain strategists think they have a better shot in Pennsylvania than in Colorado. One explanation to this is the high pace of early voting: As of Friday, a remarkable 25% of all registered voters had already cast their ballot, making it that much more difficult for McCain to pull off a comeback since hundreds of thousands of ballots were cast during a very favorable time for the Illinois Senator.
(If there is any doubt that Obama is ahead, consider these two polling facts: McCain has led in only two polls since the Democratic convention, both of which were in September; and McCain has never led by more than three points in any poll of the state - and even that “high-point” was only reached twice.)
Florida, lean Obama to toss-up: I still believe that Florida tilts ever so slightly in Obama’s direction, but it is difficult not to take into account the fact that Florida is the one state that has been clearly trending Republican over the past ten days. After a period of Democratic dominance, the latest polls from Insider Advantage, PPP, Strategic Vision, Mason Dixon, Quinnipiac, Rasmussen, SUSA and Research 2000 have all found McCain a trendline towards McCain, sometimes with big swings. That McCain recaptured the lead in a number of these surveys (including in the very respected Mason Dixon polls) underscores that the Sunshine State is still not lost by the Republican nominee. Sure, this trend is not in line with what we are observing elsewhere in the country, but neither are Florida’s demographics. Furthermore, for all the talk about McCain’s lack of organization in Florida and about the state GOP panicking, early indications suggest that Republicans have managed to pull off strong results in their absentee voter program.
Montana, lean McCain to toss-up: Finally, a pollster included Ron Paul in a Montana trial heat, and the results showed the former presidential candidate who now appears on the state ballot on the Constitution Party line gathering more than 4% of the vote - which is exactly the difference between Barack Obama and John McCain. And it was Obama who was in the lead, confirming what we have been seeing in polls from neighboring North Dakota: The Mountain West is back in play. And while the Illinois Senator pulled out of North Dakota in mid-September, he never scaled back his investments in Montana. The state’s 3 electoral votes are unlikely to prove decisive, but they would prove to be an icing on Obama’s cake.
Ohio, toss-up to lean Obama: Ohio looked like the battleground state most resistant to swing towards Obama, but it seems to have inched away towards the Democratic nominee as he solidified his support among registered Democrats. In fact, Obama led by double-digits in three polls over the past week (Quinnipiac, Big 10 and Insider Advantage), a significant development given that he had never led by such a margin since he wrapped up the nomination. While other polls show a tighter margin (or even a narrow McCain lead in Mason Dixon and Rasmussen), most have the state trending towards Obama. The Democrats’ early voting efforts appear to be paying off (though we have less detailed information than in GA or NC). That said, Ohio is still highly competitive, and will remain so until we can be assured that Obama will not drown in Appalachian counties.
Oregon, likely Obama to safe Obama: That a state that voted for Kerry by 4% is now rated safe Obama is clear evidence of how much the political environment has changed over the past four years. Obama has not led by single-digit in an Oregon poll since mid-September, and his edge has extended to as big a margin as 17% in a recent poll. The reason that the state is now being rated in the safe category - underscoring that a McCain comeback is not even conceivable - is that Election Day is happening right now in Oregon, as the voting is conducted entirely by mail and ballots have to have arrived by November 4th to be valid. That means that even a last-minute game changer would be unlikely to take the state’s electoral votes away from Obama.
Virginia, lean Obama to likely Obama: A state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 now finds itself at the top of Barack Obama’s pick-up list. McCain hasn’t led in a single poll conducted in July, and Obama has jumped to a relatively consistent high single-digit lead that is sometimes hitting the double-digit mark. Furthermore, this is a state in which Obama has a definite organizational advantage. Not only has his campaign registered hundreds of thousands of voters and should benefit from the boost in black turnout we are observing in Georgia and North Carolina, but the GOP focused on Virginia late and does not have the type of ground game Democrats will enjoy. (50% of respondents in a recent Washington Post poll said they had personally been contacted by the Obama campaign, far more than had been contacted by his opponent). One good news for McCain is that Virginia has limited early voting, so it would not be too late for McCain to close the gap if a late breaking development were to occur.
- October 27th: +149 Obama (306-157)
- October 20th: + 153 Obama (313-160)
- October 12th: + 150 Obama (313-163)
- September 27th: + 55 Obama (239-174)
- September 20th: +6 Obama (222-216)
- August 31st: + 16 Obama (243-227)
- August 20th: + 14 Obama (238-224)
- July 30th: + 38 Obama (238-200)
- July 16th: +28 Obama (255-227)
- July 2rd: +11 Obama (238-227)
- June 18th: +22 Obama (238-216)
- June 4th: +20 McCain (227-207)