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13th presidential ratings: One last attempt at finding McCain’s path to victory

We have been talking so much about Missouri, Indiana and North Carolina that it would also seem that Barack Obama’s electoral fortunes depend on these highly competitive states. If that were true, we would be in for quite an unpredictable Election Day indeed.

Unfortunately for McCain, a sweep of those states - even if we add Florida, Ohio, Georgia to his column - would get him no closer to the fundamental challenge he faces if he wants to reach 270 electoral votes: closing the gap in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia.

As it is looking increasingly unlikely that McCain can save Colorado given the huge share of the electorate that has already voted, all Obama needs is to hold on to Pennsylvania. The battle of Pennsylvania is sometimes portrayed as a sign McCain is still on the offensive, but this is the ultimate defensive move dictated by the need to survive.

Even if McCain can tap into the discontent of culturally conservative Democratic voters and somehow prove all Pennsylvania polls wrong, he would still face an uphill climb as he would also have to win one of Colorado, Nevada and Virginia - all states that are currently rated likely Obama. This is certainly not an easy proposal, especially in the two Southwestern states in which Obama has already locked in big majorities in early voting. And a McCain comeback in Pennsylvania would not necessarily mean that he has closed the gap in Virginia since the electoral coalitions Obama needs to assemble to win both states are different enough.

All of this suggests that Pennsylvania and Virginia are the states to watch tomorrow night, as it is difficult to imagine - though still technically possible - that Obama loses the election if he wins either of those states.

None of this is to underestimate the importance of Florida and Ohio: Both states lean ever so slightly towards the Democratic nominee, and a win in either state would surely guarantee him an electoral college majority. (The same is true in any of the other competitive red states, and the Obama organization is so dominant in some of them that for him to win there but not in other states would not surprise me.) But saying that the election’s fate is in the hands of Florida, Ohio or in states other than Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada would be overstating McCain’s chances of survival.

Since the first presidential ratings I posted on June 4th, there has been an unmistakable shift towards Obama. Of the nine states that were then rated toss-ups (CO, MI, NV, NH, NM, OH, PA, VA and WI), eight are now in the likely Obama column and one in the lean Obama column; all states that were rated lean McCain are now toss-ups, and all states that were rated lean Obama are now likely Obama. And the GOP base has significantly eroded: Of the eight states that were listed as likely McCain, four are now toss-ups - as would Alaska have been had McCain not picked Sarah Palin as his running-mate.

Without further delay, here are the thirteenth 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, Mississippi, Nebraska (at large + 3rd congressional district), Oklahoma, Utah, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming (99 EVs)
  • Likely McCain: Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska’s 1st district, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia (29 EVs)
  • Lean McCain: Arizona, Nebraska’s 2nd district (11 EVs)
  • Toss-up: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota (85 EV)
  • Lean Obama: Ohio (20 EVs)
  • Likely Obama: Colorado, Iowa, Maine (at-large + 1st district + 2nd district), Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin (96 EVs)
  • Safe Obama: California, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington (185 EVs)

This gives us the following map and totals:

  • Safe + Likely Obama: 286 electoral votes
  • Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 311
  • Toss-up: 85
  • Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 142
  • Safe + Likely McCain: 128

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:

Arizona, likely McCain to lean McCain: This seemingly last-minute development was a long time coming: Arizona polls have shown a surprisingly tight race for months, and McCain’s first signs of vulnerability came when he failed to break 50% in the state’s primary on Super Tuesday. But no one really believed that McCain’s home state could possibly be that competitive and, despite some occasional noise about an optimistic state Democratic Party, the Obama campaign did not make a move. Until this week, that is, when a big wave of polls showing McCain’s lead within the margin of error forced Obama into action; his campaign bought air time in Arizona and mobilized state volunteers.

It’s hard to think of a scenario in which Arizona is the decisive state, but at the very least, Arizona’s yearning to be a battleground state is a very good sign for Democrats in future presidential elections, and it will pay dividends at the House level, where Democrats are poised to pick up one to two seats after the two they won over in 2006.

Georgia, lean McCain to toss-up: It’s hard to believe that we are thinking of Georgia as a battleground state - let alone as a toss-up - but until Republicans prove that they are enthusiastic enough to actually vote, they are facing a catastrophe in the state: More than half of the electorate cast an early ballot, and African-Americans make up 35% of those voters - up from the 25% they represented in 2004. If strong Republican and white turnout on Tuesday does not push that number south to 30-31%, Barack Obama will be ideally placed for a (somewhat unexpected) pick-up. His campaign had invested in the state throughout the summer but went dark in mid-September, in the aftermath of the GOP convention; they are now back, airing at least one of ad tying McCain to President Bush.

Louisiana, safe McCain to likely McCain: Merely mentioning this state in the context of presidential politics would have been unthinkable just a month ago, but in the current climate an upset cannot be ruled out in any states that have a history of voting Democratic. Of course, Louisiana’s situation is complicated by the post-Katrina migrations, and no one truly knows whether the African-American population is large enough for a Democrat to pull off victory in a competitive race here. Mary Landrieu’s fate is, of course, far more dependent on this question than Obama’s.

Nevada, toss-up to likely Obama: Different forces have conspired to make Nevada look like a likely Obama pick-up. For one, he dominates among Hispanics by margins that Al Gore and John Kerry would be jealous of, as well as among the West’s independent voters, who have always been one of his strongest constituencies. Polls released over the past 10 days by CNN/Time, Suffolk, Research 2000 show Obama has jumped to a commanding lead that rivals his advantage in Colorado. As if this was not enough, early voting is looking very promising for Obama. In Clark County and Washoe County, which together account for 87% of registered voters, the gap between Democratic and Republican early voters is far larger than that of the electorate at large; if conservatives do not vote at a far higher pace, the GOP could not only lose the state at the presidential level but also one or both of its House seats.

New Hampshire, lean Obama to likely Obama: I am weary of underestimating McCain in this state, but all polls have shown a very clear trend towards the Democrat over the past few weeks, who now leads by double-digits in most polls. The UNH/WMUR, surely the most trusted poll in the state, just released its final survey showing Obama leading by 11% and holding a big lead among independents. Who knew New Hampshire independents would prove McCain’s undoing?

New Jersey, likely Obama to safe Obama: Once upon a time, Republicans believed that the September 11th effect would swing the Garden State their way, and Bush made a lot of progress in this state between 2000 and 2004. How times have changed, as Obama has now seized a dominant lead in nearly all of the state’s polling. New Jersey typically flirts with Republicans for a while before giving itself to a Democrat reluctantly, but even that pattern hasn’t really held true this year, as McCain only came close to making the state competitive in the immediate aftermath of the Republican convention.

South Carolina, safe McCain to likely McCain: Just as in Louisiana, an Obama victory in South Carolina would mean that the Democratic nominee is on his way to an electoral college landslide of well above 400 EVs. But if Obama clinches a 10% win in the popular vote, it’s not inconceivable that states like South Carolina would fall in his column. A recent Mason-Dixon poll showed McCain leading by only 6% in a state Bush carried by 17%. The boost in African-American turnout that we have been seeing in other states’ early voting could help Obama close the gap by a few more points.

Washington, likely Obama to safe Obama: Just as he believed he could put the Northeast in play, John McCain once had ambitions in the Pacific Northwest. But Barack Obama’s uncommon strength among the region’s independents (evidenced by the fact that this was the one region in which Obama ran consistently ahead of Hillary Clinton in general election polls) undercut McCain’s potential; also helping Obama is the fact that blue-collar voters in the West are less resistant, making it easier for him to unify the Democratic base. The result is an impressive lead that would have made Al Gore jealous. The main question in this state is whether Obama’s margin of victory is big enough to guarantee that Gregoire survives.

West Virginia, lean McCain to likely McCain: The site of Hillary Clinton’s greatest triumph was the most unlikely of states for Barack Obama to score an upset; the state is filled with blue-collar white Democrats who have not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for more than a decade. But a wave of polls in late September and early October showed a highly competitive contest, and Obama (presumably not sure of what to do with the millions he had in the bank) decided to invest in the state’s airwaves. However, Obama has been unable to make more progress over the past few weeks, and most polls that have been released over the past three weeks have McCain solidifying his position and holding a lead that hovers around the 10% mark. Obama was not even able to force McCain to spend time playing defense here. That said, that the state even got on the list of potential battleground states is a testament to how much the economic crisis transformed the presidential race.

History of Campaign Diaries’ electoral ratings:

Battleground watch: Race heats up in Arizona, McCain scales back turnout efforts

In the final stretch before Election Day, campaigns typically focus on an increasingly narrow list of swing states - but this year new battlegrounds are emerging left and right.

A few weeks ago, West Virginia suddenly looked like a very promising state, and though recent polling has not shown the race to be that competitive, the Obama campaign did buy air time. We also started hearing about a potential Obama investment in Kentucky - though that does not appear to have come to pass.

But the Obama campaign just announced that it would start or resume advertising in three red states: Georgia, North Dakota and McCain’s home state of Arizona. Obama advertised in the first two states throughout the summer, only to scale back his efforts in mid-September when it appeared that McCain was finally putting marginally competitive red states away. But both have now tightened, so much so that the Atlanta Journal Constitution is calling Georgia a nail-biter.

The real stunner, however, is Obama’s decision to make a play for Arizona. No one doubts that Arizona would have been a highly competitive race had the Republican nominee not been the state’s Senator, but it is very rare for a candidate to lose his home state (Al Gore’s failure to hold on to Tennessee cost him dearly, but Gore had not represented his state in years).

But Obama’s strength among Hispanics and among Western independent voters give him a shot at picking-up the state’s 10 electoral votes. A surprising deluge of Arizona polls have been released over the past few days, and nearly all have shown the race within the margin of error. (A new Research 2000 poll shows McCain’s lead down to 1%.)

Et tu, Arizona?

(It is interesting to see that Obama’s ads in the state will be a positive one, whereas he is airing attack ads in Georgia and North Dakota; similarly, Move On is also going up on air in Arizona on Obama’s behalf, also with a positive ad. Democrats apparently do not want to antagonize Arizona voters who have a long relationship with the Republican nominee.)

Whether or not the state will fall to the Obama column is not as important as the fact that the McCain campaign has been forced to schedule its final rally on Monday night in Arizona. That’s right, the very last public event held by McCain before Election Day will not take place in a giant Florida auditorium or against glorious Virginia backdrop - venues that could generate some much-needed momentum for the GOP - but in Arizona, whose 10 electoral votes where the last thing on anyone’s mind until this past week-end.

This development alone summarizes McCain’s predicament: He has been forced to scale back his efforts in all blue states except Pennsylvania (as the latest list of the campaigns’ state by state spending confirms) and has had to invest more and more time defending red states that Obama absolutely does not need but where a victory would seal an electoral college majority: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, even North Carolina - none of these are in the top tier of states that are expected to get Obama above 270, but McCain is so weak in all of them that he has to take time away from Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio and Florida - all states he also needs to win!

That the McCain campaign is now forced to implement a national strategy in the hope of narrowing the gap nationally and in the process gain in some of these red states is evident in the remarkable news (reported by the Washington Post) that McCain is scaling back the GOP’s famed 72-hour turnout operation to invest more money on TV ads.

At first, this decision can seem insane: McCain is already facing a huge organizational disadvantage, so why would he dig himself in a deeper hole? But his campaign has no other choice: The 72-hour program is meant to win close races, and it can certainly perform beautifully (and a large share of Bush’s victory can be attributed to his top-notch turnout effort). It is not meant to move the race by more than a couple of points - and that is McCain’s task now. He has to close a high single-digit gap in Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania and perhaps Nevada. Unless he shifts momentum, convinces undecided voters and some voters who have already settled on Obama, no amount of organizational muscle will allow him to mount a comeback.

In other important news from battleground states

  • The North Carolina Board of Elections has agreed to extend early voting by four hours on Saturday, meaning that voters can cast a ballot until 5pm on the first day of the week-end. Democrats were worried that thousands of voters would be left unable to cast a ballot had the polls closed at 1pm. This follows a decision by Florida Governor Charlie Crist to extend voting hours by four hours a day all week.
  • A federal judge ordered Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Commonwealth to distribute paper ballots.
  • In Colorado, more than 35,000 new voters who requested mail-in-ballots are at risk of having their ballot disqualified because of voter identification rules.
  • In a blow to the GOP’s plans to challenge voters at the polls on Tuesday, a judge ruled that Ohio residents do not have to have an actual address to cast a ballot and that a homeless voter is eligible if his only “residence” is a park bench.

Poll watch: Dems still far from 60, and is NV in the same tier as CO and VA?

The presidential race remained remarkably stable. If the tracking polls showed McCain gaining slightly yesterday, they have Obama regaining some breathing room today; he is at 50% or above in 6 of the 9 national polls. McCain is once again stuck in the low 40s, with a margin ranging from 41% to 46%. Sure, the New York Times and Fox News national polls came out with differing results, but at least there is no mystery behind the discrepancy: the partisan breakdown has narrowed in the Fox poll.

McCain got one of his most promising polling results in days today as Mason Dixon found him trailing by only 4% in Pennsylvania - the tightest the state has been since a mid-September poll. We should not dismiss this poll, even though surveys taken over the same period show a larger advantage for Obama. Mason Dixon has been consistently releasing results that are better than average for McCain. The Republican nominee led in Virginia when other surveys found him trailing, and trailed only narrowly when other surveys found a large gap; the same was true in Florida and now Pennsylvania. The consistency of these narrower results suggests that it is due to Mason Dixon’s methodology and turnout models, which means that we should not throw these out as outliers: There is a turnout model out there employed by a respected pollster like Mason Dixon that yields results that are better for Republicans, and we won’t know until Tuesday whose assumptions were flawed.

All of this said, there is no discussion to be had that Obama retains an extremely strong position in the electoral college. For one, he remains ahead in the Big Three sates: 3 polls of Pennsylvania show him in the lead (though Mason Dixon has a 4% race), and he is also ahead in Colorado and Virginia. While two polls of Virginia show him with narrower leads than we have seen of late, both surveys were taken over the same period as the CNN and SUSA polls that had him leading by 9% - so these new polls are not picking any new tightening.

To make matters worse for McCain, we might now be getting a third competitive red state where an Obama pick-up appears increasingly likely: Nevada. After posting two double-digit leads earlier this week, Obama leads outside of the margin of error in two new surveys (Suffolk and CNN/Time). This is a very important development: Even if McCain were to save Virginia and Colorado, Obama would become president by winning Nevada alone; if McCain can somehow snatch Pennsylvania, an (not at all improbable) Obama sweep of Virginia, Colorado and Nevada would offset the loss of the Keystone State.

As if this was not enough, Ohio and North Carolina are slowly moving in Obama’s column as the Democrat is accumulating good results in both. Today, he leads in all five polls from these two states, and four of them have him ahead outside of the MoE. Given that a huge number of North Carolina voters have already voted, it is starting to get late for McCain to turn the tide. And while Obama is showing no sign of trembling in blue states (he has huge leads in Wisconsin and Minnesota), McCain is now locked in highly competitive races in a number of staunchly red states - including his home state of Arizona, South Dakota and Montana.

  • Obama leads 52% to 41% in a New York Times/CBS News poll, a very small tightening from Obama’s 13% lead last week. 51% say Obama is ready to be president, and McCain’s favorability has collapsed to 41% (!). So has voters’ estimate of whether Palin is able to deal the job (only 35% say so). Obama leads among men and women, and has a 17% advantage among independents.
  • Obama leads 47% to 44% in a Fox News national poll conducted over the past two days. Obama led by 9% last week, so the race has substantially tightened. The partisan ID has tightened from a 6% gap to a 2% gap (though this does not seem to be an arbitrary imposition like Zogby’s).
  • Tracking polls: Obama gains 2% in Zogby (50% to 43%) and in Rasmussen (51% to 46%). He gains 1% in IBD/TIPP (48% to 44%). The race is stable in Washington Post/ABC (52% to 44%), Gallup (51% to 44%, though Obama gains 2% in the LVT model, 50% to 45%). Obama loses 1% in Hotline (48% to 42%) and in Research 2000 (50% to 45%). Obama’s leads are thus: 4%, 5%, 5%, 6%, 7%, 7%, 8%.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama leads 47% to 43% in a Mason Dixon poll conducted Sunday and Monday. Obama leads 54% to 41% in Morning Call’s tracking, the highest percentage Obama has ever received in this poll. Obama leads 55% to 43% in a CNN/Time poll conducted Thursday through Tuesday (Obama leads by 15% among registered voters!).
  • Colorado: Obama leads 51% to 45% in a Marist poll (52% to 43% among registered voters) conducted Sunday and Monday; his lead comes entirely among the 44% of registered voters who say they have already voted. Obama leads by 23% among independents and has strongest party loyalty (leading me to question why he is only ahead by 6%). Obama leads 48% to 44% in a National Journal poll of registered voters with a small sample and a large MoE conducted Thursday through Monday; Obama leads by 22% among independents.
  • Virginia: Obama leads 51% to 47% in a Marist poll (by 6% among registered voters) conducted Sunday and Monday; McCain takes a 12% lead among independents. Obama leads 48% to 44% in a National Journal poll of registered voters with a small sample and a large MoE conducted Thursday through Monday. Both polls were taken over the same period as SUSA, Rasmussen and CNN poll showing larger Obama leads.
  • Nevada: Obama leads 50% to 45% in a RGJ/Research 2000 poll (he led by 7% earlier in October); McCain leads by 3% in crucial Washoe County, though the RGJ points out that (unreleased) private polls for both parties have Obama leading that county. Obama leads 52% to 45% in a CNN/Time poll conducted Thursday through Tuesday, an improvement over his 5% lead last week (he leads by 11% among registered voters!).
  • Ohio: Obama leads 48% to 41% in a National Journal poll of registered voters with a small sample and a large MoE conducted Thursday through Monday; Obama’s lead is outside of the MoE. Obama leads 51% to 47% in a CNN/Time poll conducted Thursday through Tuesday (Obama leads by 10% among registered voters!).
  • Florida: Obama leads 45% to 44% in a National Journal poll of registered voters with a small sample and a large MoE conducted Thursday through Monday.
  • North Carolina: Obama leads 50% to 48% in a Rasmussen poll taken yesterday (McCain led by 2% on Sunday). Obama leads 47% to 43% in a National Journal poll of registered voters with a small sample and a large MoE conducted Thursday through Monday. Obama leads 52% to 46% in a CNN/Time poll conducted Thursday through Tuesday (Obama led by 4% last week, he is ahead by 3% among registered voters).
  • Indiana: McCain leads 49% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll taken yesterday (he led by 7% three weeks ago). Obama leads 46% to 45% in a Selzer & Co poll conducted Sunday through Tuesday; he is ahead 2:1 among early voters and gets “only” 82% of African-Americans (remember Tuesday’s polling memo released by the McCain campaign?). The candidates are tied at 47% in a Research 2000 poll taken from Friday through Tuesday.
  • Wisconsin: Obama takes a giant 55% to 39% lead in a SUSA poll taken Tuesday and Wednesday, up from 8%. Obama leads by 28% among early voters.
  • Iowa: Obama leads 55% to 40% in a SUSA poll taken Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • South Dakota: McCain only leads 45% to 40% in an internal poll for Democratic Senator Johnson’s campaign.
  • Montana: McCain leads 50% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll. He led by four weeks ago.
  • Safe(r) states: McCain leads 61% to 36% in a SUSA poll of Alabama. McCain leads 58% to 37% in a SUSA poll of Kansas. Obama leads 56% to 39% in a SUSA poll of Massachusetts. Obama leads 55% to 33% in a Field poll of California. Obama leads 54% to 38% in a Research 2000 poll of New Jersey. McCain leads 53% to 42% in a NBC News poll and 52% to 44% in a SUSA poll of South Carolina (but only by 6% among registered voters). McCain leads 55% to 43% in a Rasmussen poll of Kentucky.

Meanwhile, in down the ballot polls:

  • Louisiana: Two polls have differing results. An internal poll for the Kennedy campaign has Mary Landrieu up 45% to 44%, while a Loyola University poll has Landrieu ahead 49% to 34%; the latter poll does not seem very reliable, however, as it only shows McCain leading by 3% and implying an oversampling of Democrats.
  • Mitch McConnell leads 51% to 44% in a Rasmussen poll of Kentucky’s Senate race. (McConnell led by the same margin last month.) A Lunsford internal has McConnell leading 47% to 45%, however.
  • Norm Coleman leads 42% to 36% in a Mason Dixon poll of Minnesota. Barkley is now at 12%, and he is hurting Franken: He draws 17% of Democrats and only 4% of Republicans - a hugely consequential disparity.
  • Safer seats: Tom Udall leads 56% to 41% in a Rasmussen poll of New Mexico. GOP Senator Pat Roberts leads 60% to 33% in a new SUSA poll of Kansas. Democratic Senator Lautenberg leads 56% to 39% in a Research 2000 poll of New Jersey. Sen. Cornyn leads 45% to 36% in a University of Texas poll, with 5% going to Libertarian candidate Adams-Schick. GOP candidate Jim Risch leads 45% to 33% in a Harstad poll of Idaho.
  • In MO-06, perhaps the most disappointing House race for Democrats, GOP Rep. Graves leads 54% to 36% in a SUSA poll. He led by 11% last month.
  • In KY-02, GOP candidate Brett Guthrie leads 53% to 43% in a new SUSA poll. Guthrie led by 9% last month but trailed over the summer.
  • In OR-05, Democratic candidate Kurt Schrader leads 55% to 33% in a SUSA poll.
  • In NY-26, Republican candidate Chris Lee has a large 48% to 34% lead against Alice Kryzan in a SUSA poll. He led by 11% last month.
  • In ID-01, Democratic challenger leads 48% to 41% in a Harstad poll, though the poll has a large MoE of 6%.
  • In PA-12, Rep. Murtha only leads 46% to 44% in a GOP poll conducted by Dane & Associates.
  • In Massachusetts’s question 1 to repeal the state income tax, the “no” is far ahead, 64% to 29% in a SUSA poll.

Democrats have their share of very good news in these wave of surveys - especially the two North Carolina polls showing a Hagan lead and the NV-02 survey confirming that Rep. Heller is in real danger - Republicans got uncommly positive numbers over the past 24 hours. In the Senate, Republicans appear to be solidifying their hold on the four Senate seats that are not yet leaning Democratic - KY, MN, MS and also GA because a runoff should help Chambliss. McConnell has not slipped further after his race fell into a competitive race in early October, and Coleman has improved his situation over the past three weeks.

Minnesota should be particularly worrisome to Democrats because Franken’s slippage is due to the fact that Barkley is starting to draw disproportionately from Franken’s base. If that is confirmed by other polls, it is hard to see Franken pull this off. This is a reminder that, however much progress Democrats have made over the past few weeks, the path to 60 still requires picking-up two out of these 4 seats - and that remains a tall order.

The latest House polls should also be a reminder that Democrats will certainly not win everything on Tuesday, and that a fair number of Republicans appear to be making progress in this hostile environment. The latest poll of MO-06 has to be crushing to Democrats as former Kansas City Mayor Barnes was once one of their top recruits. And while the DCCC is still investing in NY-26, the polls have not been very promising ever since Kryzan won the Democratic nomination.

Poll watch: Trackings tighten (a bit), but Obama dominates in VA, CO, PA, OH, FL and NV; Wicker opens wide lead

We start, as will now be customary, with the three states that we should be watching over this closing week: Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania. New polls were released today in each and they find Obama in command: He extends his lead by 3% in the latest Insider Advantage poll of Colorado, leads by 9% in Virginia and has a sizable edge in three Pennsylvania surveys (7% to 12%). That said, both Insider Advantage and Rasmussen suggest that there might be some tightening in the Keystone State, and Obama is no longer enjoying consistent double-digit leads.

It is a testament to just how huge a lead he had seized that he remains so firmly in command of Pennsylvania despite shedding nearly half of his lead in Rasmussen’s survey. And it is also a testament to Obama’s remarkably strong electoral map that he has so many other options even if McCain somehow manages to pull off one of the three states listed above.

If Obama were to lose Pennsylvania, for instance, Nevada would suffice to compensate - and two new polls out today show Obama leading outside of the margin of error and by as much as 10%. Keep in mind that the demographics of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada are very similar, so a comeback in the former wouldn’t mean that McCain is coming back in the three latter ones. McCain trails outside of the MoE in two new polls of Ohio (4% and 9%) and two new polls of Florida (5% and 7%). McCain still has a lot of work to do in all of these states.

As has been the case over the past few days, the tightest contests are taking place in states that Obama does not need: Indiana, North Carolina, Montana, Georgia and… Arizona are all within the margin of error in new polls. Losing any of these would be a catastrophe for the GOP.

McCain supporters can at least take comfort in the composite of the tracking polls, as McCain continues to close the gap after already tightening the race somewhat yesterday. But he continues to trail, and a Pew national poll taken over the same period finds disastrous numbers for McCain (I don’t believe McCain had ever trailed by 16% in a poll before). On to the full roundup of the day’s polls:

  • Obama leads 53% to 38% in a national Pew poll conducted Thursday through Monday; the margin is 16% with registered voters. 74% of Obama’s supporters describe themselves as “strong” supporters, versus 56% of McCain’s. Obama leads among men, women, every age group, independents and by 19% among early voters.
  • Obama leads 50% to 45% in an ARG national poll thanks to 83% of Democrats and a 12% lead among independents.
  • McCain makes some progress in the latest tracking polls: He gains 3% in Gallup (51-44, and only 49-47 in the LVT model), 1% in Research 2000 (50-43), 1% in Zogby (49-45). The race is stable in Hotline (50-42), Washington Post/ABC (52-45) and Rasmussen (51-46). Obama gains 1% in IBD/TIPP (48-44). That means that Obama’s leads are: 4%, 4%, 5%, 7%, 7%, 7%, 8%.
  • Colorado: Obama leads 53% to 45% in a new Insider Advantage poll, based on his staggering 81% among Hispanics. Obama led by 5% last week. The poll was conducted on Sunday.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama leads 51% to 42% in an Insider Advantage poll of Pennsylvania; a separate IA poll of suburban Bucks County finds Obama leading by 3% (the same as Kerry), a 3% decline since a poll two weeks ago. This poll was conducted on Sunday. Obama leads 53% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll; that’s a drop from Obama’s 13% margin three weeks ago. No movement in the Morning Call tracking poll, however, where Obama leads 53% to 41%.
  • Virginia: Obama leads 48% to 39% in a Roanoke College poll. The poll was conducted over eight days, however, from the 19th through yesterday.
  • Ohio: Obama leads 49% to 40% in a new LAT/Bloomberg poll conducted Saturday through yesterday. (A fascinating internal: Obama wins white, working class voters 52% to 38%). Obama leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll conducted on Sunday and Monday. Obama led by 5% two weeks ago. He leads by 17% among the 22% of respondents who say they have already voted.
  • Nevada: Obama leads 50% to 40% in a Suffolk poll conducted from the 23rd through the 27th, with 2% for Barr and 1% each for McKinney and Nader. Obama leads 50% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll in which he led by 5% two weeks ago.
  • North Carolina: The candidates are tied at 47% in a week-end Mason Dixon/NBC poll. In a PPP poll of the 8th district, Obama leads by 6% which is a 14% swing since 2004, about what Obama needs statewide to win the state.
  • Indiana: Three polls in Indiana show a highly competitive race. Obama leads 48% to 47% in a Research 2000 poll (the candidates were tied three weeks ago.) McCain leads 47% to 45% in a Howey/Gauge poll. In a separate Research 2000 poll of IN-03, McCain leads 53% to 38% - which is great news for Obama since Bush won the district 68% to 31% (that’s a 22% swing towards Obama, essentially what he needs statewide to carry the state).
  • Montana: McCain leads 48% to 44% in a week-end Mason Dixon/NBC poll (I am not sure whether Ron Paul’s name was included).

Meanwhile, in down the ballot surveys:

  • Roger Wicker jumps to a big 54% to 43% lead in a Rasmussen poll of Mississippi’s Senate race. He only led by 2% in September.
  • Saxby Chambliss leads 46% to 44,5% in an Insider Advantage poll of Georgia’s Senate race, with 2% going to other (it looks like Buckley’s name was not included).
  • Jeff Merkley leads 45% to 40% in a Hibbits poll of Oregon’s Senate race conducted from the 22nd to the 25th. No mention of early voting, unfortunately.
  • Bev Perdue leads McCrory 47% to 44% in a PPP poll of North Carolina’s gubernatorial race.
  • In IN-03, GOP Rep. Souder leads 45% to 40% in a Research 2000 poll, with 4% going to Libertarian candidate Bill Larsen. In a Howey Gauge poll of the district, however, it is Democratic challenger Montagano who leads 44% to 41% (this latter poll has a large 6% MoE).
  • In NC-08, Larry Kissell leads GOP Rep. Hayes 51% to 46% in a PPP poll.
  • In OH-15, Democratic candidate Mary Jo Kilroy leads 47% to 41% in a SUSA poll, with 6% going to conservative independent candidate Don Eckart. 37% of respondents say they have already voted, and Kilroy leads by 16%.
  • In GA-08, Democratic Rep. Marshall leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll. Marshall immediately released an internal poll showing him leading 48% to 31%.
  • In KS-03, Democratic Rep. Moore leads 53% to 42% in a SUSA poll.

The most important of the day’s congressional poll undoubtedly comes from Mississippi, where Republican Senator Roger Wicker jumps to a commanding lead - suggesting that Democrats might not be as close to a Senate sweep after all (Mississippi’s Senate race is currently ranked 9th in my Senate rankings). The Insider Advantage poll from Georgia, meanwhile, is further evidence that we might not get a resolution on November 4th, as both candidate are far from the 50% mark - especially since the Libertarian candidate was not even included as an option in this survey.

At the House level, Democratic taek-over opportunities in NC-08 and OH-15 (both rated lean Democratic in my latest ratings) continue to look good for Democratic, and the IN-03 numbers are outstanding: this is a massively Republican district that voted for Bush by 37% in 2004! It was on no one’s radar screen as of the end of September, and has now become a highly vulnerable district. If Rep. Souder falls, IN-03 will be remembered as one of the great upsets of the 2008 cycle.

SUSA’s GA-08 poll, however, is a reminder that there are a number of Democratic seats at risk as well. Marshall barely survived the 2006 cycle (in fact, he looked gone for much of the cycle), and it looks like this race might keep us late yet again.

Poll watch: Obama dominates VA, gains edge in OH, Merkley in strong position, Lampson drowns

In my latest presidential ratings this morning, I identified the three states to watch in the election’s final stretch: Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Eight days from the election, Obama holds strong in those crucial states: A grand total of five new Virginia polls were released today, finding a consistent Obama advantage. Only Rasmussen found Obama holding a lead smaller than 7%, the four others having Obama’s lead go as high as 11%. Only one poll each from Colorado and Pennsylvania were released: Obama was leading comfortably in Pennsylvania, though his margin in Colorado is smaller than Democrats are hoping to see (4%).

That said, there is some movement in McCain’s favor in the tracking polls, and I feel compelled to point that out because of what I said in yesterday’s poll watch, when remarking on McCain’s inability to break out of the low 40s: “The day McCain manages to inch above 45%, we can think about whether the race is tightening.” Today, McCain gets to 46% in one national poll and is at 45% in three more. But Obama remains in a dominant position, as he is at 50% or above in six of the seven tracking polls; only IBD/TIPP has him at a weaker position, and that tracking’s internals are rather strange (Obama enjoys stronger party loyalty and leads among independents but only leads by 3%).

In other states, Obama’s strong position is confirmed: New polls in Ohio and Florida find Obama holding an advantage, especially in the former state. In fact, Rasmussen’s polls from these two states should put to rest talk of a tightening since Obama gains 5% and 6% in the two surveys over those released last Monday.

McCain’s two best trendlines today come from PPP’s North Carolina survey (that had Obama up 7% last week, up 1% today) and SUSA and Rasmussen’s Missouri polls (Obama led by 8% and 5%, he now ties and is ahead by 1%), but the size of Obama’s lead in all three of these surveys was not confirmed by other polls, making this week’s surveys expected regressions to the mean. In fact, it is great for Obama is that the true toss-ups are not the states he needs to win but rather places like North Carolina or Missouri: six new polls in those two states find tight races. Even Arizona polls are now showing a competitive race!

  • Obama remains ahead in the day’s tracking polls, though there is some movement: Obama loses a significant three points in Research 2000 (50% to 42%, with a 5% lead in the Sunday sample) and Rasmussen (51% to 46%); he also loses 1% in IBD/TIPP (47% to 44%). Three trackings are stable: Washington Post/ABC (52% to 45%), Hotline (50% to 42%) and Zogby (50% to 45%). Obama inches up one point in Gallup (53% to 43%, the same margin as RVs and double his lead in the LVT model). That means that Obama’s leads are: 3%, 5%, 5%, 7%, 8%, 8% and 10%.
  • Virginia: Five new polls have Obama in the lead by margins ranging from 4% to 11%. The two most recent are Rasmussen and SUSA: Obama leads 52% to 43% in a SUSA poll, including a huge lead among early voters. His lead in Rasmussen is smaller: 51% to 47%, down from a 10% lead last week.
  • Obama leads 52% to 45% in a Zogby poll conducted over the week-end. Obama leads 52% to 44% in a Washington Post poll. (He led by 3% last month. This time, 50% of respondents say they have been personally contacted by the Obama campaign. The enthusiasm gap is huge, with 70% of Obama supporters describing themselves as enthusiastic.) Obama leads 51% to 40% in a VCU poll.
  • Ohio: Obama leads 50% to 45% in a Zogby poll, in which he has a 16% edge among independents. Obama leads 49% to 45% in Rasmussen, a 6% swing from last week.
  • Colorado: Obama leads 50% to 46% in Rasmussen, a 1% gain for McCain over last week.
  • Florida: The candidates are tied at 47% in a Zogby poll, though Obama has a strangely large 62-25 lead among independents. Obama leads 49% to 44% in a Suffolk poll of the state (up from 4%). Obama leads 51% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll, a 5% swing in his favor since last week.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama leads 50% to 41% in a Temple University poll. The survey was conducted over an entire week (from the 20th to the 26th), however.
  • Nevada: Obama leads 48% to 44% in a Zogby poll, barely outside of the margin of error.
  • North Carolina: Obama leads 50% to 46% in a Zogby poll. Obama leads 49% to 48% in a PPP poll, though he led by 7% last week. There are far less undecided voters this week. However, among early voters (about a third of the sample), Obama leads 63% to 36% (”looking at it another way, 49% of blacks in our survey said they had already voted. Only 29% of white voters said the same”). McCain leads 49% to 48% in Rasmussen, a 1% gain for Obama since late last week.
  • Iowa: Obama leads 52% to 42% in a Marist poll, the same margin he enjoyed last month.
  • New Hampshire: Obama leads 50% to 45% in a Marist poll, a one point decline since September.
  • Indiana: McCain leads 50% to 44% in a Zogby poll.
  • West Virginia: McCain leads 50% to 40% in a Zogby poll, thanks in part to 28% of Democratic voters.
  • Oregon: Obama leads 57% to 38% in a SUSA poll. Half of the electorate has already voted (remember that all of Oregon votes by mail), and Obama leads by 28% among those voters.
  • Arizona: The third poll in two days finds McCain in trouble in his home state. He leads 51% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • Jeff Merkley leads 49% to 42% in a SUSA poll of Oregon’s Senate race. Half of the electorate has already voted, and Merkley leads by 10% among those voters.
  • Kay Hagan leads 48% to 45% in a PPP poll of North Carolina’s Senate race. She led by 8% last week.
  • Jay Nixon leads 55% to 38% in a SUSA poll of Missouri’s gubernatorial race.
  • In TX-22, Republican challenger Pete Olson leads Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson 53% to 36% in a new Zogby poll.
  • In FL-25, GOP Rep. Diaz-Balart leads 45% to 42% in a Research 2000 poll. Among early voters, Garcia leads 52% to 46%.
  • In SC-01, GOP Rep. Harry Brown leads 50% to 45% in a new SUSA poll.
  • In TX-07, GOP Rep. Culberson leads 47% to 40% in a Zogby poll.

Jeff Merkley’s numbers are the most important of this group, as this is the Oregon Democrat’s largest lead yet against Gordon Smith, who continues to be stuck in the low 40s. More importantly, SUSA’s polls confirms what was one of the main reasons I changed the ratings of the race to lean Democratic two days ago: Because of Oregon’s mail-in voting system, Election Day is happening right now in Oregon, giving Smith no time to catch up. While remaining ahead, Kay Hagan does not look to be as favored as her Oregon colleague.

A number of fascinating indepenent House polls were released as well, the most noteworthy of which is Zogby’s survey from TX-22: This was long seen as an extremely highly endangered Democatic seat, but the DCCC’s decision to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars suggested they saw Lampson with a chance at surviving. Zogby’s poll indicates that the conventional wisdom was right and that Lampson is an underdog in what is one of the most Republican seats represented by a Democrat. That said, the DCCC has just debuted a very hard-hitting ad on Pete Olsen, accusing him of voter fraud. We will see whether that moves any numbers.

As for CA-04, SC-01 and TX-07, all three are heavily Republican districts and for independent polls to find the Republican under 50% in each and the Democrat leading in one is obviously major news, and confirms that Democrats can expect to prevail in a few heavily conservative seats on November 4th.

Poll watch: Obama dominates VA, Shadegg stays on top, Reichert and Porter tremble

How would we keep ourselves entertained without Zogby’s theatrics? Seemingly designed to give partisans of both sides heart failures, Zogby’s tracking poll jumped by 4% in one day - the type of bounciness that a tracking poll’s rolling samples are supposed to avoid. I doubt that any of the other tracking polls have ever found that big a one-day jump. But most comical are Zogby’s attempt to dramatize each of his releases, as the smallest trend is treated as a game-changing shift.

Just three days ago, when Obama suddenly grabbed a 12% lead, Zogby celebrated the coming “Reagan-style landslide.” By this morning, Zogby had moved to a gloomy assessment of Obama’s chances and offered a truly incomprehensible insight: “I have alluded before to this strange, magnetic pull that brings Obama down to 48% or 49%, a danger zone for him.” I am not sure what that means. A more interesting “magnetic pull” is McCain’s inability to break out of the low 40s, including in Zogby’s polls. In seven new national polls, McCain’s total ranges from 40% to 45%. The day McCain manages to inch above 45%, we can think about whether the race is tightening.

At the state level, the situation remains stable, with Obama maintaining his edge in what have now become his “base” states (he jumps to a 15% edge in New Hampshire, leads by double-digit in two surveys of Iowa) and looking good in the large number of red states, any one of which would get him over the top: He leads by 9% in Virginia, by 4% in Ohio while Missouri is locked in dead heat. Even Arizona no longer looks like a lock for McCain, with two (Democratic) polls showing the race within the margin of error, and McCain’s leads in Georgia and West Virginia are far narrower than was expected. The only bright spot of McCain’s day is a Wisconsin poll released by Rasmussen showing the Republican nominee “only” trailing by 7%… Enough said.

  • Obama gains 1% in Hotline (50% to 42%) and Gallup (52% to 43%, though he loses 2% in the traditional model, 50% to 45%). The race remains stable in Rasmussen (52% to 44%) and IBD/TIPP (47% to 43%). McCain gains 1% in Research 2000 (51% to 40%), 2% in ABC/Washington Post (52% to 45%) and 4% (!) in Zogby (49% to 44%). Obama’s leads are thus: 4%, 5%, 7%, 8%, 8%, 9%, 11%.
  • Obama leads 52% to 43% in a PPP poll of Virginia. Obama led by 8% three weeks ago. Obama now leads independents by 9% and enjoys the same level of party loyalty. Obama leads 61% to 24% among new voters.
  • Obama leads 51% to 44% in a Rasmussen poll of Wisconsin. He led by 10% two weeks ago.
  • Obama leads 54% to 39% in a University of New Hampshire poll of New Hampshire. Obama only led by 1% earlier this month. 45% of voters now describe themselves as “firm Obama supporters,” versus 32% of McCain supporters. This poll was conducted from the 18th to the 22nd.
  • Missouri: Two polls find a one-point race, well within the margin of error. McCain is ahead 46% to 45% in a Mason Dixon poll. Obama leads 48% to 47% in a Research 2000 poll (McCain led by 1% in the latter two weeks ago).
  • Arizona: McCain leads 44% to 40% in a poll conducted by Democratic pollsters Myers Research & Grove Insight. Obama leads by 1% among those who have already voted - 34% of the sample. Another poll conducted by Zimmerman & Associates finds McCain leading 45% to 43% only.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • Jeanne Shaheen leads 49% to 36% in a UNH poll of the New Hampshire Senate race. She led by 4% in September.
  • In NH-01, Democratic Rep. Shea-Porter grabs a 44% to 39% lead in a UNH poll. She trailed by 3% a month ago. No surprises in NH-02, where Democrat Rep. Hodes dominates.
  • In NV-03, Democratic challenger Titus leads Rep. Porter 47% to 45% in a Research 2000 poll. Among early voters, Titus leads by 11% and Obama leads by 19%.
  • In WA-08, Reichert and Burner are tied at 46% in a Research 2000 poll. Reichert led by 8% two weeks ago. SUSA and two Democratic internal polls recently found the same trendline in Burner’s favor.
  • In KY-02, a DCCC poll has Democratic candidate David Boswell leading 47% to 41%.
  • In IA-04, GOP Rep. Latham leads Democratic candidate Becky Greenwald 47% to 42% in a Research 2000 poll.
  • In FL-21, GOP Rep. Diaz Balart leads Raul Martinez 45% to 44% in a Research 2000 poll. Martinez leads 55% to 42% among early voters.
  • In MD-01, GOP candidate Andy Harris has a narrow 44% to 40% lead in a Research 2000 poll.
  • In FL-13, GOP Rep. Buchanan leads Christine Jennings 45% to 34% in a Research 2000 poll. He led by 12% last month. Among early voters, it is Jennings who has a narrow 3% lead.
  • In AZ-03, GOP Rep. Shadegg leads 50% to 40% in a Research 2000 poll, an improvement over his 9% lead two weeks ago.

A wave of independent House polls bring good news to both parties. Despite the million and a half the DCCC has poured against Shadegg, the Arizona Republican stays at the critical 50% mark; in FL-13, Rep. Buchanan confirms that he is well positioned to survive the blue wave; and in NV-03, Rep. Porter has see worse numbers than this one. That said, Dona Titus remains in a great position to pick-up that latter district, and the one-way spending should only continue to drown Porter.

The news is good for Democrats in NH-01, where Rep. Shea-Porter continues to improve her position, and WA-08, where Darcy Burner has erased the lead Rep. Reichert had opened up over the past month in the second independent poll released this week. Furthermore, Democratic candidates look strong in a large number of second-to-fourth tier contests (FL-21, MD-01, IA-04) and can hope for a few upsets victories on Election Day.

Poll watch: Six red states within the MoE, Perdue and Chambliss in trouble

[Updated with new Insider Advantage polls] We’re now exactly five weeks from Election Day, and we seem to be getting fewer polls every day - especially compared to the constant deluge of surveys we were treated to two weeks ago and last week. At least, we are getting our daily tracking polls which now appear to have stabilized in the mid-to-high single digit range - and that is significant given that today’s release marked the first which were entirely taken after the first presidential debate. Rasmussen, Diego Hotline and Gallup all find a 6% margin today in Obama’s favor, while Obama jumps to a 10% lead in Research 2000.

If such numbers hold over the next few weeks, state-by-state discussions would be somewhat moot, as many red states would naturally fall in Obama’s lap if he were to win the election anywhere near a 7% margin… but it nevertheless continues to be remarkable that Obama has not gained as much in the most disputed red states as he seems to have gained at the national level (he does appear to have pulled ahead in PA and MI in the aftermath of the financial crisis), leaving a lot of uncertainty in the election.

That said, Obama has undoubtedly made gains in a number of red states over the past 10 days, and while these gains are not enough to move any of them to his column, Obama has also erased any edge McCain had in states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida (as today’s polls once again confirm).

So the situation remains the same: If Obama defends the roughly four endangered blue states, he needs to pick up one more red state (though Nevada would not be enough if he loses New Hampshire). And the day’s polls confirm that he has plenty to choose from: Numbers in Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada are all within the margin of error - though a second Virginia poll shows Obama jumping to a comfortable lead, and the three Florida and Ohio polls show Obama improving! On to the day full roundup:

  • Obama leads 49% to 46% in a PPP poll of Florida (polling history) thanks to Obama’s 15% lead among the 64% of respondents who say that the economy is their top issue. McCain led by 5% three weeks ago. Since then, Palin’s favorability rating has gone south.
  • McCain leads 49% to 46% in an ARG poll of Virginia.
  • Obama leads 49% to 41% in the latest Morning Call tracking poll of Pennsylvania (polling history) . Obama has increased his lead by 1% every day since Friday, when he led by 4%.
  • McCain leads 49% to 46% in an ARG poll of North Carolina (polling history) - McCain’s first lead in four polls (who would have ever thought we’d say that), though within the margin of error.
  • McCain leads 52% to 44% in a SUSA poll of Georgia (polling history). And though this subgroup has a huge margin of error, Obama gets more than 60% among the 10% of respondents who say they have already voted.

Meanwhile, in down-ballot surveys:

  • Saxby Chambliss’s lead has collapsed to within the margin of error in SUSA’s latest release from Georgia’s Senate race (polling history). He is now ahead 46% to 44% (down from 17% two weeks ago), with 5% for libertarian Allen Buckley.
  • Pat McCrory leads Bev Perdue 44% to 41% in a PPP poll of North Carolina’s gubernatorial race (polling history). This is his first lead in a PPP survey. This is significant because the same survey showed Obama and Hagan gaining.
  • Mitch Daniels keeps a decisive edge in Indiana’s gubernatorial race in the latest SUSA polling, 53% to 37%.
  • A University of Connecticut poll has Rep. Simmons Courtney crushing his GOP challenger Sullivan 55% to 27% in CT-02. This is a district the GOP once had high hopes for.

Shall we make it… eleven? This is the second poll in a row after the DSCC-sponsored survey released yesterday that has Chambliss’ lead within the margin of error. More importantly, this is an independent poll that pushed undecideds, and the trend lines echoes what we are seeing in Kentucky’s Senate race - apparently confirming my post from last night. The GOP looks like it might soon find itself in the same situation as 2006, where seemingly safe Republicans find themselves in a fight, though it is difficult to view Chambliss as fully endangered until the DSCC gets involved.

That said, getting just one of these two races (KY, GA) anywhere near the top tier would already be an amazing achievement for Democrats. In this context, Susan Collins’ ability to weather the storm is truly remarkable: Who could have predicted a year ago that Tom Allen would never get within 7% (and I believe only Rasmussen found that tight a race) while Lunsford and Martin would be within the margin of error?

Beverly Perdue, on the other hand, looks like she is not doing very well. For her to fall under in the same poll that has Obama and Hagan surging is a sign that something is not going well for Democrats in this race, and that McCrory’s reform message might be functioning. Similarly, the situation is not rozy for Democrats in Indiana’s gubernatorial race, which once looked promising but now seems to be increasingly safe for the incumbent.

Morning polls: ARG releases wave of state surveys, PPP polls Virginia

American Research Group just released an unusually large collection of state polls. Though some of the most competitive battlegrounds (FL, PA, MI, NH, VA) are missing, this certainly gives us a good idea of the field of play heading in the final run. Overall, more swing states favor McCain (he narrowly leads in Colorado and Nevada, more comfortably in Ohio and by double-digits in North Carolina), but most numbers are well within the margin of error and Obama gets some good results as well (he leads in New Mexico and is very competitive in both Montana and West Virginia).

First, some other presidential polls that have been released since last night - including a new poll from Virginia:

  • Obama leads 47% to 45% in a national poll released this morning by Reuters/Zogby. This is a 7% shift in his favor since the August poll. The poll was taken from Thursday through Saturday. Both candidates get 89% of their party’s vote.
  • There is a tie at 45% in another national poll, released by AP Ipsos. The poll was taken Thursday through Monday and is a one point gain for Obama since last week’s survey that found McCain up 1.
  • Obama leads 48% to 46% in a PPP poll from Virginia. This is the 4th PPP poll in a row to find Obama leading by 2%. Obama gets 91% of Democrats but trails among independents by 17%.
  • Obama leads McCain 52% to 36% in a Field poll of California. Sarah Palin’s favorability rating is by far the worst of the four candidates.
  • Obama leads 55% to 42% in a Rasmussen poll of New York. McCain had 32% in August and 28% in July.

No surprises, nor anything particularly stunning in those surveys, though they confirm that the race has moved back to a dead heat nationally. Democrats will also be reassured by PPP’s Virginia poll, as McCain seems to have gained ground in other swing states (PA, OH, MN) but not Virginia. Now, on to ARG’s polls, starting with those from competitive states. All polls have a margin of error of 4%, and they have not all been taken at the same time:

  • McCain leads 50% to 44% in Ohio. The poll was taken the 10th to the 13th. Obama only gets 79% of the Democratic vote. (The partisan breakdown is much more Republican than most polls that have been released of late; SUSA’s poll last week had a 9% edge for Democrats but this one is equal.)
  • McCain leads 46% to 44% in Colorado. The poll was also taken the 10th to the 13th. There are more Republicans than Democrats, and Obama leads by 14% among Democrats.
  • McCain leads 49% to 46% in Nevada. Here again, more Republicans are polled than Democrats but Obama leads among independents. The poll was taken over the week-end.
  • Obama leads 51% to 44% in New Mexico. Democrats make up 51% of the sample (40% in 2004) and Obama leads among independents.
  • McCain leads 49% to 47% in Montana. Ron Paul was not included, and neither were Barr and Nader in a state in which third party candidates could make a difference. The poll was conducted early, the 7th to the 9th.
  • McCain leads 49% to 45% in West Virginia.
  • McCain leads 52% to 41% in North Carolina, a disappointing result for Obama who only gets 25% among white voters. The poll was conducted over this week-end.
  • McCain leads 50% to 45% in Missouri. The poll was conducted Thursday through Monday.
  • Obama leads 51% to 41% in Maine.
  • McCain leads 58% to 36% in Alabama, 55% to 39% in Alaska, 56% to 39% in Arizona, 68% to 25% in Idaho, 63% to 31% in Kansas, 57% to 37% in Kentucky, 50% to 43% in Louisiana, 57% to 36% in Texas, 65% to 29% in Utah and 66% to 28% in Wyoming.
  • Obama leads 82% to 13% in DC, 51% to 40% in Delaware, 63% to 32% in Hawaii, 51% to 45% in Illinois, 55% to 38% in New York, 59% to 33% in Rhode Island.

It is remarkable how few surprises there are in these polls, with most results - including those in Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico - tracking the average of recent polls from these states. Colorado and Nevada confirm that they are among the ultimate toss-ups of this year’s contest. The least expected results are surely those from West Virginia (this is the second poll in a row to find a competitive race), Illinois (does anything think Obama has something to fear there) and North Carolina, where pollsters seem unable to find a coherent model and where numbers are all over the place - from a 2% race to a 20% race.

Obama will also be reassured by the Montana poll, as the only recent survey we had seen (from Rasmussen) had McCain surging to a lead in the aftermath of the convention. The question facing his campaign now is whether to invest in West Virginia, a state that had long been ruled out for Obama because of his problems in Appalachia. There have been rumblings of that as of late, but no sign for now that Democrats will move in there. [Update, and partial correction: As Ben points out in the comments section, Obama ads are running in many of the state's markets because of overlap with advertising in neighboring states. The same is true for McCain in New Jersey.]

McCain receives big bounce, sets up competitive final stretch

[Updated] The new USA Today-Gallup poll came out with some dramatic results, with McCain posting his first double-digit lead of the race, 54% to 44% among likely voters, 50% to 46% among registered voters. The poll was in the field from Friday to Sunday and is thus the first survey taken entirely after the GOP convention. This is an 11% swing among registered voters.

The week-end tracking polls confirm that McCain has more than erased Obama’s gains and has moved slightly ahead of where he was before the convention stretch started. In Rasmussen’s tracking, McCain and Obama are now tied at 48% - a 6% gain for the Republican since Tuesday, though a tie is not an unusual result in Rasmussen polls; and in Gallup, McCain has moved ahead to a 48% to 45% lead - the biggest advantage he has held since early May!

To get a full measure of McCain’s bounce, we will have to wait a few more days for more non-tracking polls to be released, but there is no question that this is a significant bounce for McCain. We did not see a single poll with Obama leading by 10% after the Democratic convention (though it is important to note that the Palin pick came the morning after Obama’s acceptance speech). The key internal poll of the USA Today-Gallup poll: Before the convention, 39% of Republicans were more enthusiastic than usual about voting; today, the number has reached 60%. The boost in Republican enthusiasm is a stunning result that could profoundly change our assumptions about this year’s election. A depressed GOP base was one of the core fundamentals of the past few months.

We will now have to wait a few more days to see the state of the race once the post-convention emotions have settled. Earlier this week, Obama reached his highest levels ever in the tracking poll - 51% in Rasmussen and 50% in Gallup - but he quickly lost his gains. Now, McCain looks to be at a historic highs, and should receive good numbers again in tomorrow’s tracking deliveries (the first entirely taken after McCain’s acceptance speech). But while McCain’s results in polls taken on Friday and Saturday were surely going to have improved, what will voters remember by next Tuesday, Wednesday night?

Even if we settle back to the same margins we saw pre-convention, that would not mean that public opinion did not dramatically change during the conventions. For instance, and in the long run, has the electorate’s faith in Obama’s experience or patriotism increased? Has the share of voters to think of McCain as the continuation of Bush decreased?

Also, we know of two changes that are likely to remain: McCain’s increased support among evangelicals, Obama’s stronger support among Clinton supporters. Those changes might balance themselves out at the national level, but that doesn’t mean they will also do so at the state level. Depending on the state, the solidification of one party’s base will matter more than the other’s. We will be looking at state polls very closely then: Does Obama still have a shot at deep red states like NC and IN now that the GOP base is energized? Does he have less to worry about in blue states like MN? Will the all-Western GOP ticket be boosted in Western states, and will Biden help Democrats put Pennsylvania away?

It will be especially interesting to see numbers from states like Michigan and Ohio where Obama and McCain have both been suffering from weak support among their base? And then there is Florida, which is an a category all to itself, and where Obama can hope for some improvements, including from a factor that will matter no where else as much as in Florida: Will Palin’s pick backfire among Jewish voters and take care of whatever problem Obama had in that constiuency?

The answers to all these questions will determine where the election is waged in the final months, which battlegrounds become the most important and where the campaigns invest their money. For now, both Obama and McCain are casting a wide net and have yet to reevaluate their investments. But the New York Times now reports that the Obama campaign is looking to move out of Georgia and is considering whether to invest anything in Arizona and West Virginia!

While Georgia always looked like a long shot, the Obama campaign was hoping to register as many as 500,000 new voters in the state and that was not something the success of which we could measure. I for one would be very surprised (and puzzled) if Obama tried to actively compete in West Virginia: The state has shifted to being reliably red over the past two cycles, and Obama hardly has the demographic appeal to change that - as we saw in the state’s Democratic primary, in which Hillary Clinton crushed the Illinois Senator. Arizona, by contrast, should be very tempting for Democrats as Obama has been surprisinhgly competitive in state polling… but it is McCain’s home state. Quite a dilemma.

Battle of the West: Wave of polls shows McCain strengthening position

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.

McCain leads in two national polls, in Ohio and Missouri; Obama stays strong in Iowa and NE-02

Polls are coming in at a quick pace in this pre-convention week and they are continue to show McCain erasing whatever advantage Obama had built nationally and in key battleground states. One poll can be statistical noise, and trend lines within the margin of error certainly don’t lend themselves to any grand conclusion. But the tightening that we have been observing over the past few weeks is being confirmed with this wave of pre-convention polls. Two national polls released this morning are only the second and third non-tracking national surveys that have found McCain ahead by any margin since early May:

  • A new Reuters/Zogby poll finds a 12% swing towards John McCain, who goes from a 7% deficit to a 45% to 40% lead. This is the biggest non-tracking lead for the Republican since a… Zogby poll released in early March. This is swing comparable to that of the LA Times poll yesterday.

While Obama did lead in yesterday’s Quinnipiac and LA Times polls, he did lose ground in both - by 10% in the LA Times survey, a swing comparable to Zogby’s numbers. Yesterday, I provided some perspective as to how seriously we should take this tightening given that we are on the eve of the national conventions and the VP picks, and explained that these numbers should be heartening to Republicans but should not lead Democrats to panic at all - you can refer back to that analysis, as it is only confirmed by these numbers.

As for state polling, McCain also got some good numbers yesterday in states like FL, NC and MN and the polling data is consistent enough that these are no longer isolated trends. While most state polling has remained stable, John McCain has scored clear gains in recent polls in important states like Colorado and in Minnesota. Today’s surveys continue painting a worrisome picture for Obama, who collapses in Missouri:

  • In Ohio (polling history), Rasmussen finds McCain ahead, but his margin is down since last month. He leads 45% to 41% (48% to 43% with leaners). Last month, McCain was ahead by 6% and 10% - though that was somewhat of an outlier. The worrisome news for Obama: his favorability rating is now negative, with 48% holding a favorable opinion (60% for McCain!) and 51% an unfavorable one.
  • In Missouri (polling history), PPP shows Obama collapsing to a double-digit lead, 50% to 40%. Obama trailed by only 3% last month.
  • In Arizona, a University of Arizona survey finds McCain leading 40% to 30%, with 28% undecided.
  • In Nebraska’s Omaha-based second district, a poll conducted for a House candidate finds John McCain leading 46% to 42% - a surprisingly tight margin. Don’t forget that the winner of the district will be awarded an electoral vote.

In July, PPP and Rasmussen had found strangely big (and diverging) leads (PPP had Obama up 8%, Rasmussen had McCain leading by 10%). They are now both showing a tightening: In the August surveys, PPP has a race tied and Rasmussen has a 4% race. Ohio is as tight as ever - not that we didn’t already know that. The Missouri numbers are particularly worrisome for Obama. McCain has been considerably outspending him in the Show Me State and McCain has opened a clear lead in a number of polls now in a state that has leaned red in the past few elections but that looked promising to Democrats a few months ago.

The day’s other state polls, by contrast, are rather good news for Obama. Iowa, a state won by Bush in 2004, looks like a surer bet for Obama than many of the 2004 Kerry states. It is also one of the states in which McCain is outspending Obama the most (by $700,000) and it is reassuring that the Democrat is keeping a comfortable lead. As for Arizona, the last two polls had McCain leading by double-digits - and the last thing McCain needs is to have to think about his home-state.

As for NE-02, Democrats have had their sights on this lone electoral vote for a while now, and they are helped by a simple geographical factor: This Omaha-based district is in the media market of Western Iowa, so voters there see the candidates’ ads without the campaigns’ making an actual decision to invest in Nebraska. And do not dismiss the importance of one electoral vote, because that’s all Obama needs to add to Iowa and Colorado to get to 269 EVs, throw the election to the House and most probably get to the White House.

McCain crushes Obama in AZ, leads in FL and gains in MA (Update with new Zogby national)

Update: The plot thickens and polls continue to show whatever national advantage Obama had to be fading. After nearly three months without a single national poll showing him ahead, McCain led in last week’s USA Today/Gallup poll, Rasmussen’s tracking this morning and he now gains 11% in Zogby’s national poll, 42% to Obama’s 41% with 2% each for Bob Barr and Ralph Nader. (Last month, Obama led by 10%; 5% in June and 10% in May). Zogby finds Obama slipping among all demographic groups, including independents, Democrats (Obama is at a weak 74%) and women.

Zogby’s previous poll was released at a time many polls showed a mid-to-high single digit lead for Obama - leading to talk that Obama could build a solid advantage by the end of the summer. Now, the race looks to be as tight as it’s been since June 3rd. Is the Obama camp not letting its opponents’ attacks dictate the conversation, and is this not the point at which the Obama camp finally starts using footage like McCain’s “bomb Iran?” Of course, the campaign might be preparing to unveil its vice-presidential pick (perhaps Wednesday morning in Indiana…) and does not want to muddy its message.

Original post: After a first polling delivery this morning - which included McCain’s first (albeit statistically insignificant) lead in a tracking poll since Obama clinched his party’s nomination - here is a second daily update. It contains strong numbers for John McCain, and it is difficult to not have the impression that polls over the past week or two have found consistently improving state results for the Arizona Senator - look at the 7 Quinnipiac polls from swing states released in two different installments, all finding McCain improving from his June results.

None of the results listed here qualifies as bad news for Obama. The two candidates are exchanging leads in Florida, Obama certainly does not need Arizona and the Rasmussen tracking from this morning was just one national poll in dozens that have shown Obama ahead. But to Democrats who have gotten used to good presidential polling over the past few months and certainly over the past few weeks, the psychological pressure can certainly mount. Overall, these polls certainly do not suggest that Obama has lost his edge, but they do point to the fact that the presidential race is a close one and there is enough polling data to back those who say that it is quickly tightening.

August will not be decisive, and any post-Labor Day news and poll is hugely more important than anything that will happen now; but the summer often sets the tone for the fall, and with the Olympic-period lull starting in four days, it does look like we will be going into the conventions without either candidate having opened a significant lead.

On to the afternoon’s state polls:

[I am not one to look for sample problems in every poll that is released, but do note that the partisan breakdown is 43% Republican and 38% Democratic. That's an improvement for the GOP over 2004, despite the fact that most polls find a significant swing leftward and the fact that Florida Democrats have made significant registration gains. In the previous SUSA poll from Florida, Democrats had a 9% edge in the sample; the latest PPP poll had as many Democrats and Republicans and the latest ARG poll had a 5% Democratic advantage. This is not to say that SUSA's poll is wrong - I don't like cherry-picking polls, and a lot of problems have problems like this. But I am just pointing out something we should take into account when interpreting the results.]

  • In Arizona, the second poll of the day confirms that McCain has less to fear than some Republicans feared. He is leading 52% to 36% (up from 9% last month) in Rasmussen’s latest poll, 57% to 38% with leaners. Obama’s favorability rating is dismal: 43% to 55%.
  • In Massachusetts, Obama’s margin of victory plunges from 23% to 9% in the latest Suffolk poll as Obama is now ahead 47% to 38%.
  • In Connecticut, Obama leads 51% to 36%. His favorability rating is 61%, comparing to 41% for McCain.
  • In Alabama, finally, McCain crushes Obama 55% to 37%, 58% to 38% with leaners.

With two polls in one day finding McCain with very solid leads in his home state, talk of Arizona emerging as a potential battleground state should be tabled. Unless other evidence emerges to challenge these surveys, it is simply too unlikely that any candidate will lose his home state - particularly a Republican in red-leaning Arizona. Gore lost Tennessee, sure, but he also lost the rest of the South.

As for Massachusetts, longtime readers of this blog know that I have long expressed amazement at how poor Obama’s numbers have been in the Bay State. Obama struggled to open any lead at all against McCain for a while in the spring, and McCain tied him repeatedly in SUSA polls. Other polling groups found Obama significantly under-performing compared to Clinton. Polls released since Obama clinched the nomination - including Suffolk’s previous survey - found Obama rising in one of the bluest states of the country, and they better hope McCain’s gains in this poll are only statistical noise. As for Connecticut, this is a Northeastern state McCain was interested in contesting but polls have shown little opening for him, leading me to move the state to the safe Obama column in early July.

Meanwhile, two Senate polls were released from races that are at best third-tier:

  • In Oklahoma, GOP Sen. Inhofe leads state Senator Andrew Rice 52% to 30% in the latest Sooner poll. In the institute’s previous poll, Inhofe led 60% to 19%.
  • In Alabama, Senator Jeff Sessions crushes Vivian Davis Figures 58% to 31%, a 3% improvement since last month.

There is nothing to see in the Alabama Senate race, which has always been ranked as safe Republican in my Senate rankings. Some Democrats believe there is some potential for Andrew Rice in Oklahoma, and the DSCC did send a few paid staffers to the state a few years ago, hinting that it took such talk seriously. Yet, and though he is no beloved incumbent, Inhofe presents no obvious vulnerability and Oklahoma looks to be as red a state as any. The latest presidential poll found McCain leading by 32%, and that’s not the kind of margin a Democratic Senate challenger can easily overcome. The race is ranked 18th in my latest ratings, and it is clearly closer to the safe column than to the competitive one.

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