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Final poll watch: No late movement

Still to come today: An election night cheat sheet, anything else that events warrant and a liveblog, of course. (And the prediction thread is still alive!)

A final round of polling released over the past 12 hours includes interviews conducted on Monday, allowing us to check whether McCain benefited from any last minute movement.

The verdict: McCain does not  gain as a result of Monday polling. In fact, Obama gains in Zogby and IBD/TIPP’s national poll and holds firm in a Marist poll entirely conducted on Monday. At the state level, SUSA’s Pennsylvania poll shows Obama improving his position over the past few days and seizing a 9% lead, while Zogby’s 8 polls from battleground states have trendlines going in both directions - but no significant movement.

This means that no pollster has detected any sort of McCain improvement over the past few days. Firms that have been trying to allocate undecided have suggested that they are not likely to break heavily towards the Republican nominee. (Not to mention that in many state the impact of a late-breaking surge would be limited: at least 64% of all active registered voters cast their ballot before Election Day in Colorado.)

If McCain somehow pulls a comeback, almost no pollster will be able to bask in the glory, as even outlets that have shown a tighter race fell in line (IBD/TIPP, Zogby). The only exception is the “Battleground poll” (whose result I never included in my polling watch because they arbitrarily imposed wide swings in their weighing), whose GOP half (Tarrance) is projecting the tightest margin among all pollsters (50% to 48%). Mason-Dixon could also be somewhat vindicated: though their last batch of state polls pointed to an Obama victory, McCain was not in as dismal a situation as we’ve seen elsewhere.

In other words: for McCain to prevail, all polls (even Mason-Dixon) would have to be dead wrong. That’s happened before, but the New Hampshire primary was a highly volatile 4-day campaign - and that means that there were a lot of reasons to explain the polling fiasco. We simply do not know what would possibly explain a similar debacle today (though I tried to outline some possible scenarios here). With all of this in mind, here are the last polls of the 2008 cycle:

  • Obama leads 48% to 42% in the final IBD/TIPP tracking poll; IBD/TIPP allocates undecideds to reach a 52% to 44% Obama margin.
  • The Battleground tracking comes out with two different projections: Its Republican half (Tarrance) has Obama leading 50% to 48% while its Democratic half (Lake) has him ahead 52% to 47%. Note that this is not a trend towards McCain at all; Battleground has always shown a tighter race than other pollsters.
  • Obama leads 51% to 46% in Research 2000’s final tracking poll. That means that R2000 has the tightest final margin of all trackings - a fascinating result given that it is funded by Kos, RCP inexplicably refuses to include it in its averages and Obama had some of his largest leads through September and October in R2000.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama leads 52% to 43% in a SUSA poll conducted Friday through Monday; that’s an increase from a 7% lead Obama enjoyed in a poll released on Sunday. Obama leads 51% to 41% in a Zogby tracking poll conducted Friday through Monday (Thursday’s sample has been left out, Monday’s has been included; Obama led by 14% yesterday).
  • Virginia: Obama leads 51% to 47% in an ARG poll conducted Friday through Monday. Obama leads 52% to 45% in a Zogby tracking poll conducted Friday through Monday (Thursday’s sample has been left out, Monday’s has been included; Obama led by 6% yesterday).
  • Nevada: Obama leads 53% to 42% in a Zogby tracking poll conducted Friday through Monday (Thursday’s sample has been left out, Monday’s has been included; Obama led by 8% yesterday).
  • Ohio: Obama leads 49% to 47% in a Zogby tracking poll conducted Friday through Monday (Thursday’s sample has been left out, Monday’s has been included; Obama led by 6% yesterday).
  • Florida: Obama leads 58% to 40% in a SUSA poll conducted Friday through Monday; he leads by 18% among those who have already voted (58% of the sample). McCain leads 49% to 48% in a Datamar poll conducted Saturday and Sunday; the candidates were tied at 47% a few days ago and Obama led by 5% earlier. Obama leads 49% to 48% in a Zogby tracking poll conducted Friday through Monday (Thursday’s sample has been left out, Monday’s has been included; Obama led by 2% yesterday).
  • North Carolina: Obama leads 49% to 48% in an ARG poll conducted Friday through Monday; African-Americans make up a relatively large 24% of respondents. McCain leads 50% to 49% in a Zogby tracking poll conducted Friday through Monday (Thursday’s sample has been left out, Monday’s has been included; McCain led by 1% yesterday).
  • Missouri is tied at 49% a Zogby tracking poll conducted Friday through Monday (Thursday’s sample has been left out, Monday’s has been included; Obama led by 1% yesterday).
  • Indiana: McCain leads 50% to 45% in a Zogby tracking poll conducted Friday through Monday (Thursday’s sample has been left out, Monday’s has been included; McCain led by 5% yesterday).
  • Washington: Obama leads 56% to 40% in a SUSA poll.
  • West Virginia: McCain leads 53% to 42% in an ARG poll taken Friday through Monday.

Meanwhile, in our final down the ballot numbers:

  • Christine Gregoire pulls ahead 52% to 46% in SUSA poll of Washington’s gubernatorial race. This breaks a series of 8 SUSA polls that had the race within the MoE.

Presidential polling: Obama closes campaign in strong position

As is fitting on the last day before an election, we were treated to a deluge of polling today, as at least 52 presidential surveys were released over the past 24 hours! (I for once devoted a separate post to congressional polls.)

Given the sheer volume of data, we could have expected to see wide discrepancies between different pollsters. Instead, there appears to be a large consensus between different outlets, both at the state level and in national polls (where most surveys gravitate towards the same mean). If the polls turn out to be wrong, absolutely all pollsters will be implicated, suggesting that there is something structural that was missed. (Mark Blumenthal takes a look at what that might be.)

Not only are polls convergent, they have also been consistent over time: Individuals polls have fluctuated a bit over the past few months, but both candidates have oscillated within the same margins since the beginning of October, with very little indication that either candidate has gained or lost ground in that time.

Today’s national polls look familiar: Obama is at or above 50% in 11 of 12 national polls (at 48% in the 12th) and he tops 51% in 10 out of 12. McCain, meanwhile, remains between 42% and 46% in all these polls. There is also no uniform trendline in these final days but the tendency of most polls to move towards high single-digit territory.

At the state level, there was a lot of polling out today, as many outlets (Rasmussen, PPP, Strategic Vision, Zogby, Quinnipiac) released their final waves of surveys. Overall, the results are strong for the Illinois Senator, who first and foremost retains his advantage in Pennsylvania: Five polls find him leading anywhere between 6% and 14%, a range we have been seeing in most surveys from the Keystone State this past week. More importantly, the trendline does not appear to be clearly heading in McCain’s direction. It will take an extraordinary amount of GOTV, big gains among undecided voters and a significant overstatement of Obama’s support for McCain to pull off these 21 electoral votes.

As for the red states, the same classification we have been using lately applies: Colorado, Virginia and Nevada are the most likely to fall in Obama’s hands, though his lead in the day’s one Colorado poll is smaller than he would like (the fact that Colorado has been so under-polled this cycle is a disgrace, as the state’s role in this year’s electoral college is in many ways more important than, say, Missouri or Ohio). Any one of these states combined to Pennsylvania would get Obama at 269; all three would offset a Pennsylvania loss.

Ohio and Florida lean Obama by the tightest of margins (Obama leads in four out of five FL poll, but all within the MoE and he leads in five out of seven OH polls, some by large margins, with one survey tied and one having McCain ahead by 2%). And that leaves as the ultimate toss-ups of the election states that should never have been competitive in the first place: North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Montana. The Missouri polling is especially fascinating, as three out of the day’s four polls have the contest tied.

One possible area of concern for Obama: There is evidence in some of these polls that undecided voters are closing in for McCain. That is especially the case in PPP’s polls: compared to the group’s previous polls from the same state’s, Obama’s support has remained stable while McCain has gained and the number of undecided has decreased. This could suggest some trouble for Obama (and it is one of the factors that I outlined yesterday in my post rehashing the scenarios in which McCain could surprise us). Other polls, however, other pollsters do not find similar results: Ipsos/McClatchy and Gallup both model their undecided to break evenly, and CBS News’s profile of undecided voters suggests that they are more Democratic than Republican.

One area of concern for McCain: SUSA’s polls of Georgia and North Carolina show that they predict that black turnout will be sensibly the same as it was in 2004. Given that African-Americans make up a disproportionate share of early voters, it would mean that they are significantly under-represented among tomorrow’s voters. This raises the possibility that Obama’s support remains under-represented in some of these polls.

Let’s go on to the full roundup of the day’s polls, which I have broken down for convenience given the volume of data released today. First, twelve national polls have Obama leading anywhere from 5% to 11% (5%, 5%, 6%, 6%, 7%, 7%, 7%, 8%, 9%, 9%, 9%, 11%):

  • Obama leads 51% to 43% in the final NBC/WSJ national poll conducted Saturday and Sunday.
  • Obama leads 53% to 44% in the final Marist national poll conducted entirely yesterday; Palin’s favorability rating has really dropped over the past few months.
  • Obama leads 50% to 42% in Ipsos/McClatchy’s final national poll. With all undecideds allocated, Obama leads 53% to 46%.
  • Obama leads 50% to 43% in a Fox News national poll, up form from a 3% lead late last week.
  • Trackings: Obama gains 3% in IBD/TIPP (48% to 43%), 2% in Zogby (51% to 44%), 2% in Gallup (53% to 42%, the same margin in both LV models) and 1% in Rasmussen (52% to 46%). The race was stable in Hotline (50% to 45%). He lost 1% in Research 2000 (51% to 45%), 2% in Washington Post/ABC (53% to 44%) and 4% in CBS News (51% to 42%).

Second, 5 polls from Pennsylvania:

  • Obama leads 53% to 45% in a PPP poll taken Friday through Sunday. Both candidates enjoy roughly the same party loyalty, with Obama winning big among independents.
  • Obama leads 52% to 46% in Morning Call’s tracking poll; Obama has been holding steady while McCain has been steadily gaining as independents break his way.
  • Obama leads 54% to 40% in a Zogby poll conducted Thursday though Saturday.
  • Obama leads 51% to 44% in Strategic Vision (up from a 5% lead).
  • Obama leads 50% to 40% in a Quinnipiac poll taken through last week; he led by 12% the week before.
  • SUSA has a poll of the presidential race in PA-10 only, finding Obama leading 53% to 43% in a district Kerry won by 6%.

Third, (only) five polls from the three red states that are most likely to go for Obama:

  • Colorado: Obama leads 51% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll taken Sunday; he led by 4% last week.
  • Virginia: Obama leads 52% to 46% in a PPP poll taken Friday through Sunday; the previous PPP poll conducted three weeks ago had Obama leading 51% to 43%. Obama leads 51% to 45% in a Zogby poll conducted Thursday though Saturday; he led by 7% last week. Obama leads 51% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll taken Sunday; he led by the same margin last week.
  • Nevada: Obama leads 51% to 43% in a Zogby poll conducted Thursday though Saturday; he led by 4% last week. Obama leads 51% to 47% in a PPP poll, but the poll suggests that the die has been cast: 71% of respondents say they have already voted (a proportion that sounds right given the hard data we have) and they favor Obama by 14%.

Fourth, we were treated with a deluge of Ohio polls:

  • Obama leads 48% to 46% in a SUSA poll conducted Friday and Saturday; that’s down from a 4% lead last week, but Obama leads by a stunning 24% among the third of voters who have already cast their ballot.
  • Obama leads 52% to 46% in the final University of Cincinnati poll conducted Wednesday through Sunday.
  • Obama leads 50% to 48% in a PPP poll conducted Friday through Sunday; he led 51% to 44% in a poll taken two weeks ago. McCain is gaining among whites (he has increased his lead from 49-46 to 55-43) and independents (he trailed 48-36, now 49-46, suggesting that undecideds are breaking for the Republican).
  • Obama leads 50% to 44% in a Zogby poll conducted Thursday though Saturday; Obama led by 5% last week.
  • The candidates are tied at 49% in a Rasmussen poll taken Sunday; Obama led by 4% last week.
  • Obama leads 50% to 43% in a Quinnipiac poll taken through last week; he led by 5% the week before.
  • McCain leads 48% to 46% in a Strategic Vision poll; McCain led by 3% two weeks ago.

Fifth, here are the day’s five new poll from Florida:

  • Obama leads 50% to 48% in a PPP poll conducted Friday through Sunday (the good news for Obama: half of likely voters have already cast their ballot and they favor Obama by 13%).
  • Obama leads 48% to 46% in a Zogby poll conducted Thursday though Saturday; he led by 4% last week.
  • McCain leads 50% to 49% in a Rasmussen poll taken Sunday; Obama led by 4% last week.
  • Obama leads 47% to 45% in a Quinnipiac poll taken through last week; the margin was the week before.
  • Obama leads 49% to 47% in a Strategic Vision poll; McCain led by 2% two weeks ago.

Sixth, we got a number of polls from red states that are rated toss-ups in my latest ratings:

  • Missouri: The candidates are tied at 49% in PPP’s poll conducted Friday through Sunday. Obama leads 48% to 47% in a Zogby poll conducted Thursday though Saturday. The candidates are tied at 48% in a SUSA poll; this is the same margin as last week. The candidates are tied at 49% in a Rasmussen poll taken Sunday; Obama led by 1% last week.
  • North Carolina: Obama leads 50% to 49% in a PPP poll conducted Friday through Sunday; there is no change since last week. Obama leads by 10% among those who have already voted and McCain leads by 14% among those planning to vote on Tuesday. McCain leads 49% to 48% in a Zogby poll conducted Thursday though Saturday. McCain leads leads 50% to 49% in a Rasmussen poll taken Sunday; he led by 1% last week as well. McCain leads 49% to 48% in a SUSA poll that puts the black vote at 20%; the candidates were tied two weeks ago.
  • Indiana: Obama leads 49% to 48% in a PPP poll conducted Friday through Sunday. McCain leads 49% to 44% in a Zogby poll conducted Thursday though Saturday.
  • Georgia: McCain leads 50% to 48% in a PPP poll conducted Friday through Sunday; Obama leads by 5% among early voters (57% of the sample). McCain leads 52% to 45% in a SUSA poll conducted Friday and Saturday; SUSA predicts that the black vote will compose 26% of the electorate, which seems a very low estimate (2004 was 25%, early voting is 35%). McCain leads 50% to 46% in a Strategic Vision poll.
  • Montana: Obama leads 48% to 47% in a PPP poll conducted Friday through Sunday; Ron Paul gets 4%.

Finally, a look at blue states that are rated likely or safe Obama and where the final polling suggests Obama has little to worry about:

  • Minnesota: Obama leads 49% to 46% in a SUSA poll conducted Friday and Saturday; Obama led by 6% two weeks ago.
  • New Hampshire: Obama leads 53% to 42% in UNH’s final poll conducted Friday through Sunday.

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:

As early voting ends, turnout remains high, disproportionately Democratic

Early voting is now closed in a number of the states we have been talking about extensively over the past few weeks, starting with Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina. That allows us to take a final look at just who has already cast in a ballot heading into Tuesday’s vote.

Georgia: Early voting closed on Friday, and 1,994,990 votes have cast a ballot, accounting for 35,6% of registered voters and more than 60% of the total 2004 vote. 35,1% of the electorate is African-American, which means that black voters are greatly outpacing whites: 43% of registered blacks voters have cast a ballot versus only 34% of white voters. The electorate is also disproportionately female (56%).

North Carolina: Early voting closed on Saturday, after some counties kept it open 4 extra hours because of heavy turnout. And an incredible 2,661,110 voters cast a ballot early, accounting for 42% of all registered voters and more than 70% of the total 2004 vote. The final partisan breakdown is favorable to Democrats, though it tightened since the first week of early voting: Democrats make up 50,8% of early voters and Republicans make up 30,6% (the breakdown in the 2004 general election was 49% Democratic and 37% Republican). African-Americans make up 26,1% (19% of the 2004 electorate was black).

3,55 million votes were cast in 2004. This year, North Carolina’s election director estimates that 4,5 million votes will be cast. If the latter estimate proves correct, it would mean that 59% of voters have already gone to the polls. That means GOP voters have a lot of catching up to do to bring the share of Democratic voters and African-American voters down to their usual share of the electorate.

Nevada: In Clark County, by far the state’s largest county, 52,3% of all registered voters have cast their ballot, accounting for a staggering 71% of the total 2004 vote! 52% of them are registered Democrats, 30% are registered Republicans - a wider gap than the population at large. Put it another way, 58% of Democrats have already voted versus 54% of Republicans.

The same is also true in Washoe County, where 44% of registered voters cast an early ballot (the number of absentees has not been reported here) accounting for 66% of the total 2004 vote. This is a county where Republicans outnumbered Democrats in 2004 and where today the Democrats’ registration edge is only about 1,000 voters; yet, 47% of early voters were Democratic versus 35% who were Republican. These two counties account for nearly 90% of all Nevada voters, so McCain will need Republicans to significantly outnumber Democrats in Tuesday’s voting if he wants to stay in contact with the Illinois Senator.

Based on these numbers, the Nevada Secretary of State is now predicting that 1,1 million will vote, revising a prior prediction of 1 million. About 800,000 voted in 2004, meaning that the electorate would be vastly expanded - the surest sign yet that Gallup’s expanded likely voter model is a better predictor than the traditional model.

Iowa: Not only do Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans, but a Des Moines Register analysis offers one of the first signs we’ve had that Obama is being successful at turning out sporadic voters. 30% of Democrats who had requested absentee ballots had voted in zero or one of the past three general elections; the same was true of 23% of Republicans.

Colorado and Oregon, where most of the early voting is due to mail-in votes that will continue to pile up until Tuesday: As of Friday night, nearly half of Colorado’s registered voters had cast a ballot, accounting for a jaw-dropping 68% of the total 2004 vote. In Oregon, 48% of Oregon’s registered voters had returned their ballot, but here again Democrats are voting at a far higher pace: 55% of all Democratic voters have already cast their ballot versus 48% of Republicans.

As I explained on Wednesday, the surge in turnout (indicating that many voters will be first-time voters) and the partisan breakdowns put McCain in a lose-lose situation: If Election Day turnout goes through the roof, it would mean even more first time voters; if Election Day turnout remains at a normal level, it could mean that not enough voters have cast a ballot to dilute the Democrats’ advantage in early voting.

While all of this is good news for Democrats, the 10 hour lines in some Georgia precincts in the last week of early voting testifies to the fact that election officials do not appear to be ready for the massive surge in turnout we should expect on Tuesday. There are still millions of voters who will go to the polls in states like Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, so think about how swamped poll workers will be in states  that did not allow any form of early voting (Pennsylvania, for instance).

Democrats are obviously far more worried about voting problems popping up, long lines leading some to leave or malfunctioning machines leading to problems and controversies. Most problems tend to accumulate in low-income or African-American counties, thus affecting Democratic precincts more than Republican ones. Furthermore, GOP poll-watchers will challenge hundreds of thousands of voters throughout the country, forcing Obama organizers to immediately go into overdrive to help challenged voters prove their identity and get their provisional ballot counted.

At the very least, Democrats can rest assured that the Obama campaign is aware of these challenges. From a reader in Durham, North Carolina:

There are so many Obama volunteers in Durham that I think they have to come up with ideas as to what to do with all of them.  I don’t know what all these people are going to do when they wake up (late I’m sure) Wednesday morning.

So the latest, that I’ve heard about- the organization is recruiting volunteer entertainers for Tuesday to entertain people in line waiting to vote at every precinct, to help insure that people stay long enough to vote.

I found this out from a woman who will be belly-dancing at some precinct on Tuesday afternoon. Also lined up are a lot of musicians and at least one magician!

A full spectacle indeed! And if voting lines hit 10 to 12 hours again as they did last week in Georgia, all of this would surely be necessary. It is also likely that judges will rule that polls should be kept open beyond the scheduled time in a number of counties throughout the country, potentially preventing results from being reported for longer than expected and lengthening our Tuesday night.

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.

As Obama outspends him in battlegrounds, McCain faces electoral map dilemmas

Nielsen’s handy tracker of the number of ads Obama and McCain have been airing every day over the past month gives us a better idea of where the candidates are investing. There are two noticeable trends across these states. First, McCain continues to be significantly outspent in most of these battleground states (especially in Florida).

Second, Obama has slightly decreased the volume of ads compared to the first two weeks of October. This suggests that the Illinois Senator saturated the airwaves over that period (which is confirmed by his campaign filings that indicated that he spent more than $100 million in that period), which helps explain that he inched ahead in many of these battleground states.

In Missouri, not much has changed throughout October, though Obama looks like he has had to decrease the number of his ads a bit. In Georgia, it looked like Obama was back in the state as of mid-October but neither candidate is now investing significant amounts. In Virginia, Obama continues to dominate McCain on the airwaves - but he is airing less spots than he once was.

In Pennsylvania, both campaigns are investing less than they were the first two weeks of October - remarkably so given how crucial Pennsylvania has become to McCain’s electoral hopes. The same is true in Ohio: the spending disparity is remarkable, but so is the drop in number of aired ads (especially on the part of the Obama campaign):

Even more dramatic than Ohio’s financial disparity is Florida’s. McCain is running more ads than he used to while Obama is airing slightly less than earlier in October, but just a glance at this graph illustrates how much Obama has dominated the state’s airwaves and how he has manged to take a lead in most recent Florida polls:

In Colorado, meanwhile, Nielsen’s tracking confirms last week’s reports that the McCain campaign has dramatically scaled back its expenditures in a state that is a must-win for the Republican unless he can somehow pick-up Pennsylvania. McCain has been largely absent from the state’s airwaves for days:

So with the campaign now entering its last days, the electoral map is getting clearer: The McCain campaign is truly scaling back its efforts in Colorado… while the RNC is being forced to pay attention attention to staunchly red states like West Virginia and Montana.

Take this as further evidence that the GOP is in such a precarious position that they can no longer finda  coherent strategy to reach 270 electoral votes and are left praying for an electoral college miracle.

Last week, Republicans realized that they could no longer afford playing in all the competitive states - nor in all the states they need to win to get McCain an electoral college majority. The GOP concluded that it needed to pick a few states in which to make a stand, and then hope that a shift of momentum put McCain in a position to capture states like Pennsylvania that right now appear out of reach.

This makes it somewhat puzzling that the GOP has chosen to make such an effort this late in the game in states like North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri - states Obama does not need to win the presidency.

McCain needs to prevail in at least one state in which Obama now enjoys a sizable lead (PA, CO and VA), and he will not be in a position to score such an upset unless he can first change the national mood (increased spending in Colorado could help him rise one or two points, not close a high single-digit gap). In other words, a necessary but not sufficient condition for a McCain victory in states he needs to wins is a tightening in national polls.

But if a meaningful change in the national environment were to occur, McCain has to assume that he would regain his footing in conservative-leaning states like North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri - meaning that the same phenomenon he desperately needs to achieve victory in Pennsylvania, Virginia or Colorado should help him protect his endangered base states.

In those conditions, was it a good decision for the McCain campaign to scale back expenditures in Colorado and use that money to shore up defenses elsewhere? Given that Colorado’s 9 electoral votes are so crucial to McCain’s survivals it seems incredible for Republicans to bank that a comeback would allow them to suddenly put Pennsylvania into play without similarly tightening Colorado, Wisconsin or Minnesota and without allowing McCain to gain an edge in staunchly red states.

Of course, that McCain is facing such painful dilemmas at all is a reflection of the Obama campaign’s brilliant map expansion strategy. Reading current campaign coverage, one might get the impression that all these states just suddenly appeared on our radar screen after the economic crisis struck; in fact, we had been talking about Indiana and North Carolina for months, as the Obama campaign has aired ads in them throughout the summer - so much so that we had been discussing Obama’s strategy at length ever since the wrapped up the Democratic nomination. Here is why I wrote, for instance, on July 21st:

It is probable, then, that Obama’s red state strategy will turn into a win-win scenario: Either they organize and advertise without a response and have a chance at pulling upsets or they force the GOP to defend states that should be on no one’s radar screen.

In fact, Obama’s red state strategy worked even better than that, and Democrats got the better of both worlds: They forced the GOP to play defense and Obama still has an excellent shot to pull off these upsets. And the reason for this is that Republicans woke up too late: Had they invested significant amounts in Indiana and North Carolina over the summer, they might have appealed to the electorate’s conservative instincts and crushed Obama’s growth before it was too late. This will no doubt be remembered as one of the main strategic mistakes of the McCain campaign.

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.

Ground wars: RNC spending in MT, Dems dominate early voting (Updated with Crist’s FL surprise)

If Barack Obama wins the national vote in a landslide, the election will most probably not be decided in a state-by-state warfare or on the basis of organizational muscle, but if McCain’s tightens the race in the coming days the election will of course be decided by the candidate’s ground game and investments in the most crucial swing states. So let’s take a look at the latest developments in early voting and presidential expenditures.

RNC in Montana and West Virginia: Barack Obama has had Montana’s airwaves all to himself for months; in West Virginia, he only started airing ads in the entire state a few weeks ago. The RNC’s independent expenditure division (i.e. this is not a decision made by the McCain campaign) is now going to air ads in both states. Both of their decision are somewhat surprising to me.

In Montana, the GOP could have afford to spend money months ago: this is a relatively cheap state to air ads in, and it will not cost the RNC that much to air these ads. But given how the electoral map is shaping now, it is very doubtful that Montana’s 3 electoral votes would make a difference. Under no obvious scenario would Obama be within 3 EVs of an electoral college majority. If he keeps blue states, IA and NM, he needs 5 more electoral votes; If Obama wins Colorado and Virginia but somehow loses Pennsylvania, he needs 4 more electoral votes. There is no one state with which Montana could be combined that wouldn’t also get Obama to 269 all by itself.

West Virginia, meanwhile, looks far less secure than it did a few weeks ago - but it is far less vulnerable than red states like Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina. With a few days of campaigning to go, it looks unlikely that West Virginia will go Democratic unless Obama wins a gigantic landslide that leaves him with more than 350 electoral votes. That is not the case in either of the three states I mentioned above, all of which look as competitive as they could possibly be. Given McCain’s relatively weak organization in IN or NC, for instance, it is conceivable that he loses either before losing Ohio or Florida.

Early voting: What is most remarkable about the latest early voting data is that turnout among Democratic voters continues to significantly outpace Republican turnout, and that the disparities we started witnessed two weeks ago is holding day after day. Yes, yesterday Nevada and North Carolina Republicans voted in greater numbers than they had over the past week, but they remained far under their share of the electorate - and the already-high share of Georgia’s African-American vote increased even more. Here is a quick overview of the most interesting developments:

  • In Georgia, more than 1,2 million voters have already voted, accounting for 22% of registered voters and 36% of the 2004 electorate. Amazingly, African-Americans increased their share of the electorate over the past day and now make up 35,3% of early voters.
  • In a heavily African-American suburb of Georgia, the waiting line yesterday was 12 hours - and people actually waited. I repeat: 12 hours. Would many of you wait for 12 hours before voting? It seems like the fear of disenfranchisement among African-Americans is pushing for massive early turnout.
  • In North Carolina, more than 200,000 voters cast a ballot yesterday alone, bringing the total above 1,4 million. That accounts for 22% of registered voters and 40% of the 2004 electorate. African-Americans make up 28,1% of early voters (they made up 19% of the 2004 electorate), and the partisan breakdown is: 54,1% Democratic, 28,1% Republican. That is actually a significant improvement for Republicans over the breakdown through yesterday.
  • Further confirmation of North Carolina’s statewide trends comes from county-specific data: Early voting turnout in heavily Democratic and heavily African-American Durham County, for instance, is remarkably high.
  • Louisiana might not be suspenseful at the presidential level, but the Senate race is competitive and early voting data offers us another look at black turnout: 34,3% of early voters are African-American for now (that is a smaller uptick than in other states, as African-Americans make up nearly 32% of the population according to the 2006 census estimates). Democrats outnumber Republicans 2:1.
  • In Florida, more than 2 million voters have already cast a ballot, accounting for 18% of registered voters and 27% of the 2004 electorate. The partisan breakdown is narrower than in other states (45-40 for Democrats) because of Republican success in implementing their absentee voter program, but far more Democrats are voting early in person, so the gap could widen.
  • In Colorado, a 25% of registered voters have already cast their ballot, accounting for 37,9% of the 2004 electorate. The partisan breakdown is outdated, however.
  • In Oregon, 18% of registered voters had returned their ballot by mail as of Monday (that means that all ballots mailed over the week-end are not yet included in the totals).
  • In Nevada, we can take a detailed look at the state’s 2 biggest counties (Clark and Washoe), which account for 87% of the state’s registered voters. In both states, the first week of early voting had Democrats turning out in incredible numbers - but Republicans have been voting in greater numbers over the past 3 days. That said, Democrats retain a commanding advantage.
  • In Clark County (which Kerry won by 5% in 2004) 34% of all registered voters have already cast a ballot. 54% of early voters are Democrats while 29% are Republicans; put it another way, 38% of registered Democrats have already voted, while 33% of registered Republicans have voted.
  • In swing Washoe County, which Bush won by 4%, 26% of all registered voters have already cast a ballot. 51% of early voters are Democratic and 33% are Republican - a far bigger advantage than the registration breakdown.

Now, this is not to say that the final voter breakdown will be anything like it is now, and polls indicate that far more Republican-leaning voters will vote on November 4th (PPP provides some detail in its new North Carolina survey: 49% of African-American likely voters have already cast a ballot versus 29% of white likely voters).

This does mean, however, that the Democratic base is enthusiastic, is heavily turning out this week - and will probably heavily turn out next week. In particular, it now looks guaranteed that there will be a significant boost in African-American turnout, boosting Democratic prospects. Obama’s turnout machine is functioning, and the burden is now on Republicans to demonstrate that they can match it. Given that this turnout gap is something we witnessed throughout the primary season, it will not necessarily be easy for Republicans to do. Can they really bring a 2:1 gap in Nevada and North Carolina all the way down to where it should be?

Also: while early voters are more likely to be partisans who would never change their mind rather than wavering voters who are locking in their votes while still being persuadable, early voting turnout is huge enough in some states (especially Colorado and North Carolina) that a number of voters who might have still moved back towards McCain might have already cast their ballot for Obama.

Update: Florida’s Republican Governor Charlie Crist just signed an executive order extending early voting hours in the Sunshine state, meaning that polls will now be open twelve hours a day rather than eight hours. Given how much effort Obama has put into boosting early voting in Florida, this is a major boost to his campaign and it should help Democrats get as many sporadic voters to the polls as they can while reducing lines and smoothing the process. Republicans are clearly not happy about this, though it will be difficult for them to complain too much given that Crist is a McCain surrogate - albeit an atypical one.

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: Opposite trends in OH and FL, Bachmann in trouble, GA Senate heading to runoff

Today’s polling roundup is certainly not as favorable to Barack Obama as yesterday’s, but there is still no sign that the tide is turning - with only 10 days of campaigning left before Election Day. The national polls, for one, remain where they have been for most of the past two weeks: Obama is above 50% in six of the seven tracking polls (a remarkable showing that confirms McCain has to do more than appeal to the undecided) while McCain is, once again, stuck in the low 40s (from 41% to 45%).

The one state in which McCain has not only stopped the bleeding but appears to be making up ground, however, is Florida. Over the past week, new surveys from Politico, Mason Dixon, Quinnipiac, PPP, Rasmussen, SUSA and Research 2000 all showed some movement (between 10% and 1%) towards the Republican nominee. That said, Obama remains ahead in a number of these surveys, and the best McCain can muster remains within the margin of error. The day’s second good news for McCain is a Rasmussen survey from North Carolina in which he is narrowly in the lead; this survey breaks a stunning series of 16 North Carolina polls without a McCain lead.

The overall picture that comes out of the day’s polling has little to suggest that McCain’s position in the electoral college is any less precarious than it was yesterday. That grabbing a 2% lead in North Carolina amounts to good news for McCain tell us all we need to know about the current dynamics and where the electoral battle is being waged. Besides North Carolina, the tightest states in this polling roundup are Indiana (where two polls find mirroring results) and… Georgia, where Obama grabs his first lead ever!

All three of these states were won by Bush by double-digits in 2004 - and they are the ones that look highly competitive today! The states that were expected to be tight continue to tilt towards Obama - and that is starting to include Ohio. Yes, McCain posts a 3% lead in a Strategic Vision poll, but Insider Advantage gives Obama a 10% lead which is very significant: No poll taken since the general election started had found Obama up by double-digits… until yesterday. Insider Advantage’s poll is the third poll in two days to have Obama leading by such a margin. On to the full polling roundup:

  • The tracking polls once again seem to converge towards the 7% mark, a margin that appears to be the epicenter of the race. Obama gains 3% in IBD/TIPP (46% to 42%), 2% in Research 2000 (52% to 40%) and Hotline (50% to 43%), 1% in Gallup (51% to 44%). Rasmussen remains stable, 52% to 45%. He loses 2% in Zogby (51% to 41%) and in Washington Post/ABC (53% to 44%). Thus, Obama’s leads today are: 4%, 7%, 7%, 7%, 9%, 10%, 12%
  • Ohio: Contrasting results and a wide gap in two polls: Obama leads by 10% in an Insider Advantage poll, his third double-digit lead in two days (there have been no others since he wrapped up the nomination), and he led by 5% in IA two weeks ago. However he trails 48% to 45% in a Strategic Vision poll of Ohio (he led by 2% two weeks ago).
  • North Carolina: McCain captures his first lead in a Rasmussen poll since September 18th, 50% to 48%. The poll was conducted last night, and it is a five point shift towards the Republican over a poll conducted on Saturday. This poll breaks a stunning series of 16 NC polls in which McCain had not led a single time.
  • Indiana: Contrasting results from two good pollsters: Obama leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll. McCain led by 3% three weeks ago. McCain leads 48% to 43% in a Mason Dixon poll.
  • New Hampshire: Obama leads 50% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll taken yesterday. He led by 10% three weeks ago, however, so there is some tightening.
  • Georgia: Obama leads 48% to 47% in a stunning Insider Advantage poll (this is the fourth IA poll in a row to find Obama gaining since McCain’s 18% lead in early September). McCain leads 50% to 44% in Strategic Vision.
  • Iowa: Obama leads 52% to 44% in a Rasmussen poll, maintaining his 8% lead from late September.
  • Michigan: Obama leads 54% to 40% in an EPIC-MRA poll (up from 10%).
  • Winthrop/ETV released three Southern polls today, all taken over an inexplicably long period of time: September 29th through October 19th! This means that these polls have very little value, but here they are nonetheless: Obama leads by 1% in Virginia and North Carolina and McCain leads by 20% in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • Georgia Senate race: Three polls show a tight race, all with GOP Sen. Chambliss leading within the MoE. He is ahead 44% to 42% in Insider Advantage (there was a 45% tie two weeks ago). Chambliss is also ahead 46% to 44% in a Strategic Vision poll, with 5% for Libertarian candidate Buckley.
  • North Carolina gubernatorial race: Pat McCrory leads 51% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll. He led by the same margin two weeks ago.
  • In MN-06, Elwin Tinklenberg leads GOP Rep. Michelle Bachmann 47% to 44% in a SUSA poll. He also leads 45% to 43% in a University of Minnesota poll, in which 40% of respondents say Bachmann’s rants makes them less likely to vote for her.
  • In IL-10, Dan Seals leads 49% to 44% against GOP Rep. Kirk in a Research 2000 poll. He trailed by 6% two weeks ago.
  • In KY-03, Rep. Yarmuth (D) leads 57% to 41% in a SUSA poll.
  • In FL-08, Alan Grayson leads 52% to 41% against GOP Rep. Keller in a DCCC internal. The Keller campaign responded by releasing an internal poll of their own taken over the same period and showing the incumbent ahead 47% to 43%.

The Georgia Senate race is in a category of its own at this point. Not only is it highly competitive (and the DSCC has already poured in more than $1 million), but the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Buckley could guarantee that the race goes in the runoff because of Georgia’s two-round of voting system. We can discuss another time who a runoff would help (and in my opinion it would clearly boost Chambliss), but for now an important metric is to look at how distant those candidates are from 50%.

In House races, meanwhile, the 5 independent polls all bring good news for Democrats - particularly the two from MN-06 that confirm that Bachmann’s comments have endangered her hold on the district. The polls were taken before the DCCC and Tinklenberg’s heavily funded ads had any chance to make an impact, so things could get worse for Bachmann.

Poll watch: Obama leads big in OH, PA, FL, IN and more; Franken narrowly ahead

The clock is running out, and the only good news for McCain today is a IBD/TIPP poll that has him only down 1%. But just like yesterday’s AP poll, that appears to be an outlier as seven other national polls show Obama firmly in command (not to mention that IBD/TIPP has McCain with more than 70% among 18-24 year-old respondents). In fact, Obama leads by double-digits in four of the day’s survey, and McCain remains stuck in the low 40s (39% to 45%) in all eight - including IBD/TIPP.

State polls are even more decisive, and they are breaking in favor of Obama rather than against him. Today’s line-up of surveys has Obama posting some big margins across the country, and what is significant is that these surveys come from different institutes, some of which have not been particularly friendly to the Democrat before (National Journal/All State or Big10, for instance). Obama leads by double-digits in five polls of Pennsylvania, three polls of Minnesota, two polls of Wisconsin, two polls of Ohio and one poll each of Michigan, Iowa and Indiana.

Obama also leads outside of the margin of error in two Florida surveys (something McCain has not done in a single Florida poll for four weeks) and captures a narrow advantage in Montana in the first poll that (finally) includes Ron Paul’s name. He is within striking distance in Georgia, where early voting turnout confirms that he has a shot at making the race very close.

Needless to say, Obama needs to capture very few of the states I just mentioned. If he wins just one of the Big Three (OH, PA and FL), he will be in a very good position to capture the presidency; two would ensure victory; and even an (at this point unlikely) defeat in all three would certainly not be the end of his ambitions: A sweep of Colorado, Virginia and Nevada (or any of these replaced by Indiana, Missouri or North Carolina) could replace the Keystone State. With all of this in mind, let’s go on to today’s full roundup:

  • Obama maintains a double-digit lead in the latest NYT/CBS poll. He is ahead 52% to 39% (he led by 14% last week). He leads by 6% among independents. 62% feel “personally connected” to Obama, 47% to McCain; more voters think Obama has the right temperament and personality to be president, and more voters think Obama would handle a crisis well. Palin’s favorability rating remains negative.
  • Obama keeps his dominant position in the tracking polls. He gains 2% in Zogby (52% to 40%) and 1% in Rasmussen (52% to 45%). The race stays stable in Hotline (48% to 43%), ABC/Washington Post (54% to 43%) and Research 2000 (51% to 41%). Obama slips 1% in Gallup (51% to 45%) and 3% in IBD/TIPP (where he is only up 1%, 45% to 44%). That puts Obama’s lead in the day’s trackings at: 1%, 5%, 6%, 7%, 10%, 11%, 12%.
  • Ohio: Obama leads by double-digits in two new polls, his biggest leads ever in the state. He leads 52% to 38% in a Quinnipiac survey (he led by 8% three weeks ago). He leads 53% to 41% in a Big 10 Battleground poll.
  • Florida: Obama leads outside of the MoE in two new surveys. He is ahead 49% to 44% in a new Quinnipiac poll (he led by 8% three weeks ago). He leads 49% to 42% in a St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald poll. Obama seizes a big lead among independents in the latter, which was taken Monday through Wednesday.
  • Indiana: Obama leads 51% to 41% in a Big10 poll. The race was tied in mid-September.
  • Michigan: Obama leads by a stunning 58% to 36% in a Big10 poll.
  • Georgia: McCain leads 51% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll. McCain led by 9% two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, in down the ballot polls:

  • Proposition 8 is losing 52% to 44% in a PPIC poll. However, the “no” was ahead 55% to 41% five weeks ago.
  • Minnesota’s Senate race: Democrat Al Franken narrowly leads in two polls. In Rasmussen, he is ahead 41% to 37% with 17% for Barkley. Two weeks ago, Franken led by 6%. In a University of Wisconsin poll, he is ahead 40% to 34% with 15% for Barkley.
  • In Kentucky’s Senate race, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell leads 47% to 43% in a Research 2000 poll.
  • In Georgia’s Senate race, GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss leads 47% to 45% in a Rasmussen poll. He led by 6% two weeks ago.
  • In Louisiana’s Senate race, Democratic Sen. Landrieu leads 53% to 43% in a Rasmussen poll. She led by 14% last month.
  • In Washington’s gubernatorial race, Democratic Gov. Gregoire leads 50% to 48% in a Rasmussen poll.
  • In IL-11, Democrat Debby Halvorson leads 50% to 37% in a new SUSA poll.
  • In PA-12, Democratic Rep. Murtha is only up 46% to 41% in a new Susquehanna poll.
  • In WA-08, Democrat Darcy Burner storms back to grab a 50% to 46% lead in a new SUSA poll. Reichert trailed by 10% three weeks ago.
  • In MI-09, Democrat Gary Peters leads 46% to 36% against Rep. Knollenberg in a DCCC internal.
  • In OH-15, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy leads 44% to 36% in a DCCC poll. She led by the same margin three three weeks ago.
  • In AL-02, Democrat Bobby Bright leads 50% to 43% in a DCCC poll.

Senate: It is difficult to know what to make of the Minnesota Senate race. Barkley is holding stable just under 20%, but his support is not firm: It could end up at a far lower point, but it could also end up rising if voters come to think he has a chance of pulling it off. In either case, it is impossible to know how that would affect Coleman and Franken’s totals.

House: Democrats get great news from SUSA. Darcy Burner appeared to be fading in WA-08, but she has now led in three polls in a row. The first two were Democratic polls, now an independent pollster confirms her comeback. IL-11 was once going to be an easy pick-up before GOP candidate Ozinga proved surprisingly resilient. Now, the Democratic surge appears to have buried Republican prospects of a come-from-behind victory here.

Furthermore, a trio of DCCC poll completes the strong news for Democrats, especially when combined with the NRCC pulling out of MI-09. That said, Susquehanna’s poll from PA-12 confirms the Democrats’ worst fear that Rep. Murtha’s recent comments about his districts has endangered his re-election prospects.

As McCain pushes back on CO report, early voting looms large on strategic decisions

We are now two weeks from Election Day, with as much time remaining until all votes are cast as has elapsed since the second debate… and it’s not clear whether John McCain has made any progress in the intervening time.

In fact, the electoral map is getting increasingly difficult for the Arizona Senator. The last thing a campaign wants to do in late October is waste time arguing over whether it still believes it can win the race, but that is exactly the position the McCain campaign found itself yesterday after John King reported on CNN that Republicans no longer believed they could win Colorado. Such an admission would have essentially been a concession, as McCain would have to win Pennsylvania to offset Colorado’s loss - and we aren’t even talking about the other endangered red states.

The McCain campaign immediately pushed back on King’s report, pointing out that the RNC was spending money in the state and denying that the McCain campaign had any plans to pull back of Colorado. But it is hard to read the GOP’s response as a particularly enthusiastic one, and Republican operatives undoubtedly realize that the Centennial State is a tough state for them to hold. And we should not be too harsh on McCain’s decision to concentrate on Pennsylvania: He is currently trailing in a number of states he absolutely must win, so he has no choice but to play heavily in states in which he looks weak.

The McCain campaign’s logic is the only one they can latch onto: They will not win the election unless the national margin tightens up in the first place, and if that happens states like Pennsylvania and Colorado that were close in mid-September could very well become competitive again. In one sense, saying that McCain should stop contesting Pennsylvania is almost like saying that he should stop contesting the election all-together, and just fully close down the show is the one thing a campaign cannot do.

That Pennsylvania does not have early voting helps those calculations since it means that Obama cannot take advantage of the current climate to turnout enthusiastic Democrats or lock the votes of unwavering supporters. Colorado, by contrast, does have early voting (which started yesterday, and the first signs point to a strong turnout) and an extensive mail-in program, which could make it more difficult for McCain to play catch-up.

Elsewhere, early voting continues at a strong pace - and one that remains favorable to Democrats. Here our now perhaps-daily update:

  • In North Carolina, we have now reached 480,000 early voters (that’s 140,000 more than yesterday). The partisan breakdown is overwhelmingly Democratic, 56,1% to 27,4%. That’s a slight improvement over yesterday for Democrats.
  • In Georgia, the latest total is 757,666 early voters, of which 35,7% are African-American.
  • In Nevada, 59% of early voters are Democrats, 25% are Republican, a stunning ratio that far outpaces the 2004 breakdown, where Democratic early voters outpaced Republicans by a few points, not 2:1.
  • Early indicators are that Florida’s early voting (which kicked off yesterday) is also going strongly, though there are no hard numbers (yet?).

As I said yesterday, none of this tells us what the partisan breakdown will be on November 4th, and we can be sure that 59% of Nevada voters will not be Democrats once all ballots are cast. However, we aren’t talking about small groups of voters here, but significant shares of the electorate. This is the most remarkable illustration of the enthusiasm gap we have seen since the early months of 2008 when turnout in Democratic primaries constantly outpaced that of Republican contests.

A scenario in which Democratic voters turn out in far greater numbers than Republicans has been worrying GOP operatives for a year now, and if those trends hold (albeit at a far less dramatic scale), it could prove a disaster for Republicans up and down the ballot. It also puts the burden on the GOP to replicate their 2004 turnout effort, for anything less than that is unlikely to overcome Obama’s machine.

And it is escaping no one’s attention that even some high-profile Republicans have been doing very little this year to motivate the base; Florida’s Charlie Crist, for instance, has been largely absent from the campaign trail, and he barely spent any time talking about the presidential race while stumping for state-level candidates yesterday: “Crist mentioned McCain at each of the three stops, but only fleetingly, devoting more time to candidates like Nancy Detert, running for an open state Senate seat in Sarasota.” This comes on the day after the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Florida Republican Party was considering withholding millions of dollars to use in subsequent cycles.

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