Tuesday, August 26, 2008


John McCain's Strategy: Thread the Needle

Many have mentioned that in some odd ways this election has some similarities with 2000. On many levels, it does not (war, no "incumbent", non-apathetic voters). But take Obama's campaign, a young politician with not of experience choosing an old Washington insider as his veep.

But it's electoral map strategy is also quite similar, put the opposing side on defense and go into their turf. George Bush went onto Al Gore's turf in Arkansas, Louisiana, Arizona, New Hampshire (6,000 votes... Ralph Nader mad the difference), West Virginia (you know that was once a solidly blue state?), and of course, Tennessee. Had Al Gore won any of those states, perhaps the utter mess of the past eight years would just be some horrific nightmare inflicted upon us by a Stephen King novel.

Barack Obama is on once Republican land this year. Montana, Alaska, the Dakotas (though I don't buy those two), Colorado, Virginia, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and New Mexico are states that W. won and Obama hopes to win. He will without much doubt capture Iowa and probably New Mexico (though that state is always tricky to poll due to the American Indian population). Unfortunately for Obama, these two states only get him to 264 electoral votes when combined with Kerry's 2004 performance.

On 538 and RCP, Obama currently is projected to win Colorado plus the other two states I mentioned. Colorado does put him over the top to 273 electoral votes. Somehow in some way, McCain manages to hold the fort in all of those other states. Of course, he is barely holding on.... leads of less than a point on 538 and less than 3 points on RCP in these states are not uncommon. Obama could easily win Virginia, Ohio, and Florida and welcome to blowout city.

A week ago when McCain was leading in Colorado, Silver's models had a slightly difference look than today.
Things get confusing, however, when looking at the electoral college. We project Obama to earn slightly more electoral votes on average. However, we also project John McCain to win the election slightly more often. What accounts for the discrepancy? Obama's wins tend to be larger, and McCain's tend to be smaller. If Obama wins this election by between 7 or 10 points, there are very few high-EV states that he won't be able to put into play; even something like Texas is probably winnable. If McCain were to win by that margin, on the other hand, he would still almost certainly lose New York, he would almost certainly lose Illinois, and he would almost certainly lose California. Those states represent 107 electoral votes that are essentially off-limits to McCain, even on his very best days.

With perhaps the hope of a Michigan and New Hampshire victory, McCain has got to defend all of these states in order to win the election. And shockingly, he might just do it..... if Al Gore was nearly able to thread the needle and win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Mexico to come up 4 electoral vote short, perhaps McCain can.....

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