Never mind the overall polls which are creeping back towards Obama after the conventions. And never mind that no one knows what's going to happen during and after the debates. Assuming there are no more major game changers (which is a large assumption) Obama's got several paths to victory, detailed here:
First, a couple more assumptions:
-- Obama wins all the Kerry states, except perhaps New Hampshire (4 EV). More on one particular aspect of this later.
-- Obama wins Iowa (7 EV). He's been up in Iowa since pretty much day one. In our opinion, Iowa deserves a special place in all our hearts. They're the ones that started this whole thing. If Obama doesn't win in Iowa, Hillary's probably the nominee. It was a hallmark event, showing that Obama had appeal to rural, white, and independent voters. It also showcased the Obama team's superior groundgame. Basically, Iowa propelled Obama to this point. Perhaps for that reason, Obama's been up solidly in Iowa the entire election process. It's probably the same reason why McCain is so competitive in New Hampshire. Both states are probably proud of the fact they propelled the party nominee to victory.
-- The Obama ground game is much superior to McCain's. It's tough to say whether this has already had any effect in the polls already, but I think it's fair to say that the Obama team will do a better job of generating turnout in battleground states. Maybe it's worth a percentage point. Maybe it's worth three.
-- An electoral tie (269 - 269 EV) is a win for Obama. In this convoluted scenario, each state in the House of Representatives gets one vote. Democrats currently have a majority of state delegation majorities. However, it is unclear who each representative would cast their vote for. For instance, would they vote for their party nominee or with the state who elected them? Would they vote according to their district or with the popular vote winner. And the statistical chance of a 269-269 electoral tie is certainly not negligible. All it would take is Obama winning the Kerry states (252 EV - note: Kerry actually only got 251 EVs because one elector voted for ), minus New Hampshire (-4 EV), plus Iowa (+7 EV), Colorado (+9 EV) New Mexico (+5 EV). This is actually a pretty likely scenario.
-- Obama wins Michigan (a Kerry state, 17 EV). This is the proverbial turd in the punch bowl. A McCain victory here might just do Obama in. While Obama's been up in most Michigan polls, something about this state just doesn't sit right with me. It's loaded with NRA members and only has one major urban center. It seems like Michigan has a chance at being 2004 Ohio, where all the exit polls looked great for Kerry, then all the rural votes started coming in and piling up for Bush. Fivethirtyeight.com projects an 83% chance at Obama winning Michigan. That doesn't pass the smell test with DMS. While we do think Obama will win it, based on its strong Democratic voting history, we don't really trust it to be in the Obama camp just yet. And if it does go McCain, it'll probably be amidst a large overall swing for him and it won't really be that close on November 4.
At this point we have this electoral map.
Mathematically (Kerry states + Iowa) we're at 255 EV for Obama. So let's look at Obama's possible paths to victory:
Win Florida (27 EV) or Ohio (20 EV). Yes, we know these states well. Florida was the culprit of the most convoluted electoral result in history. And Ohio and their gay-marriage hating constituents were John Kerry's downfall. Florida has shown McCain with a small lead for a while and it seems likely to hold, what with all those old people down there in the "nation's schlong." Ohio is probably more likely to tilt Obama. It might all be about turnout once again. And there may not be a state where the Obama ground game is going to be more critical in determining its winner.
Win Indiana (11 EV) / Virginia (13 EV) /Missouri (11 EV) and New Hampshire (4 EV) / New Mexico (5 EV). Indiana and Missouri may be a little far fetched. However, the McCain campaign is taking a huge risk by putting no resources into Indiana. Obama's near win over Hilary in the primaries pretty much sealed the deal for the Democratic nominee. It's next door to Illinois and we all found out how important Gary was this past year. Virginia, however, is looking ripe. It's either tied or McCain by a few. Here's another state where the ground game might be critical. Out west, New Mexico is quickly becoming Obama's. In fact, we could probably add that in to the assumptions after another solid week of +6 to +10 polling.
Win New Hampshire (4 EV), Nevada (5 EV) and New Mexico (5 EV). This would result in the fabled electoral tie, which we're assuming goes to Obama.
Win Colorado (9 EV) and either New Mexico (5 EV) or Nevada (5 EV). Another electoral tie. This might be the easiest path to "victory." As we said, New Mexico's almost in the Obama column already and Colordo is polling about +2 to +5 for Obama, although it warrants mentioning that McCain is a lot closer than he was a month ago in Colorado.
These are the main scenarios for a squeaker victory. Obviously there is the possibility of Obama winning two of the major electoral players. But the fact there are so many permutations for an Obama victory is instructive.
Put another way, here's what has to happen for a McCain victory:
Must win Flordia AND Ohio AND Virginia AND Indiana AND Missouri AND Colorado AND New Hampshire. Or something like that.
In 2000, Democrats bemoaned the electoral college system, crying out that it's undemocratic. While that may be true, they might be thankful for it this November.
A couple more lingering thoughts...
You know what's weird? Obama is strangley competitive in West Virginia. For having not campaigned there at all in the primaries, lost by 200 percentage points, not having campaigned there since, and being, you know, half-black, how is he within 5 points? I wonder if it is too late to get going there. Too, the poll referenced here was right in the middle of the McCain convention bounce. I think it might be time for some guerilla campaigning. Even though it's just 5 EV, it would add several more winning permutations for Obama.
I'll never understand that state. I mean, it voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988. California didn't even vote Dukakis! What are the odds of California turning red and WV blue in 2008? A million to one? A trillion to one? Even at a trillion to one odds, I think I'd take the trillion, meaning if I win, you pay me a dollar, and if you win, I pay you a trillion dollars. Anyone want to take me up on that bet?
A couple more turds in the punchbowl...
We still have the debates and you just never know. Basically Obama just has to not screw up. He's playing from ahead here. And even when Kerry handily won all three debates against Bush in 2004 it didn't win him in the election. We weren't too impressed with Obama at Saddleback, even if we liked his answers. There's no question that McCain is more used to the unscripted affairs. We're just praying he makes another geography mistake.
Polling theories that could swing a few points towards McCain: the Bradley effect, the Shy Tories theory, and just plain ol' racism.
Also, and this one's a little more viable: undecideds tend to break hard for Republicans. This was true in 2004 and may even be more pronounced in 2008. Obama needs to get to 47% in all these states. 45% and he might get beat out at the last minute.
What should be McCain's strategy, electoral college-wise? Well, I'll give him two options:
1) Go for broke in Pennsylvania and Michigan, hope to hold Ohio and Florida. If he wins PA or MI, it renders this entire post (and therefore my entire Saturday night) moot. And we won't have to stay up very late wondering who the winner will be. Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa will all be pointless in such a scenario. And it certainly is possible.
2) Win Colorado and New Mexico and pray to God that everything else remains static. Hope that Virginia sticks with tradition and votes red. Hope that all those Appalachian Ohioans turn out. Hope that all those old people in Florida don't get confused again (or maybe that they DO get confused).
It's clear that Obama will have a lot more funds, a lot more of a ground game, and a more established presence in all the aforementioned states. So McCain needs to take his public funding and either be real smart with it or hope that there's something that shows up at the last minute that saves the day.
Now if you'll excuse us, our brain is going to explode.