McCain's Electoral College MathBy Richard Baehr
The goal of a party is first and foremost to win, which means getting to 270 Electoral college votes. The popular vote margin is a secondary issue (though bigger margins give the winner more of a national mandate, and help the party's candidates down ballot). Al Gore won the popular vote by 0.5% in 2000, Bush by 2.4% in 2004. In the Electoral College, George Bush won 271 in 2000 and 286 in 2004. Only three states: Iowa, New Mexico and New Hampshire shifted from 2000 to 2004, the first two moving to the GOP, New Hampshire to the Democrats.
At the start of this seemingly interminable Presidential campaign, Democrats saw a very favorable Electoral College map. With Hillary Clinton as the likely nominee, Democrats believed they could turn many states from red to blue, including Ohio (20), Florida (27), Iowa (7), New Mexico (5), Nevada (5), Colorado (9), and possibly Arizona (11), Virginia (13), West Virginia (5), and Missouri (11). But Clinton is unlikely to get the nomination.
Barack Obama is a far weaker candidate in many of these targeted states, but in particular in Ohio, Florida., Missouri, Arkansas, and West Virginia. McCain takes Arizona off the table against either nominee. Obama is polling better than Clinton in the competitive southwestern states and Iowa, as well as in Oregon, but trails badly in Virginia, which has elected a string of Democrats in recent years to statewide office. Some Democratic Party officials have written off Florida if Obama is the nominee (in some surveys he trails in the state by 10% or more, though he only trails by 4% in the Rasmussen survey). The Rasmussen survey shows McCain with a 7% lead over Obama in Ohio. Obama lost badly in that state's Democratic primary (by 10% to Clinton) winning only 5 of 88 counties. Now having insulted rural voters for their attachment to guns and God, the state has become even less friendly turf for him.
The Electoral math looks this way: if Florida and Ohio are safe for McCain, and Virginia and Missouri are too, as they now all appear to be, then McCain has a base of 260 Electoral College votes of the 270 he needs to win. He would need to only win 10 from among the states Bush won last time that are in play this year: Colorado (currently tied), New Mexico (3 point Obama lead), Iowa (4 point Obama lead) and Nevada (4 point Obama lead), and several tempting blue states in which McCain is currently competitive: Michigan (18), Pennsylvania (21), New Jersey (15) Wisconsin (10), Minnesota (10), Oregon (7), and New Hampshire (4), among them.
McCain currently is narrowly ahead of Obama in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Michigan, and behind in the others. A Marist survey last week shocked many by showing McCain ahead of Obama by 2% in New York State (an 18% Kerry win in 2004). If McCain is within 10% of winning in New York in November, he will not need the state to win the election, for he likely will have won most or all of the blue states on his target list above.