There are a couple of ways to be an optimist about Senator McCain's chances. One is to look to the comeback that he made in the Republican primaries, and the comeback in Iraq that he championed. Perhaps the public will belatedly wake up to the superiority of his adult foreign policy; the differences in energy, trade and tax policies; and the tremendous downside of a Washington controlled by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama. The ability of McCain to overcome the unpopularity of George W, the length of the war, and the stuttering economy seems to ebb and flow, to be affected next by vice presidential selections and the implications of growing budget deficits. One can hope, with or without audacity.
But it is not really a national election; it is 50 state elections, and most are irrelevant. To see which are relevant, how close they are, and how they add up toward the necessary 270 electoral votes, I use a combination of fivethirtyeight, Realclearpolitics, and 270towin. The first two are great for poll results; the latter provides an interactive map which allows you to play your own "what if's."
First, a comment on polls. All are not created equal. The pollsters would argue about the phrasing and sequencing of questions, the weariness of the populace with polls, a lack of honesty about biases (race; age;religion), the identification of "likely voters" (slightly more conservative than "all voters"), the implications of the move from landlines to cell phones (reduce younger sampling), and such. The reality is that polls sponsored by Fox and the Wall Street Journal lean to the right; those by Newsweek, the New York Times, and CBS lean to the left. Rasmussen is pretty good. Averages help, but they are averages. Changes over time are probably as meaningful as the absolute numbers. Data is sparse in some states.
That said, 15 states (including D.C.) with 190 votes are solidly Democratic while 22 states with 174 votes are solidly Republican. There may be some head fakes to try to get the other party to waste campoaign money, but 68% of the country doesn't count, including large Obama majorities in California, New York, and Illinois.
A second group of states has a history and a polling leaning one way or the other. Of these, I would give Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to Obama for 48 votes, and Missouri and North Carolina to McCain for 26 votes. That leaves Obama with 238, and McCain with 200 of the 270 needed.
So, for the states that are currently within a few percent, the McCain strategy comes down to Florida (27), Ohio (20), and another 23 between Michigan (17), Virginia (13), Colorado (9), New Mexico (5), Nevada (5), and New Hampshire (4). Since Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio took his name off of Obama's potential VP list, the main players in this scene are Virginia Governor Tim Kaine for Obama, and governor Charlie Crist of Florida or Mitt Romney (who might bring Michigan and the Mormon vote in Nevada) for McCain. I would assume that Florida is winnable without Crist on the ticket, but that Michigan is not winnable without Romney.
Two points for the reader. It is very close at the state/electoral college level, and if you live in one of the swing states, everything that you can do will matter. For the rest - send money.
This week's You Tube: a re-writing of the history of Obama's position on meeting with Ahmedinijad of Iran, put in a broader context. With Iraq apparently solved and North Korea on the edge of solution, Iran will become the critical foreign policy challenge of the next administration.
Bill Bowen - 8/1/08