The only thing McCain’s done to give himself a (temporary) boost was picking Sarah Palin just before his successful party convention in mid-September. But that’s long worn off, and the recent financial turmoil has helped Obama.
But Al Gore can tell you that the popular vote isn’t what counts. It’s all about, as Homer Simpson puts it, the Electrical College. (Information for the below comes from RealClearPolitics.)
You need 270 electoral votes to become President.
The following states seem to be solidly for McCain: Georgia, Montana, Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, N Dakota, S Dakota, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, S Carolina, Oklahoma and Alaska. W Virginia is pretty consistently leaning in his direction, so let’s throw that in as well.
The following seem to be solidly for Obama: Oregon, Iowa, California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland and DC.
Maine had been showing strongly for Obama but the two most recent polls show his lead narrowing. In theory, Maine can split its four electoral votes (though in 26 years it never has) – let’s say McCain manages to grab one of these votes and Obama three. Michigan has been leaning towards Obama for some time but has recently gone more strongly in his direction, and yesterday McCain pulled staff and advertising out of the state to focus elsewhere, so let’s give it to Obama.
On these assumptions, McCain has 164 electoral votes in the bag and Obama 187.
Polls in Missouri and Indiana show McCain’s once-middling lead narrowing sharply, and polls in Virginia, N Carolina and Nevada are all over the place, oscillating between modest leads for either candidate. Let’s say McCain carries these five, taking him to 219.
A number of states are leaning towards Obama. In each of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington, at least the last ten polls all put him ahead, with the average of the last five polls giving at least five-point leads in each state. If he carries these, that takes him to 244.
Given all this, Obama is 26 votes short of a win, McCain 51 short. The remaining states (with electoral votes and five most recent poll leads – latest first) are:
- Florida (27ev): BO +4, BO+3, BO+4, BO+8, tied
- Ohio (20ev): JM+1, BO+8, BO+2, JM+1, JM+1
- Minnesota (10ev): JM+1, BO+11, BO+2, BO+8, BO+2
- Colorado (9ev): BO+1, BO+4, BO+3, BO+9, BO+7
- New Mexico (5ev): BO+5, BO+8, BO+11, BO+8, BO+7
- New Hampshire (4ev): BO+10, BO+12, BO+4, BO+1, BO+1
Florida would give Obama the presidency. So McCain has to win it – despite these latest polls, that’s very possible. Up to a week ago, he was modestly, yet pretty consistently, ahead there.
If he takes Florida, McCain also needs to win either of the following combinations: Ohio plus any one of the others; or Minnesota plus Colorado plus New Mexico. Either is possible, but it does look like the odds favour Obama.
Bear in mind that I’ve favoured McCain in some of my earlier assumptions. If I’m wrong about either Virginia or N Carolina, which I gave to him despite the erratic polls, then it becomes much harder for him: he’d need Florida plus Ohio plus Minnesota plus Colorado. If I’m wrong about both Virginia and N Carolina, then Obama’s in the White House regardless of those last six states.
A lot can happen in a month, and it never pays to underestimate the Democrats’ talent for losing elections, but - tentatively - I’m saying Obama.