As Al Gore would begrudgingly remind you, there is only one way to the White House and it is through the Electoral College. That is unfortunate news for the McCain-Palin ticket, because recent polls in important battleground states are showing voters move in an Egyptian-style exodus towards the Promised Land of Obama-Biden. Short of McCain parting the economic Red Sea or raining national security locusts down on liberal activists, a win for him in the election is becoming a mathematical improbability. Postponement-gate is looking like it will be a disaster for McCain, whose aides issued a statement today saying that he will participate in tonight’s debate, despite the fact that consensus on an economic stimulus package for Wall Street has fallen apart. This is not to mention Palin’s Titantic-sized collapse on CBS News at the behest of the huggable Katie Couric, who gained my respect as a prime-time anchor by calling Palin out on her inability to construct a sentence in the English language.
According to realclearpolitics.com, which averages all available polling data to create a fairly accurate index of where voters stand, the Democrats are starting to run away with the election. Intrade market odds – created for compulsive gamblers who could not confine their betting to the ponies – have spiked in Obama’s favor, 56.8 to 42.3. Further, McCain’s averaged favorability ratings, an excellent indicator of how independents plan to vote, has fallen 3% this week alone. I am sure that many of you think these numbers are less scientific than the Wassila Assembly of God, considering the variety of poll data that has been released this week. In my defense, I would like to turn to the Electoral College for a moment, to remind you all of the uphill battle that McCain faces. One would think that this exercise should be positive for a ticket including Palin, who has a great deal of experience in college, as she attended six colleges in as many years. Unfortunately, unlike the many schools that Palin attended, this “College” is a little bit harder to pass.
As it stands right now, Obama-Biden has 171 solid electoral votes in the bag, while McCain-Palin has 158. States that are considered “solid” for either candidate are leaning more than two statistical deviations, or about +8-10%, in a candidate’s favor. These include states like California, New York and Illinois for Obama; Arizona, Alabama and Texas for McCain. Obviously, thirteen electoral votes is not much of a lead when a presidential candidate needs to hit 270 (or win a Supreme Court case about hanging chads and engage in massive voting fraud) in order to be elected. But, factoring in states that are “leaning” towards one candidate or the other with greater than one statistical deviation, or about +4-5%, portrays an entirely different story. Here, Obama has Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, and New Jersey, which total fifty-seven electoral votes. That puts him at 228, just forty-two away from the Presidency. McCain, on the other hand, has only five electoral votes “leaning” in his favor with less than forty days left on the campaign. What state is leaning in McCain’s favor, you ask? West Virginia, which should have been a lock for the Republicans a long time ago, but, with the events of the last week, has unexpected moved away from McCain.
When comparing Obama’s 228 to McCain’s 163, one could rationally conclude that these numbers do not mean much, considering the hefty 147 votes still up in the air and the possibility that states currently “leaning” in Obama’s favor could defect. Polling data and recent presidential selections in these states, however, tell a darker story for the hopes of McCain’s campaign. In Colorado and New Mexico, states that were widely considered to be toss-ups only a couple of weeks ago, are now an average of +5.4% and +6.0% in Obama’s favor, respectively. Both of those states went to Bush in the last election, but Obama is polling at over fifty percent – a fairly impressive “mandate”, to borrow a phrase from Dubya. Washington state is currently an average of +6.0% for Obama, while New Jersey is a pretty solid +7.0%. Michigan, which the McCain campaign thought they could realistically seize, is now an average of +5.2% in Obama’s favor. The economy really hurt McCain in the heart of the Rust-Belt, where economic difficulties are nothing new. Worse for McCain, Washington, New Jersey, and Michigan were all strong supporters of both the Kerry and Gore tickets, making it pretty easy to see that they aren’t going anywhere for Obama. That being said, without any defections, McCain would have to win 107 of 147 of the remaining electoral votes in order to just clear the 270-election hurdle. So, what about those “toss-up” states? Let’s have a look.
The critical toss-up states are Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina, with each holding at least fifteen electoral votes. These five battleground states compose ninety-six of the remaining electoral votes, which means that McCain has to win just about all of them to have a chance (remember, he needs 107 of 147 to win). Pennsylvania is almost a lock for the Obama campaign. He is polling at +3.5% and it went to both Kerry and Gore in the last two elections. If you give Obama Pennsylvania, at twenty-one electoral votes, you start to see just how dire McCain’s position is. He would have to win 107 of the remaining 126 to just barely win the election. Clearly, Florida and Ohio could go either way, but both went to Bush in the last two elections. So, for argument’s sake, I’ll give them to McCain. That would put his total up to 211. Not bad, but we are running out of states.
Virginia is one of the most interesting states in this election, because it is demonstrating that the urban sprawl of D.C. is finally having a significant impact on presidential politics there. Obama has a very slim average lead of +0.3%, making it statistically impossible to tell who is actually ahead. McCain, however, if he was doing anywhere near as well as he needs to, should have locked this historically sanguine-red state down a long time ago. The same goes for North Carolina, where McCain is polling at an average of +3.5%. This is not nearly as strong as Bush, who took the state by a double digit margin. Giving McCain every benefit of the doubt, I’ll give him both Virginia and North Carolina, despite the statistical vagueries of their polling data. That puts McCain at 239. If Obama wins the traditionally blue states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, where he is significantly ahead in the polls, then he finds himself at 269. Obama would only have to win either New Hampshire or Nevada, both of which are statistical toss-ups, to clinch the win. Even if he failed to do that, he would still win the election. How? Because 269-269 ties go to the House of Representatives to be broken by a simple majority – and we all know who controls that body of government.
My point in performing this long numbers game is to show that even in John McCain’s dream scenario, he would still lose. Moreover, I cannot imagine that Obama won’t pick up at least one of the following states: Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, or Virginia. Indeed, as Karl Rove pointed out in the Wall Street Journal this week, the first debate will be decisive. If McCain does anything less than clean the floor with Obama, it’s safe to say that this election is just about over.