For the most part, the battleground in the 2008 presidential race will look a lot like the battleground in 2004 and 2000.
John McCain enjoyed something of a surge in August, but our Electoral College analysis ultimately breaks down the same way it did one month ago: a one-state Obama victory.
But given the closeness of the race, there is plenty of opportunity for McCain to pick up another state or two that would put him over the top in electoral votes.
First, there are three states currently leaning towards the Democrats that President Bush won over John Kerry: Colorado, Iowa and New Mexico. All are within reach for McCain.
Pennsylvania, won by Kerry in 2004, is another opportunity for McCain, given how poorly Obama did in the primary there against Hillary Clinton. Michigan, with its blue-collar “Reagan Democrats,” has had both candidates narrowly ahead at various times this year and its 17 electoral votes would give McCain a nationwide victory even if he loses a smaller state currently in his column.
New Hampshire has been a swing state for the past several elections and the polls are close enough that a McCain push could win the state where he spent so much time during the primary. Wisconsin and Minnesota present additional opportunities for McCain.
Also, Obama has some chances to extend his lead. Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Missouri and Nevada are his best bets to pick up another state currently in the McCain column. If Obama wins either of the big electoral states of Ohio and Florida, it is hard to see how McCain can win.
But McCain, compared to Bush, looks stronger in Florida (possibly winning that state handily) and Pennsylvania, where he may have a chance. But basically the bottom line is the same as it always is: McCain needs to win Ohio to win the White House.
Electoral vote projection of Obama 273, McCain 265.
State by state overview
Alabama (9 Electoral Votes): McCain will be safe in this Deep South state. Solid Republican.
Alaska (3): While this state’s GOP is undergoing political upheaval, and Democrats could possibly steal a House and a Senate seat thanks to corruption on the part of entrenched Republican incumbents, on a national level, this is a solidly Republican state. McCain doesn’t help himself by opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), but he shouldn’t have to worry about this state. Solid Republican.
Arizona (10): Karl Rove has worried about Arizona in the past, in part because of the immigrant influx. But this is McCain’s home state, and he will carry it easily. Solid Republican.
Arkansas (6): The Democratic stronghold in the South, Arkansas has two safe Democratic senators, and three of four congressmen are Democrats. Still, Obama will struggle in all Southern states, and this one is no more friendly than the others. Solid Republican.
California (55): Every four years Republicans talk about having a chance here, and they give a new reason. In truth, Republicans need to raise funds in wealthy Orange County and other rich parts of the Golden State, and writing off this once-Republican state is not a good way to extract campaign cash from it.
This year, the November ballot will contain a constitutional amendment on gay marriage — overturning the recent state supreme court decision that the state must approve same-sex marriages — which could boost McCain. But while gay-marriage initiatives have helped Republican candidates in the past (especially in 2004), the turnout effect in California won’t be huge, nor is McCain the natural candidate for anti-gay-marriage voters, considering his opposition to a federal marriage amendment in Congress.
Liberal, black, and college populations will turn out in droves for Obama, while immigration resentment in San Diego and the Los Angeles will hurt McCain, the author of the 2006 amnesty bill. Solid Democratic.
Colorado (9): Obama still hasn’t gotten close to 50% in most Colorado polls, which is bad news for him. The good news for Obama is that the GOP brand here is very unpopular, as exemplified by the U.S. Senate race, which could become a Democratic blow-out. Add in the rock-concert-like convention in Denver, and this state tilts towards Obama. Leaning Democratic.
Connecticut (7): Connecticut is liberal and Democratic, and a hawkish Republican is not going to do well. Wealthy white liberals with advanced degrees are a big chunk of Obama’s base. Solid Democratic.
Delaware (3): While Al Gore’s win here in 2000 and John Kerry’s in 2004 were not dominant, and Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner barely won reelection in 2004, the pick of Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate makes this state an easy win for Democrats. Solid Democratic.
District of Columbia (3): If you live in D.C. and you’re not black, you’re probably a rich liberal lawyer or lobbyist. This could be a blowout of unprecedented proportions. Libertarian nominee Bob Barr could challenge McCain for second place with about 4% each. Solid Democratic.
Florida (27): Crucial to a Republican victory, Florida is looking promising for McCain early on. In the primaries, McCain scored a big win here, while Obama boycotted the state and is now working to patch up relations. Even before the general election began, McCain had the edge here.
The senior-citizen vote throughout the state will tilt strongly towards McCain for three reasons: He is one of them. Older white voters will be hesitant to elect a black president and such a young president. And the large veteran community will be warm towards McCain. Add in Obama’s stance of engagement with Cuba and a possible Jewish problem, and things stack up well for McCain. Obama could certainly win Florida, but don’t be surprised if it starts to fade off the radar screen by October and the McCain grip on it tightens. Leaning Republican.
Georgia (15): Many Republicans are worried that Obama could win Georgia, because Barr could gather a good chunk of the vote running on the Libertarian ticket and black turnout is expected to be high while evangelical enthusiasm for McCain could be low. McCain may have to work to hold onto the Peach State, but Obama’s chances are generally overstated. Barr’s early poll showings are far higher than he will realistically get, and higher black turnout will be offset by even more conservative white Democrats moving into the R column. Leaning McCain.
Hawaii (4): Obama will dominate his native state in November, as he dominated it in March. McCain can save on airfare and reduce his carbon footprint by skipping this state. Solid Democratic.
Idaho (4): This state is too pro-gun and pro-life to vote for Obama. Bush won 2-1 here twice. This year won’t be much different. Solid Republican.
Illinois (21): Obama’s home hasn’t been a swing state in a while, and this is not the year. Obama will dominate here. Solid Democratic.
Indiana (11): Talk of a possible Obama win in the Hoosier State ought to start fading away soon, now that Obama has passed over Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh as his VP pick . A recent Rasmussen survey showed the race for Indiana’s 11 electoral votes close, but that’s a bit misleading. Obama’s unfavorable ratings in this state are high — and this is a state he spent considerable energy and time trying to win during the primary season. The large undecided vote will break strongly for McCain. The campaigns might forget about this one by October. Solid Republican.
Iowa (7): While Iowa is certainly its own creature politically, Obama’s strong showing in early head-to-head polls ought to give Republicans reason to worry about this part of the Heartland. Democrats picked up two House seats here in 2006, and Republicans have no chance to win them back.
Iowa, of course, was the state that catapulted Obama towards the nomination while McCain (prudently) skipped it for New Hampshire. Obama is from a neighboring state, and McCain doesn’t rally the conservative base. This swing state appears set to swing back to where it was in 2000: the Democratic column. Leaning Democratic.
Kansas (6): The Kansas GOP is not in good shape, and Obama dominated the caucuses here, but a liberal Democrat isn’t going to carry this state in a presidential election. Solid Republican.
Kentucky (8): This state is trending Democratic in some ways, and Obama claims to be making strong inroads into the South, but his inability to win rural white voters in the primary here demonstrates that the commonwealth is not really in play this year. Solid Republican.
Louisiana (9): Early on, Obama had some hopes for Louisiana, but those were illusory. McCain leads significantly in all polls, and Obama has not made inroads into the white vote. Strong Republican.
Maine (4): Early on, it seemed possible Obama might have to work to win this state. Right now, it looks like an Obama blowout. Strong Democratic.
Maryland (10): Maryland is even less winnable for the GOP with Obama atop the ticket than it was in 2000 and 2004. The mixture of wealthy whites and urban blacks makes this Obama country. Solid Democratic.
Massachusetts (12): The Bay State is beyond the reach of any Republican. Obama might not fare as well in South Boston as a whiter candidate would, but he won’t lose the most Democratic state in the nation. Solid Democratic.
Michigan (17): Michigan may be McCain’s best chance to win a 2004 blue state. As with Florida, McCain has the advantage out of the starting gate of having posted two strong primary performances here while Obama boycotted the state.
Democrats have won all of the top-tier statewide races this decade (three Senate contests, two governor races, and both presidential races), and the GOP brand is damaged, thanks, in part, to George W. Bush and the poor economy. But still, McCain has a good chance here.
Both candidates are weak in Michigan. McCain doesn’t naturally connect with hunters or union voters, but these are the very Democrats who have been rejecting Obama throughout the primaries. Obama’s base of college towns and black cities will give him a boost over previous Democrats, but his consistent weakness among union workers will drag him down.
Michigan, together with Ohio and Pennsylvania, promises to be the very heart of the 2008 battle. Libertarian Bob Barr could draw enough gun-rights single-issue voters here to tip the scale. Leaning Democratic.
Minnesota (10): Although Kerry won Minnesota by fewer than 100,000 votes, Republicans may not be within striking distance here. Minnesota was one of Obama’s strongest primary states, thanks to a strong liberal core in the Democrat-Farm-Labor Party that will provide enthusiasm and turnout in November.
This state may stay competitive throughout, but it’s likely Obama will pull away here by the fall. Leaning Democratic.
Mississippi (6): While Democrats can point to a special election congressional pickup here, as well as a large black population, this Deep South state is safe in the GOP column with a black liberal atop the ticket. Solid Republican.
Missouri (11): Missouri is another top pickup opportunity for Obama. Bush won here twice, with a 200,000-vote victory in 2004, but things aren’t looking so rosy these days for Republicans, who lost a U.S. Senate seat in 2006 and are poised to lose the governorship this year. Obama eked out a primary victory here on Super Tuesday by winning big in the areas around St. Louis and Kansas City, but he lost badly in the rural regions of the state. His appeal to black voters and suburban voters makes him a real threat, especially if McCain fails to rally Christian conservatives throughout the state. This may be the state where McCain’s lack of stronger conservative credentials could really hurt him. As of now, McCain holds slight leads in most polls. Leaning Republican.
Montana (3): It sounds strange at first, but Montana is in play. Obama has led in some polls, and Democrats there are generally doing much better than Republicans. The Republicans’ loss of their limited-government reputation hurts McCain, while Obama’s reputation as a pragmatic reformer helps. If the GOP can paint Obama as a liberal, Obama’s support will dry up (except in liberal Bozeman), and McCain should win. But if McCain has to travel this state to hold onto it, that’s bad news. Leaning Republican.
Nebraska (5): Nebraska apportions one elector per congressional district, plus two electors to the statewide winner. McCain should win all five electors. Solid Republican.
Nevada (5): Nevada is looking stronger for McCain now than it was six weeks back. Polls show Obama down near 40% — and this is after he already fought hard to win the caucus here. McCain has much more upside here. Leaning McCain.
New Hampshire (4): New Hampshire was one of three states to switch sides from 2000 to 2004, and it could switch back to the GOP column this year. In 2004, Kerry won the state, in part as the local boy, but also due to the Democratic surge in the Granite State. That Democratic surge doesn’t look likely to slow down in 2008.
McCain, however, has a sort of second home here, having won the state in the 2000 and 2008 primaries. His pragmatic moderation is appreciated here, but he will need to peel himself away from Bush and the GOP. This is one of the most swingable states, but early on, it leans towards Obama. Leaning Democratic.
New Jersey (15): Bush surged here in 2004, but not enough to carry the state. That was a one-time blip, and Obama should have no trouble carrying the Garden State. Solid Democratic.
New Mexico (5): A true battleground state that earlier this year looked as if it could go Republican. McCain has represented Arizona, next door, for two decades, but that apparently hasn’t endeared him to the denizens of the Land of Enchantment. Obama leads big, as in many states, but here he is posting scores near 50%.
This reflects a few important factors. Most importantly, the GOP hope to win the Hispanic vote — considering McCain’s pro-amnesty stance and the traditional difficulty black politicians have with Hispanics — looks like fantasy. Even in New Mexico, where the Hispanic vote may be more conservative, Democrats appear to be dominating on this front.
If McCain makes a hard play for the Hispanic vote, he is probably asking for trouble. As it stands now, he should probably look for a way to win that doesn’t include New Mexico. Leaning Democratic.
New York (31): Obama will dominate here. Solid Democratic.
North Carolina (15): As with Georgia, the hype is that McCain needs to worry about North Carolina. Like Georgia, North Carolina isn’t a gimme for McCain, but if he’s fighting to defend it, his cause is in deep trouble. Leaning Republican.
North Dakota (3): As with Montana, North Dakota is surprisingly in play. Obama’s lead in early polls is partly the result of his having campaigned here while McCain has not. It is also partly the result of the GOP problems here broadly and state Democratic election successes.
McCain is still the favorite, because Obama’s liberalism will hurt him when policy positions become more pertinent. For now, this state is unnervingly close. Leaning Republican.
Ohio (20): No matter what, Ohio can’t escape its role as battleground. This year, however, McCain seems to be slightly stronger here than Bush was in 2000 and 2004. Central to McCain’s success is Obama’s reputation among “bitter” gun owners and religious voters — Hillary’s Democrats. Much of Obama’s campaign will be an outreach to bitter Ohio Democrats, but for now, the Buckeye State tilts Republican. Leaning Republican.
Oklahoma (7): This is not the part of the Heartland that’s in play. Solid Republican.
Oregon (7): Early polls had shown Obama underperforming here, but no signs have emerged of a McCain renaissance. McCain can write off the West Coast. Solid Democrat.
Pennsylvania (21): Many pundits falsely touted Pennsylvania as a swing state in 2004, when it wasn’t. It tilted heavily towards the Democrats. In 2008, however, it is back within reach for the GOP, thanks, in large part, to the Democrats’ choice of nominee. Obama’s dismal primary performance here, especially among white voters, makes this a tough state for Democrats to hold onto. The question for November is can Obama hold onto the Arlen Specter-Ed Rendell vote in the Philadelphia suburbs?
McCain is not the ideal candidate to pick off Casey-Santorum Democrats, and Rendell is still popular. The Keystone State favors Obama, but the closeness here gives McCain a second way to win if Ohio or Nevada falls to Obama. Leaning Democratic.
Rhode Island (4): Rhode Island is even more liberal than Massachusetts in many ways. Solid Democratic.
South Carolina (8): The Democratic primary electorate is majority black, but the November electorate is not. Obama can’t win rural whites, so he can’t win South Carolina. Solid Republican.
South Dakota (3): This is a McCain shoo-in. Solid Republican.
Tennessee (11): More competitive than much of the South, but still a safe McCain win. Solid Republican.
Texas (34): McCain may not dominate as Bush did, but if he’s in trouble in Texas, it’s all over. Solid Republican.
Utah (5): Utah is the most Republican state in the nation. Solid Republican.
Virginia (13): The race for Virginia’s 13 electoral votes is a fine example of how a simplistic reading of polls leads to an inflated impression of Obama’s chances this fall.
Obama dominated the Democratic primary here, and recent polls show a statistical tie. The state is moving in a Democratic direction, and so Democrats have reason to be optimistic. But a statistical tie between Obama and McCain with 9% undecided (the result in the August 12 Rasmussen poll) is a McCain advantage. Throw in Obama’s 46% unfavorable rating (McCain’s is 36%), and you begin to see that this tie is not a tie.
McCain will have to work hard to win Virginia, and that’s enough of a job, but it is not a swing state, properly speaking. In other words, Obama will carry Virginia only if he is winning the nation handily. Leaning Republican.
Vermont (3): The heart of liberal hippiedom will vote for Obama. Solid Democratic.
Washington (11): Obama’s strength here will make this very difficult for McCain. Solid Democratic.
West Virginia (5): Once a battleground state, this year West Virginia falls off the charts. Consider how poorly Obama did in the primary here. Solid Republican.
Wisconsin (10): This is a battleground state where Obama looks stronger than most Democrats. He shores up the Nader vote and motivates the liberal base. The black pockets in Milwaukee help out, too. Leaning Democratic.
Wyoming (3): McCain will win here easily. Solid Republican.