"The Apocalyptic 8?": Soon, We Find Out...
By Al Giordano
Very soon - within a week or two - we find out if this is really the Electoral College map we're working from in 2008:
On its surface, the pre-convention Electoral College map looks a bit like the Bush-Kerry map of 2004 with the very important exceptions of Colorado, New Mexico and Iowa leaning blue. And what a difference those three states would make: that between victory and defeat.
Now, here's the same map with 19 battleground states in play:
That there are, this late in the game, ten toss-up states and another nine leaners is testimony to the success of Howard Dean's "Fifty State Strategy." Some of them are only in play today because the groundwork has been laid and the new voter registration has been organized for two years now. And note that thirteen of the 19 battleground states went with Bush in '04, compared to only six that went for Kerry: that's a nightmare for the Republican Party to have to defend 13 from "its" territory.
But - with readers asking where they should deploy their efforts - which will emerge as the most prioritized "swing states" in play? Based on the (mostly pre-convention) map, here's what I suspect but am waiting for the new wave of post-convention state-by-state polling, new voter registration numbers, and whispers from Obama Fellows and staffers to their best online confidante, to confirm...
Among "Leaning Obama" states I think Iowa and Minnesota are likely very safe "blue," with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Oregon almost there, and in that order.
Among "Leaning McCain" states, the Obama field organization and newly registered voters have them each somewhat in play - Georgia, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota - but each is so far more likely to end up in the "red" column on election day. I'm not saying that Obama supporters should give up on those states - indeed, to capture any one of them would make McCain's defeat all the more likely - but, rather, I'm just saying nobody should count on them to put Obama over the top.
If the post-conventions map stays essentially as it was pre-conventions, then these base numbers - Obama 238 Electoral Votes, McCain 174 - leave Obama 32 Electoral Votes from the goal line whereas McCain would have to grab 96 of the remaining 126 to win the contest.
Among the "toss up" states:
The western troika of Colorado (9 Electoral Votes), New Mexico (5) and Nevada (5) contains three states where Obama's organization is pushing hard and has better chances than not to change the national map, especially since McCain's choice of Palin won't help him with Hispanic-American voters (to whom the Alaska governor might as well be a "Minuteman" loon). They are, together, more important this year than Ohio (20) or Florida (27). Each is a huge priority and offers a great opportunity for the Democrat. In each of them, it's a ground war over which side registers and turns out more votes.
Michigan (17) is where Obama should win but - in large part because there was no real primary opportunity to organize early there and corresponding spike in Democratic voter registration - it is frankly the 2004 "blue" state that should concern the Obama campaign the most. I won't be surprised if in the coming days Chicago shifts its nomadic volunteer focus from Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin to Michigan, at least until the voter registration deadline in Michigan closes on October 5. The McCain-Palin campaign is prioritizing Michigan for good reason; it's potentially their map-changing move.
My gut instinct is that Indiana (11), Missouri (11), North Carolina (15) and Ohio (20) - with apologies to everyone working so hard in those places - are likely to go with McCain (although Ohio is somewhat more in play). That said, if Obama wins in just one of those places, I can't construct a scenario in which McCain could offset it with anything but Michigan, and even doing that might not be enough for the GOP ticket).
So our 18 battleground states really come (mostly) down to eight, in this order of size:
New Mexico 5
New Hampshire 4
There you have it: The Apocalyptic 8.
I would place Virginia (13) on the level of the three western swing states: ground zero in the field organization war.
The two wildest of wild cards are New Hampshire (4) and Florida (27). It is in those places that the "air war" of campaign ads and messaging count substantially more than in the rest of the swing states. They also happen to be states filled with people that were not born in them, making them more culturally erratic. New Hampshire is that way because the state is - as anyone that lives there will testify - just plain freaky (we saw in the Democratic primary how its sentiments shifted almost overnight due to a few publicly shed tears, and its higher-than-normal military veteran family base and pride might prove fertile ground for McCain despite the Democratic Party advances there of 2006.
And, as I've said before, Florida is the one "red" state where McCain's choice of Palin as VP might bite him in the ass, pushing elderly Jewish voters (and some coastal small businesspeople dependent on tourism and worried about the impact of offshore drilling on their livelihoods) back into the arms of the Democratic Party from which they have strayed in recent presidential elections, as well as younger Cuban-Americans who are - in large thanks to Joe Garcia - an especially fun wild card. I don't think the Palin pick helps with them and could, likewise, hurt McCain.
In any case, because neither side can rest easy regarding Florida or New Hampshire, each has to construct a victory map that doesn't include either of them. Many Democratic bloggers doing this sort of math seem to take New Hampshire for granted. I don't. (And because they're wild cards, they nonetheless still deserve very high priority status.)
So, if this map holds in the post-convention bounces and counter-bounces, how does Obama get those extra 32 Electoral Votes he needs? The quickest path is to build a firewall around Michigan (17), and then win the three western swing states (19 combined). That would bring him to 274 (even without New Hampshire).
But there are so many more scenarios and winning combinations available for the Democrat this year than there were four years ago. I think 538's index is extremely helpful for those trying to figure out where they will go to do the heavy lifting over the next 8 weeks:
(The "return on investment" index serves as a decent guide of where individual volunteer efforts can have the most impact.)
Here's another factor: There are states where Obama's primary or caucus organization shone so bright that it got a head start and may not need outside help as much: Colorado and Virginia (and "leaners" Iowa and Minnesota, both of which I suspect will soon be considered "safe blue").
There are two states where Obama never got the chance to build an early organization, but McCain did: Michigan and Florida. Outside help is probably of high value there.
There are states where the Obama-Clinton wars upped Democratic voter registration so high that the Democrats are gaining an edge: Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico, and New Hampshire, and another, Ohio, where it's not yet clear if that will help the Democrats in November or not, mainly because the race-baiting may still be causing residual bleeding in the Appalachian counties.
What would I prioritize among these?
First order of importance: Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada (with out-of-state help focusing on the latter two).
Second order of importance: Building a firewall around Michigan (by registering more voters there before October 5.)
Third order of importance: Wild cards Florida and New Hampshire.
"Hail Mary" pass: Ohio.
Beyond "the apocalyptic eight" - Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Michigan, Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio - if you're an Obama supporter in any of these next states, you'll want to remain at your post and fight like hell to register new voters (in most, that must be done by October 5): Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Wisconsin, Missouri Iowa and Minnesota.
There are two Congressional Districts in states that choose Electoral College electors by district that could be in play: Nebraska's 2nd (Omaha and environs, 1 EV)...
And Maine's 2nd (Bangor, Downeast and northern Maine, 2 EVs)...
If you are there or near those places, you'll also want to remain at your posts.
(The Maine district has been considered "safe blue," but it's one of those idiosyncratic regions, filled with sportsmen and very rural, where McCain's choice of Palin could give Obama a run for his money.) In fact, I would recommend that all Mainers and Nebraskans - or people with relatives or friends in those places - put on a special push in those districts rather than travel to other states.
Correction: See Mainer's update and correction in the comments section about how Maine's Electoral votes are divvied up. He/she agrees that it's necessary to target CD 2, but corrects that it's not two EVs per district, but, rather, 2 EVs to the statewide winner and one EV apiece at stake in each Congressional District vote.
Those two CDs could end up being tie breakers (you'll note on the top map above that if New Hampshire, alone, switches from blue to red, and nothing else on that map changes, the total will be 269-269, with complete chaos ensuing next).
And there is one crazy wild card state where, if you're already there or near there, I think could provide a positive surprise for Obama: Mississippi. I haven't seen the new voter registration numbers (anybody have them?), but the results of the special Congressional election held there last Spring - where the Democrat won despite race-baiting GOP ads linking him to Obama and his ex-reverend - plus the fact that the Obama campaign was super-organized in the March 11 primary and the state's huge African-American population - have the "celestial choirs singing" into my ear: "remain at your posts!"
I want to stress that these are only preliminary thoughts: I won't start offering more elaborate projections and scenarios until the post-convention state-by-state situation becomes clearer in the middle of this month. But if little changes, we've got "The Battleground 19" and, within them, "The Apocalyptic Eight."
The "Fifty State Strategy" was never so naive as to suggest that come November all fifty states would be in play. But it has succeeded in stretching the swing state map from its precarious obsession with two states - Ohio and Florida - by a factor of 950 percent already. (And particularly in the midwestern plains and mountain west, could still lead to some surprises that, while unlikely, are not out of the realm of possibility: Montana and North Dakota already have the McCain campaign pinned on the defensive, and don't yet write off Kansas, South Dakota, or even Idaho, just sayin'.)
It is an attainable goal that by October 5 Obama could take Michigan off the table. But right now it's McCain's best shot at changing the game. Much of the next four weeks has to be about new voter registration in Michigan, and the results of that will determine whether the Apocalyptic 8 can be narrowed down to seven or less.
Update: I should add that the folks that are running the campaign have better access to internal polling and new registration numbers than anyone, and questions about where you should go are obviously better addressed to them and their field staff than to me or anybody outside of it. For example, despite what my impressions are about Indiana, they seem to be pushing very hard there. Obama was there today, in Terre Haute, laying down the gauntlet:
Update II: Any Field Hand that can organize a posse of 30 people - as this emailer did - gets to dress me down this way:
You are killing me. I just organized a trip of 30 to Indiana today. You have to reconsider. I guarantee--every state that touches Illinois will be blue come election day.