A way-early look at this fall’s Electoral College map

Here’s a prediction you can take to the bank: In the end, it will come down to the Electoral College. No duh, right?

This is all way premature, but here goes anyway with a basic fact to start our Electoral College deliberations: The Electoral College map in 2004 was almost identical to 2000. John Kerry picked up only one small state (New Hampshire) that Al Gore hadn’t carried. President Bush picked up only two small states (Iowa and New Mexico) that he hadn’t carried in 2000. It was historically unusual for so little to change electorally over four years. So, even though the political environment seems to have changed considerably for the bluer since then, the ’04 map is the starting point for thinking about 2008

The New York Times ran a piece Sunday headlined: “Already, Obama and McCain Map Fall Strategies.” According to the Times’ estimable Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny, the Obama and McCain camps already agree on a list of states that are “clearly in play,” and it includes Minnesota. (Color me skeptical on that one.)

The full list (in alphabetical order, not according to in-play-ness): Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

This list is almost identical to the list of the 14 closest popular vote margins in 2004, which went as follows (state, winner, popular-vote margin).

1. Wisconsin, Kerry, 0.38%
2. Iowa, Bush, 0.67%
3. New Mexico, Bush, 0.79%
4. New Hampshire, Kerry, 1.37%
5. Ohio, Bush, 2.11%
6. Pennsylvania, Kerry, 2.50%
7. Nevada, Bush, 2.59%
8. Michigan, Kerry, 3.42%
9. Minnesota, Kerry, 3.48%
10. Oregon, Kerry, 4.16%
11. Colorado, Bush, 4.67%
12. Florida, Bush, 5.01%
13. New Jersey, Kerry, 6.68%
14. Washington, Kerry, 7.18%

The only state on the “clearly in play” in 2008 list that wasn’t among the 14 closest states in 2004 is Virginia, which Bush carried by 8.2 percentage points. The only state from the 2004 list that isn’t on the “in play” list is New Jersey, where the Times piece says the Repubs believe they may have a shot. So, point belabored, for all the political changes in the environment, the battleground starts from where it left off in 2004.

The next thing I note that is that the Repubs don’t start with many juicy pickup opportunities. New Hampshire seems to have a love affair with McCain, so maybe that’s one, although it’s worth only four electoral votes and it seems to be have blued up further since 2004.

But two of those close Kerry wins — Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes) and Michigan (17) — are big electoral vote prizes and neither is considered a special Obama stronghold. If McCain could capture either of those, the impact on the overall electoral math would be large.

From the other side, if the Dems could carry Ohio (20 electoral votes) or Florida (27!), they would erase the entire margin by which Bush won (if the Dems carry both, it’s about over.)

A last bit of math
Bush won the electoral vote 286-252. If McCain holds Florida and Ohio, where do the Dems get 17 electoral votes (which, by the way, would result in a tie). At first glance, the likeliest Dem pickups might be New Mexico (5 electoral votes) and Iowa (7), both of which Bush carried by less than 1%, both of which seem to be trending blue by other indicators (although Arizonan McCain may have a neighborly advantage in New Mexico).

But if the Dems pick up Iowa and New Mexico, the total is still 274-264 for the Repubs. If you add Nevada (5 electoral votes), you get (ulp) a tie.

Colorado, on the other hand, has gone red the last three elections and nine of the last 10, but seems to be trending strongly blue, with a Dem governor, one Dem senator and the other seat projected to turn from red to blue this year. It has nine electoral votes, which would put a dent in the GOP cushion. I know we should ignore the state-by-state matchup polls this far away from November — all the smart people say so. But I looked them up anyway on the excellent pollster.com. There have been five McCain-Obama trial heats in Colorado since February, and Obama has led on three of them (including the most recent), McCain on one, and one was a flat tie.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Kevin Judd on 05/12/2008 - 10:24 pm.

    We read MinnPost for well researched and thought out columns like this. Thank you.

    One sobering observation from the past 5 years is the corrupting influence of the consolidation of power when one party controls the executive and both houses of Congress. I have a gut feel that with House and Senate in Democratic hands, people will tend to give McCain the presidency.

  2. Submitted by Justin Adams on 05/12/2008 - 02:26 pm.

    I think, given Obama as the democratic Nominee, the 2004 election map is useless as a starting point. I also think that in states like Florida, polling is not going to find the now likely voters who would surely have been unlikely in 2004.

    You are right that Minnesota is not in play for the GOP. Don’t say so too loudly, though, or they might not waste so much money and political opportunity cost (w/ TPaw) here.

    Florida is where it is again. The voter roll has been un-purged of a half million black non-felons who were barred from voting by prior GOP SoS administrations using intimidation tactics and “inaccurate” voter-roll scrubbing methods. These people already would have delivered FL in ’00 and ’04, before they had their own disenfranchisement as an influence on their party preference.

    If we did lose FL (again, w/ obama, that is hilarious) and OH (more plausible), the white house would be McCains… Demographics that rule OH successfully predict the winner almost all the time, right? FL is MUST win if OH falls. But again, Obama would have won Florida by 3-5 points due to increased turnout among unlikely voters even without the voting rights issue.

  3. Submitted by Tom West on 05/13/2008 - 10:02 pm.

    I think the dynamics of the electorate (that being people who actually vote) will be substantially changed by Obama’s candidacy. With 20 percent of Democrats saying they won’t vote for Obama, it seems unlikely at this early date that he can carry either Ohio or Pennsylvania, states that were strong for Hillary. On the other hand, I would not be at all surprised to see southern states, which for the past nine elections have been solidly Republican, come into play because of the expected increase in black turnout.

  4. Submitted by Justin Adams on 05/13/2008 - 08:59 am.

    Unfortunately, Al, our governor would not sign the medical MJ bill, and even if he had, I thankfully only suffer from chronic optimism about future elections, which would not meet the narrow parameters of our bill.

    In all honesty, I don’t think that is funny – my mom died of lung cancer last year, the chemo was like something out of Dante, and medical marijuana might have helped her while she was dying. Denying palliative care because law enforcement officials unions might endorse someone else is kind of a sore point with me.

    Due respect, but your analysis is horribly flawed. First, Obama is much more highly qualified, has a much more polished resume than many of our previous presidents. One key example that keeps coming up is Abe Lincoln. Obama was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, and is currently a US Senator, for crying out loud. If you are criticizing his background, AI, I have to ask, what have you done recently?

    Second, you say McCain has accomplishments, but from where I sit, they appear to be limited to two areas. 1) Fighter Pilotry and 2) Campaign Finance reform. Also, from where I sit, neither of these accomplishments played out quite how McCain hoped they would.

    I was actually thinking Obama is going to win a Reagan-esqe victory this fall, but I decided against the hyperbole because it would sound as ridiculous as the Mondale claim you included.

    The fact is Obama is expanding the Democratic base in a way no other candidate could, by energizing the most loyal but least-participating segment of the party (African American Voters). McCain, on the other hand, has alienated the corresponding section of the GOP base (evangelical voters).

    McCain is pandering as fast as he can to these guys, but he doesn’t have time. In spite of claiming that he’ll appoint judges to overturn roe (which means he’ll never get one confirmed during his presidency), he is saying he believes in science as far as evolution and climate go. There goes the religious right.

    There are two other large factions of GOPers who might hold their nose and vote for McCain or stay home. I think portion will be staying home. I speak of the rabid anti-Mexican crowd (who favor English as a national language even though their skills in English are often highly questionable) and of the rabid “money is speech” crowd who will never forgive McCain for campaign finance reform.

    The far left, on the other hand, is unified. Obama isn’t pandering to them because he doesn’t have to. While McCain tries to win the right flank, Obama can focus on the center. Obama was doing better there before Hillary started running for the 2012 nomination, but he’ll recover fine because he has moderate positions on issues.

    And McCain is throwing away the center (except for the belief in science) as quickly as possible. Which of the following statements represent the views of the average american moderate, in your opinion, Al?





    I think McCain is a big loser in this race because he can’t deliver the GOP base, which makes his appeal to independents and moderates beside the point. Against Hillary, when moderates and independents have very high negative opinions of his opponent (to say nothing of how much the GOP base hates her), he might possibly have squeeked by with a 537 vote margin, but against Obama, there is no chance for him. The south is going to vote solidly against him, which will offset his better than expected performance in mountain states. He can’t carry the northwest or the Northeast. I explained how Florida is a different state than it was in the past two elections.

    Ohio Valley states are in play, but upper midwest states are all for Obama.

    My analysis, I think, is pretty accurate. Obama needs to win FL so that he can afford to lose OH and PA. He should be able to.

    Here’s my prediction. McCain carries 10 or 11 states.

    AL, AK, AZ, CO, MS, NM, NV, OH, OK, PA, and TX.

  5. Submitted by Justin Adams on 05/13/2008 - 09:02 am.

    Oh, and SD. I forgot about that state’s love affair with overturning Roe.

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