Our last electoral map update was on June 22. Now that we are in August, you would imagine that a lot has changed over the course of a month and a half. Not really. Surprisingly, the race has remained remarkably steady. The last major event to happen that changed the dynamics of the race was Hillary Clinton’s departure from the race in early June. This event gave Obama a big boost in support from Democrats, securing states like Pennsylvania and re-gaining leads in states like Michigan that have been Democratic for many of the past election cycles.
Looking at the map, the only states that Kerry won in 2004 that appear to be at any risk at all of flipping are New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Yet McCain has been unable to connect with working class voters in Midwestern battlegrounds and the voters in New Hampshire, who booted a pair of Republican Congressman, elected a Democratic governor and wrested control of both houses of their state legislature to the Democrats in 2006 seem unlikely to embrace John McCain’s message.
That leaves the race for the White House largely on Republican territory. While Barack Obama is spending heavily in the red states of Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, Montana, North Dakota, Georgia and Alaska, McCain has brushed these ad buys off as diversion tactics meant to siphon resources from the traditional battleground states of Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Pennsylvania and so on. With polls in Florida and Indiana with Obama ahead, and polls showing a tight race in North Carolina, Montana, North Dakota, Georgia and Alaska, it doesn’t seem that McCain can ignore these states for long.
Below is our latest map based on “safe” states (where either Obama or McCain have a 10% advantage). Compared to June 22, we are moving Wisconsin to “safe” Obama and Louisiana to “safe” McCain. The biggest movement has taken place in the gray area between “toss-up” and “lean” which we define as anything below 10%. Arizona, Arkansas, South Dakota and North Dakota have been moved into this gray area because they are within 10%. No, that’s not a typo. Arizona, John McCain’s home state, is now competitive. Louisiana, West Virginia and Wisconsin have been moved out.
The next map shows states that we would consider true “toss-ups”. We define this as anything below 5%. Both Obama and McCain have lost ground since our last update as a number of states can qualify as true “toss-ups”. Since June, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Dakota have been added as “toss-up” states. The only toss-up from June to be removed is Michigan, which is now a “lean” Obama state.
An interesting pattern is developing, and just goes to show why having a Midwestern Democratic at the top of the ticket can be so beneficial. Every state that Illinois borders in the Midwest is either leaning Obama or considered a toss-up. Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Missouri account for 39 Electoral Votes. Throw in Illinois’ 21 and you reach a whopping 60 Electoral Votes, or approximately a quarter needed to become president. This doesn’t even include the Midwestern giants of Michigan or Ohio, nor does it include Minnesota. It is conceivable that Obama may sweep the entire Midwest’s 107 Electoral Votes, or 40% needed to become president.
Does McCain have a similar type of advantage in the West? Most of these states have been traditionally Republican, anyway, but the West has comparatively fewer Electoral Votes up for grabs than in the Midwest or the Northeast. Looking at the map, though, Arizona’s border states include California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Among them, only Utah is considered “safe” with its 5 Electoral Votes. California and New Mexico are “safe” or “leaning” Obama, and both Nevada and Colorado are pure toss-ups. While Obama could conceivably get 60 Electoral Votes out of states that border Illinois (and 107 out of the Midwest), McCain may only get 15 Electoral Votes out of the states that border his home state (including Arizona). Geographically, the Democrats picked the right candidate and the Republicans picked the wrong one.