October 05, 2008

Obama would win if the election were tomorrow. But it isn't.

After the American Century

With less than 30 days remaining in the presidential race, McCain seems to be falling behind. A series of recent polls has revealed that states once considered toss-ups like Michigan and Pennsylvania, now are clearly in the Obama column. Indeed, the McCain campaign has pulled its operation out of Michigan, probably because the money and the personnel are needed in Florida, where Obama has a slight lead (4%), or perhaps in North Carolina, where McCain also has fallen slightly behind according to some polls. The trend all across the country seems much the same, with swing states leaning toward Obama, including Nevada, Colorado (just barely), and Virginia. These states went to Bush in 2000 and 2004. McCain retains the lead in two swing states, Missouri and Indiana, in each case just 2% - within the margin of polling error.

The New York Times now estimates that Obama has 260 electoral votes secured, compared to only 200 for McCain, with 78 votes still up for grabs. That means Obama would only need to nail down 10 more votes to become president. However, the Times takes a smaller number of polls into consideration and is a bit cautious. In contrast, Real Clear Politics estimates that if the election were tomorrow, Obama would win easily, with 353 electoral votes, compared to only 185 for McCain. The national polls now uniformly put Obama ahead, Rasmussen Reports has a daily tracking poll, which for the last ten days has shown McCain trailing by 6 or 7% every day.

The focus of attention has narrowed to seven states, which between them have 89 electoral votes. These are Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Missouri, Ohio, and Virginia. Put another way, for McCain, four states that looked possible for him two weeks ago are now off the table: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Michigan. Together they have 52 electoral votes.

Is it suddenly all over? The Vice-Presidential debate was so recent that it has not yet registered in polls, but it should only reinforce these trends. Initial polls suggested that Biden won it by a wide margin, especially among independent voters. If the trend is clear, however, the battle continues. Recall that McCain pulled ahead twice, briefly in August and then again in early September. Then the shocking collapse of the Wall Street investment banks clearly favored Obama.

In a campaign year of so many twists and turns, it seems unlikely that the Democrats will have clear sailing now. Look for an October surprise, perhaps from the Karl Rove trainees who manage the McCain attack advertisements.