Electoral College Outlook:
McCain 270, Obama 268
by Robert Novak and Timothy P. Carney (more by this author)
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s comment that Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968 justified her staying in the presidential race was an event that crystallized the antipathy to her inside party ranks. Even old-time Clintonites were appalled.
The most important political impact of Clinton’s conduct is to make Sen. Barack Obama’s task as nominee more difficult. For the first time, we hear serious talk among Democrats that the party may not be fully able to join ranks at the convention in Denver in late August.
The hostility on both sides is intense. Clinton’s labor union base (AFCSME, American Federation of Teachers, and the International Association of Machinists) pounds away at Obama (he was booed in a recent rally in Puerto Rico). Obama partisans refer to “feminists” unreasonably prolonging the competition. The longer this continues, the more difficult will be reconciliation.
But the steady endorsement of Obama by more super-delegates is incontestable. Such old-time Clinton backers as Roger Altman and Sarah Kovner are saying the battle is over. Nobody has any doubts about who will be nominated, which makes Clinton’s campaign more destructive.
The next showdown will come Saturday at the meeting of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee to finally settle the Florida and Michigan delegate disputes. To the consternation of Democrats seeking a solution, Clinton supporters are disputing the compromise that would give Obama uncommitted delegates from Michigan. Clintonistas argue that the “uncommitted” delegates are up for grabs.
Sen. John McCain, however, still does not appear organized to take advantage of Democratic disarray. His biggest problem may be failure to realize that the Republican coalition is not fully united behind him. The most recent defectors are lobbyists expelled from his campaign who are not happy about their treatment.
We continue to hear complaints from evangelicals, economic conservatives, and other critics of McCain. The refrain continues from conservatives that maybe the country and the GOP need four years of Obama.
Electoral College: While national polls garner attention, they have no direct bearing on choosing our next President. A state-by-state count of electoral votes is the key to analyzing the presidential race.
For the first time this year, we run through all 50 states plus the District of Columbia in order to handicap the presidential race. Outlook: If the election were held today, we see a McCain victory by the narrowest of margins.
The electoral map looks nearly identical to 2004, with Iowa and Colorado swinging into the Democratic camp. Beneath the surface, however, we see Michigan and Pennsylvania becoming more competitive for Republicans.
The election will hinge on two regions: Lake Erie and the Mountain West. An Obama win in New Mexico or Nevada would be enough to tip the scales, but a McCain win in Pennsylvania could put the race out of reach. In the end, as always, it comes down to Ohio, where Obama’s weakness among rural whites could send McCain to the White House. McCain 270, Obama 268.
Alabama (9): 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 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 a constitutional amendment on gay marriage -- overturning the recent state supreme court decision that the state must approve same-sex marriages -- can a boost McCain. 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 are will hurt McCain, the author of the 2006 amnesty bill. Solid Democratic.
Colorado (9): Bush won here in 2004 by 100,000 votes out of 2.1 million, but Colorado has shown a tack to towards Democrats since then. In 2006, Democrats took over a Senate seat, the governorship, and a U.S. House seat. This year, Democrats are poised to pick up the second Senate seat. With the Democratic National Convention in Denver stirring liberal excitement, Colorado looks like one of Obama’s best chances to win a Bush state. 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. If McCain picks Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID) as his running mate, Connecticut might be in play. The Lieberman endorsement on its own does almost nothing to help McCain. Solid Democratic.
Delaware (3): Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s wins here in 2000 and 2004 were not dominant, and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) barely won reelection in 2004. This state could make its way onto the battleground, but early on it looks like an Obama victory. Leaning 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; the veteran community will be warm towards McCain. Add on Obama’s stance of engagement with Cuba and a possible Jewish problem, and things stack up well for McCain. If McCain picks popular Gov. Charlie Crist (R) as his running mate, he could lock up the state (while possibly hurting himself elsewhere).
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): Obama talks about winning Southern states in November because he won them in January, February, and March. But winning a Democratic primary is much easier for a black liberal than winning a general election is. Georgia might be his best shot in the South, but it’s not a very good shot. Solid Republican.
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-to-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): Indiana has been solid Republican turf in recent presidential contests, with Bush wins of 16 and 21 points in his two runs here. But this year McCain will need to work hard to keep this state in the GOP column.
Obama’s first advantage is Lake County, which includes the cities of Gary and East Chicago as well as some liberal suburbs. This is Obama’s home turf and the second-most populous county in the state. Indianapolis has a high black population, while Bloomington’s liberal university population could generate enthusiasm (although only 28,000 people voted in Monroe County in the Democratic primary).
McCain lacks the down-home appeal that made Christian Midwestern voters so drawn to Bush, adding to Obama’s hopes. Democrats, of course, picked up three congressional seats in Indiana in 2006. However, Democrats have gained here with socially conservative candidates. With Obama and governor candidate Jill Long Thompson atop the Democratic column, Indiana Republicans should have a rebound year in 2008. Leaning 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 the Heartland. Democrats picked up two House seats here in 2006, and Republicans have no chance to win them back. Senator Tom Harkin (D), a hardcore liberal, also has no serious challenger this year.
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, even if Obama picks Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) as his running mate. Solid Republican.
Kentucky (8): This state is trending Democratic in some ways, and Obama claims to have 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): One of the nation’s most intriguing states politically, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2007 landslide looked like the beginning of a GOP avalanche until Democrats captured the Baton Rouge congressional seat in a special election earlier this month. A high black population and a probably safe Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) weigh in on Obama’s behalf.
The influential sugar industry here won’t be pleased with McCain, either. Still, this is now a GOP state like the rest of the Deep South, and they are not about to elect a liberal, pro-choice Democrat. Leaning Republican.
Maine (4): Increasingly a Democratic stronghold, the demographics here cut in both directions. Old white people tend to be McCain voters, but leisure-class New Englanders are Obama people. Gore didn’t get a majority here in 2000, but that’s because Ralph Nader posted 6%. Obama is the strong favorite here, but this one could drift in either direction. Maine is one of two states in the country that are not winner-take-all in the Electoral College. The statewide winner gets two electoral votes, and the winner of each congressional district is awarded one elector each. Leaning 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, 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. A Rasmussen poll in early May of 500 likely voters showed a dead heat between Obama and McCain.
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 on enough gun-rights single-issue voters here to tip the scale. Leaning Democratic.
Minnesota (10): Although Kerry won Minnesota by less than 100,000 votes, Republicans may not be within striking distance here. Minnesota was one of Obama’s strongest 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. Things aren’t looking so rosy for Republicans these days, though, having lost a U.S. Senate seat in 2006 and poised to lose the governorship this year. Obama eked out a primary win 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): Montana is safe for McCain. Solid 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): A prime chance for Obama to pick off some Red State electors, Bush won only 50% in both elections here. A significant libertarian turnout here is very possible. Immigration should play a role -- given the 20% Hispanic population and some resentment of unchecked immigration, the issue could cut both ways. Nevada, and not Ohio, could be McCain’s most precarious state. Leaning Republican.
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, and 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): Election Day ground zero could be New Mexico, three open congressional seats, an open U.S. Senate seat, and a competitive presidential contest fill the ballot.
Bush carried the state in 2004 by 6,000 votes after having lost it by 365 votes in 2000. These close races clash with the huge registration advantage Democrats hold here.
The state is 42% Hispanic, and here they vote more than in other states. Obama’s poor performance among Hispanic voters and McCain’s coming from neighboring Arizona should help him here. If Bill Richardson does not play a large role, McCain looks to have a slight edge. Leaning Republican.
New York (31): Obama will dominate here. Solid Democratic.
North Carolina (15): Obama’s strong performance in the Southern primaries doesn’t portend a competitive general election. The wine-and-cheese crowd of Charlotte, the black electorate, and the liberal college vote may be vocal, but they’re the minority in North Carolina. Solid Republican.
North Dakota (3): Bush twice won more than 60% here. While McCain may not do as well, he should walk away with this one. Solid Republican.
Ohio (20): In a familiar sight, Ohio looks likely play the
role of decider this fall. As in Michigan, both candidates have more weaknesses than strengths here. McCain is no Wal-Mart family-man conservative as Bush was, but Obama has to hope that religious voters and gun owners get over the “bitterness” that caused him to lose Ohio badly in March.
Obama’s perceived elitism, his race, and his liberalism will all hurt him here, but there are pockets of wealthy suburbanites, black voters, and hardcore liberals that will help him. A new Democratic senator and governor, together with likely Democratic pickups in the U.S. House here are all promising signs for the Democratic Party, but Obama himself -- and his comments in the San Francisco fundraiser -- will not be easy sales.
McCain needs to figure out how he will talk about trade and social issues. If he handles this state well, he will win it. Leaning Republican.
Oklahoma (7): This is not the part of the Heartland that’s in play. Solid Republican.
Oregon (7): Oregon is not an overwhelmingly Democratic state, but it has strong liberal populations that will rally around Obama. McCain, however, could certainly make inroads into the rural voters. Leaning Democratic.
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. Sen. Bob Casey (D) tried to help Obama with the “bitter” voters in the center of the state, but he fell short. 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, and 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): There is much talk about Virginia as a Democratic pickup for 2008. Democrats hold the governorship and after November will probably hold both Senate seats. Popular former Gov. Mark Warner (D) may have an easy enough path to election his Senate race that he can stump for Obama. Democrats have made big advances in Northern Virginia as those suburbs have gained in wealth because of the growth of federal government. Add in a strong black vote near Richmond and Virginia Beach, and you see the reasons for Democratic optimism.
But many of the suburban former Republicans who have turned against Bush, former Sen. George Allen (R), and the GOP broadly will be drawn to McCain’s brand of moderation. Also, Bush won this state by nearly 10 points in 2004. 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.