My, my, my…we are going to have us some fun over the next 50 days.
My latest look at the electoral map – now that there are a significant number of post-convention state polls to look at – confirms what the national polls have been reporting: Team McCain is surging and has been successful in moving some states out of the “leaning Obama” category to statistical dead heats. This means more states are in play than ever:
Since May, when I posted my first cut of how the general election contest was shaping up, I have been focused on a list of states that were in play:
- Colorado 9 votes
- Florida 27
- Indiana 11
- Iowa 7
- Louisiana 9
- Michigan 17
- Missouri 11
- Nevada 5
- New Mexico 5
- Ohio 20
- Pennsylvania 21
- Virginia 13
Events of the last couple of weeks have added the following states to watch list:
- Minnesota 10
- Montana 3
- New Hampshire 4
- New Jersey 15
- West Virginia 5
All of these states – with the exception of Florida and Louisiana – are essentially toss-ups. Florida has moved into the McCain camp, albeit barely, and Louisiana is solidly Red (and is officially being removed from the SRC watch list). Everywhere else is within the margin of error of the latest credible polling numbers I can find.
Analysis: The Palin effect is real, particularly among certain demographics like white women. I’m not quite sure how this squares with this demographic’s general difference of opinion with Governor Palin on key social issues like abortion, but my guess is that it’s the “she’s like me” effect.
Timing is everything. The Palin pick came just as people were starting to really focus on the election and thus saw an attractive, energized GOP ticket and a flat-footed Democratic team that was uncharacteristically off-message and off-stride.
Races always narrow. Particularly in this day and age, there are no blow-outs and races tend to narrow. Some of this accounts for the changes in the map.
Money matters. This many states in play means the team with the money to put boots on the ground in as many contested states as possible has an advantage in get-out-the-vote. Team Obama just announced that they raised $66 million in August (versus $47 million for the McCainies), a record for any candidate but only part of the picture as it doesn’t include what the Congressional committees and the national committees can raise and spend. And, remember, Team McCain took the $84 million in federal financing for the last two months of the election.
The debates will matter. Four debates – three presidential, one vice presidential – are taking on added emphasis. A major win – or more likely a major gaffe – could be highly influential among those still undecided.
And about those undecideds…
Race matters. I haven’t seen much credible commentary on how the pollsters are trying to compensate for the “hidden racism” factor of people who won’t vote for Obama because of race, but it’s certainly a factor. How big is anyone’s guess, but NBC’s political director, Chuck Todd, opined this morning on Meet the Press that Obama will lose 70 percent of the undecideds at least in part for this reason:
MR. BROKAW: You, you heard my reference earlier in this program–we don’t have a lot of time here–to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey saying the “Bubba vote.” They’re going to go in and not vote for a black man.
MR. TODD: Well, it’s interesting. It’s Wisconsin and Michigan in particular that, when I’ve talked to strategists on both sides, that’s where they’re nervous. It’s those–they’re sitting in undecided. These are folks that if you probe them on issues, they tell you they–the country’s moving in the wrong direction, they tell you that the economy stinks, they’d like to see a little more money in their pocket. They’re voting for Democrats for Congress, they’re voting for Democrats for Senate. And then you ask them about the presidential race, and they say, “I don’t know yet. I’m undecided.” They don’t tell you why they’re undecided. And it’s that voter–it–Obama’s got a little magic number that I think people need to start watching in these states. On the Sunday before the election, he better be at 48 or above. Anything less than that–because he’s going to lose 70 percent of the undecideds. I think the McCain folks know this; I think the Obama folks know this. So the key now is to get his numbers to 48 or above.
Bottom line: It is still anyone’s race to win. The GOP will continue to enjoy the energy of a renewed base and a spunky VP candidate who overshadows the head of their ticket, but they have to worry about the peaking too soon and the vetting process which is producing new problems for them daily. They also have to worry about keeping Ms. Palin in the bubble as much as possible (without going too far that way) to minimize the gaffe factor.
Team Obama has to regain momentum, stay on message and find a way to deal with the Swiftboating (without – I hope – resorting to it themselves). They need to keep feeding the fundraising machine and calm the faithful who are all of a sudden nervous.