In the 2000 presidential election, everything came down to the results of the Florida vote—the winner of Florida won the presidency. In 2004, the key state was Ohio—had George Bush gotten just 150,000 less votes in Ohio, John Kerry would be running for reelection. 2008 will be the same way—a handful of swing states will decide the election. Realistically, it doesn’t much matter how you vote if you live in states such as Texas or California—barring a landslide, those states will go Republican and Democrat, respectively. The all important toss-up states will choose the next President of the United States.
These states are: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia. Florida is the most important of these states for McCain—if he loses Florida, it is nearly impossible to see a realistic path to victory for him. It’s tempting to assume McCain will run away with Florida—all those retirees should be his biggest fans. But the RealClearPolitics average puts him tied with Obama there; the most recent Rasmussen poll puts Obama ahead by two points. In fairness, Obama may be riding a bounce from his foreign tour (the most amazing thing ever, according to the media), but his rise in Florida polls is still a bad sign for McCain.
Pennsylvania isn’t really much of a swing state. Obama leads in the RCP poll average by nearly eight points, although the most recent polling in that state was done in June (meaning that opinions may have shifted). Pennsylvania voted for Hillary in the primaries, and has a lot of Second Amendment-supporting hunters, and…that’s about it, really. Pennsylvania went for Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000, and it is difficult to imagine McCain really being competitive there. (Spark of hope for McCain: the latest Rasmussen poll—completed on June 22nd—put Obama in front by only four points, within the margin of error).
Michigan is another swing state that probably won’t swing very far—the RCP poll average there has Obama up by 6.3 points. Granted, a Detroit News poll finished on July 16th put Obama up by a mere two points, but a Rasmussen poll done on July 10th put Obama up by a more sizable eight. Michigan is governed by Democrats who haven’t done a very good job; and if McCain picks Mitt Romney (whose father was governor of Michigan) as his running mate, Michigan might conceivably be in play, though realistically, it probably won’t be. But Michigan, like Pennsylvania, is a must-win for Obama. If he loses either of these states, his campaign will be in serious trouble.
Speaking of must-win states, McCain has to win Virginia. Virginia’s electoral votes are indispensable. Fortunately, he is in fairly good position to win them—the RCP average puts Obama up by one point, but a recent Rasmussen poll puts McCain up one. Add in the Dinkins effect (the phenomenon of white voters telling pollster that they support a minority candidate when they really do not)—which could be significant in a Southern state like Virginia—and McCain should (and must) win there.
This brings us to the most important swing state: Ohio. Ohio is crucial since it is not really a must-win for either candidate, it has a sizable number of electoral votes, and has been close in recent elections. (In addition, I live here, so I’m biased). The RCP poll average puts Obama up by 1.5 points (a virtual tie). However, a recent Rasmussen poll puts McCain up by ten points[!]; an equally recent PPP (Public Policy Polling, an outfit I’d never heard of before now) puts Obama up by eight. (So much for polls). I would think that Rasmussen is generally more accurate than PPP, but it is undeniable that Ohio could very easily go either way.
If we give Obama Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well as the other states where he leads (there isn’t much doubt about New York or California), Obama ends up with 268 electoral votes. If we give McCain Florida and Virginia, as well as the all the states where he leads (I also gave him New Mexico, which I couldn’t find any polling for, but its proximity to Arizona means it could easily go McCain, and Nevada, where Obama leads, but barely, and being a Western state will probably also go McCain), McCain gets 250 votes. Ohio’s twenty electoral votes, in this scenario, would make the difference in the election.