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Last tracking polls reveal a most unusual picture

By Richard Baehr

The final deluge of national tracking polls and state polls has arrived, and they reveal a most unusual picture. Barack Obama’s lead in the national tracking polls has widened by almost 2% in the final days, now standing at 7.4% in the average. Put quite simply, it is inconceivable that a candidate could win the national popular vote by over 7% (conceivably a 10 million vote margin if the turnout hits 140 million), and lose the Electoral College.

And yet, on a state by state leveI in the key battleground states, the race is much closer and appears to have tightened in the last few days. This is not to say that Obama is in any serious danger of losing. But the national margin may be less indicative of the state of the race than in prior years, due to a wide imbalance in what I and other call “wasted votes” or excess votes in landslide states. In 2004, George Bush won big margins in many Southern states and in Indiana, the upper Midwest and Rocky Mountain states. This year, John McCain could win almost all of the states in these regions, but even if he does, his margin of victory is likely to be smaller in every state he wins than the margin Bush obtained.

On the other hand, Obama is headed for enormous margins in many states: California, Illinois, New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts among them, and far bigger margins than John Kerry won in some other states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon. In just three states: Illinois, California and New York, Obama will likely pile up a margin of between six and seven million votes. Think about it this way: if the final popular vote margin turns out to be 5%, and turnout is 140 million, then these three states could provide roughly 80% to 100% of Obama’s total popular vote margin. If Obama wins by 7%, they would provide 60 to 70% of the total margin.

In the battleground states, almost all red states, the race is much closer. John McCain’s problem is that he needs to win virtually every closely contested state to win, and that is unlikely. In my most recent article, I referred to tiers, and I still find that a helpful way to look at the race. Two red states — Iowa and New Mexico, with 12 Electoral College votes between them, seem safely in Obama’s corner. The most recent polling in Iowa (7) has given Obama a double digit lead in every survey. In New Mexico (5), it is a bit closer, but Obama’s lead ranges from 7 to 10 points in the non-partisan surveys.

Assuming Obama holds all the Kerry-won blue states, these two red states takeaways bring Obama to 264 electoral College votes. The next most likely red state to fall is Nevada (5). And Nevada would be enough, for with a 269-269 tie, the House of Representatives would likely give a victory to Obama. So if McCain cannot turn a blue state, he must win Nevada. The closest McCain has come in any recent Nevada poll is down 4, and he is further behind in several of them.

The two blue states still being contested both show solid Obama leads. Pennsylvania has clearly tightened in the last week, and many surveys now show Obama up by 4 to 6 points (he led by double digits only a week ago). In New Hampshire, other than Rasmussen which has Obama up 7, most polls have Obama up more than that.

McCain also trails in Virginia (13) and Colorado (9). Both states, I think, will be closer than some of the Obama partisans believe is the case. Rasmussen has had Obama up 4 in both states, in each of the last two surveys. There are other polls showing Obama up by 4 to 6 in Virginia, and 5 in Colorado. I think Colorado is a bit safer for Obama than Virginia.

I feel fairly confident in predicting that Obama will win Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Virginia, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. If Obama wins no other red states, he will be at 291. What this mean is that if McCain wins all the other closely contested states — Florida (27), Ohio (20), North Carolina (15), Indiana (11), Missouri (11), Georgia (15), Montana (3), North Dakota (3), he will fall short. Simply put, for McCain to win, he needs to hold all those state just listed and also win either Nevada or New Hampshire, and either Pennsylvania or both Colorado and Virginia. To say this is a tall task is to greatly understate the odds.

I think Obama has an edge in Ohio due to organization, and help from the highly partisan Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who has done everything possible to allow fraudulent votes to come in, and keep Republican votes out. I am less certain about Florida, Missouri and North Carolina. I think McCain will win narrowly in Indiana and Georgia. If forced to make a pick, I will give North Carolina and Missouri to McCain and Florida to Obama.

Net, the Electoral College comes out 338-200 for Obama. I think the real range for Obama’s victory is from 291-247 in the best case for McCain to 364-174 in the worst case. If Virginia is too close to call tomorrow night, then McCain may make it a long night. If Indiana is too close to call, or falls to Obama, it will be a landslide in the Electoral College, similar to Clinton’s wins in 1992 and 1996 (370 and 379 Electoral College votes, respectively). All things being equal (whatever that means), Bill Clinton won by near 6% in 1992, and by over 8% in 1996, and if Obama’s margin falls in that range, a big Electoral College win should not be a big surprise. If the Electoral College race turns out to be close, despite a significant popular vote margin for Obama, it is because of the distortion of the wasted votes described earlier. If McCain loses by 3-5%, and escapes with a narrow Electoral College win, I do not think I would want to be a policeman in Grant Park Tuesday night.

As for the Senate, I think the Democrats will pick up 7 seats to get to 58, if you count Joe Lieberman on the Democrats’ side. The 7 pickups are in Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, New Hampshire, Alaska, North Carolina, and Oregon. If Republicans have a good night, and win some close ones (they lost them all in 2006 except for Tennessee), they could hold onto Oregon (Gordon Smith), and possibly North Carolina (Dole). Stevens in Alaska and Sununu in New Hampshire are behind by more than the margin of error, and have a slim shot at holding on.

To get to 60, the Democrats would have to win Minnesota and Georgia. I think they will fall short in both. In two close races, both Norm Coleman in Minnesota and Gordon Smith in Oregon, despite moderate voting records, have been targeted with tens of millions in negative ads portraying them as Bush clones, the same strategy the Obama campaign has used to falsely tar John McCain with $300 million in ads. In the case of Franken, his entire campaign has been a savage smear job against Coleman, and Franken’s election to the Senate, were it to occur, would make Minnesota even more of a national laughing stock that when it elected Jesse Ventura governor.

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.

Keep early eye on Georgia, Virginia and Indiana


WASHINGTON (AP) – Election watchers won’t have to wait for polls to close in the West to know how things are going. The first clues will come early, when voting ends in Georgia, Indiana and Virginia. If Democrat Barack Obama wins any of the three, he could be on his way to a big victory, maybe even a landslide.

If Republican John McCain sweeps them, he could be headed for a comeback. And if any of these three are too close to call quickly, that could indicate a long night ahead – and, perhaps, a squeaker of a result.

President Bush comfortably won the trio four years ago. But Obama has used his financial muscle and his draw as the youthful first black Democratic nominee to put them, and other historically reliable Republican states, into play.

Thus, the Democrat has several routes he can take to reach the 270 Electoral College votes needed for victory. McCain’s strategy has no room for error; he must win nearly all the states that went to Bush in 2004, and possibly even one or two that voted for Democrat John Kerry that year.

Here’s a timetable for armchair election watchers, all given in Eastern Standard Time:

– 7 p.m.: The last polls close in Georgia, Indiana and Virginia, new battlegrounds this year offering a combined 39 votes, as well as in Kentucky and South Carolina, GOP country and 16 votes McCain should easily win, and Vermont, three, a sure thing for Obama.

– 7:30 p.m.: Ohio and North Carolina, both are critical for McCain.

Ohio is a perennial swing state that no Republican has ever lost on his way to the presidency. Bush captured the state twice, and a loss would be difficult, if not impossible, for McCain to weather. He has few options to make up the 20 electoral votes elsewhere, while Obama probably could sustain a defeat here and look for wins in other GOP states where polls show him running stronger.

North Carolina, with 15 votes, is another GOP state that Obama targeted for a pickup from the start of the general election and one where he is working to get blacks and young adults to turn out for him in droves. He also made a late play for West Virginia’s five votes. Both are less likely than others to flip; McCain losing either would be disastrous.

– 8 p.m.: Final voting ends in some 15 states and Washington, D.C.

For Obama, the biggest prizes among them are Florida and its 27 votes and 11-vote Missouri, a bellwether for decades. Both went for Bush, and while Obama can afford to lose both, McCain can’t.

Should the Republican stumble in those states or others, he hopes to make up any deficit in Pennsylvania, which offers 21 votes and hasn’t voted for a Republican since 1988. A loss here could be the death knell for McCain’s chances; it’s the only Kerry-won state where he and the Republican National Committee are fiercely competing.

Among other Kerry states, McCain hopes New Hampshire and its independent streak will come through for him again; the state, which has four electoral votes, made him in his 2000 presidential primary and saved him eight years later, setting him on course to win the GOP nomination. McCain also has been gunning for a single electoral vote in Maine, one of two states that award them by congressional districts.

In this election-night hour, the Republican will almost certainly rack up 33 quick votes with wins in Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee, while Obama banks 47 from Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and the nation’s capital and 24 more from his home state of Illinois and that of running mate Joe Biden, Delaware.

– 8:30 p.m.: Arkansas should be called for McCain shortly after its polls close. It has six votes.

– 9 p.m.: Another big wave of states closing. The ones to watch are hotly contested Bush states Colorado and New Mexico, where Obama hopes Democratic-leaning Hispanics will lift him to victory. McCain could withstand losing the 14 votes these two offer – as long as he wins just about everywhere else he’s competing.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the typically reliable Republican territory of North Dakota and South Dakota. Obama has competed in the former, and there may be overlap effect in the latter. They each offer there votes. Obama is also pushing for one vote in a Nebraska congressional district.

Arizona, McCain’s home state, may be another key indicator of which way the election will play out. If McCain loses that state, it’s all but certain his presidential dreams are over. Some surveys show the race there having tightened.

The Republican can essentially guarantee victories worth 52 votes in Kansas, Louisiana, Texas and Wyoming, while Obama is virtually certain to collect 72 votes from Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

– 10 p.m.: Voting ends in GOP-held, Iowa, Montana and Nevada, a combined 15 votes. Losing these would be a setback for McCain, while winning them would be a boon for Obama. Utah’s five votes are a certainty for McCain.

– 11 p.m.: Four states – mega-prize California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – are expected to quickly give Obama a combined 77 votes, while Idaho is expected to award its four votes to McCain.

– 1 a.m.: Capping off the night is Alaska, where GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is governor. The Republican ticket is a shoo-in for those three votes.

And then it’s over. Or not.

As the past two elections showed, there’s no certainty. If it’s a contest at all, the victor may not be declared until Wednesday’s wee hours. Or later.

Bush advisor Karl Rove makes electoral college prediction

By Andrew Malcolm, Los Angeles Times

The final day before the official presidential voting and the final version of Karl Rove’s exclusive national electoral map sees a strong victory for Barack Obama, gaining the most electoral votes since Bill Clinton’s lopsided win over Bob Dole in 1996.

According to the research of compiled state polls by Karl Rove & Co., the hypothetical electoral college numbers suggest an Obama win over the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin of 338 electoral votes to 200.

For the final report, Rove has allocated each state to the candidate leading there in state polls today.

According to these calculations, Obama takes hard-fought Florida. But McCain edges ahead in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and North Carolina.

Rove notes that Obama and McCain are in dead heats in North Carolina and Missouri, but the most recent polls over the weekend show a trend toward the Republican ticket. “Florida, too, could end up in McCain’s column,” Rove adds, “since he’s benefited from recent movement in the state.” But it’s not enough for the Arizona senator to capture the necessary 270.

For an explanation of the research methodology and for a chart showing the study’s movements week by week since July 1, click on the Read more line below. The Ticket’s appreciation to Rove & Co. for its permission to publish these polls simultaneously throughout the recent hotly contested months.




For each state, the map uses the average of all public telephone polls (Internet polls are not included in the average) taken within 14 days of the most recent poll available in each state.

For example, if the most recent poll in Montana was taken on July 15, the average includes all polls conducted between July 1 and July 15. States within a 3-point lead for McCain or Obama are classified as tossups; states outside the 3-point lead are allocated to the respective candidate.

There is no polling data available for the District of Columbia, but its three electoral votes are allocated to Obama.

Published by Top of the Ticket with permission of Karl Rove & Co.

U.S. Election: Going Obama’s way, but not over yet

By Charlie Cook, National Journal

John McCain needed a breakthrough during Tuesday night’s debate. If he got it, I must have been watching the wrong channel. Yes, McCain definitely seemed more comfortable with the town hall setting than with the earlier debate’s more traditional format. And, for the first time this year, McCain articulated some semblance of an economic message. But none of this changed the trajectory of the race, which is increasingly headed in Barack Obama’s direction.

Going into this week’s debate, Obama held a 9-point lead in Gallup’s national tracking poll. That was his widest edge so far, and it marked 11 consecutive days in which the Democrat held a statistically significant advantage over McCain in the Gallup survey. State-level polls also show Obama pulling ahead — not just in every state that Al Gore won in 2000 or John Kerry won in 2004 but also in some key states that George W. Bush carried twice, such as Colorado, Florida, and Ohio. The contests in several other Bush states, including Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia, are now dead heats.

Heading toward the end of the second week of voting in some states — and with as many as one-third of votes nationwide likely to be cast early — this election is settling into a very bad pattern for McCain and the GOP.

What has happened? Veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart, drawing on his latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey and on a focus group he recently conducted in St. Louis for the Annenberg Public Policy Center, wrote to his clients before Tuesday’s debate. “The reason we have reached an important inflection point in this campaign is that the economy is not just another issue being highlighted, but the issue in voters’ personal lives,” he told them.

The heightened economic and credit crisis has effectively changed the venue of this election to turf that is virtually unwinnable for a Republican presidential candidate. If voters are focused on the economy going into Election Day, the outcome will almost certainly favor Democrats. But Hart also said that if the public’s priority ends up being national security, Republicans not only could, but probably would, win.

“John McCain has lost control of the economic issue, and the debate over the financial crisis has made voters doubt him,” Hart wrote. “The economy is overwhelming all other issues.” He noted that 59 percent of voters cite economic issues as their greatest area of concern and that “these voters who consider economic issues most important are voting for Obama by 15 points. Also, McCain’s handling of the financial crisis has made voters feel less reassured about him — 25 percent more reassured, 38 percent less.”

Another important dynamic in recent weeks is that Obama, through his first debate performance, seems to have cleared a threshold, much as Ronald Reagan did in his October 28, 1980, debate with President Carter. In that encounter, Reagan took advantage of voters’ animosity toward the incumbent and his party. The former California governor went on to ride a wave of change that had eluded him until a sufficient number of voters felt comfortable with the idea of his being president.

Reagan’s background as an actor and his lack of congressional, Cabinet, or national security experience had given voters pause, but the debate allowed him to clear that hurdle. For Obama, his relative youth and lack of national experience, as well as his race, had worked against him until he projected a high level of intelligence and knowledge about issues in the first debate. He was also confident, poised, and sufficiently tough to persuade enough recalcitrant Democratic and independent voters to join ranks behind him. That’s when he began to pull away in the polls.

This contest is not over yet, of course. McCain needs something big to change the dynamics — something bigger than a kick-ass ad, a strong debate performance, or a misstep by Obama. If voters stay focused on the economy, this contest could soon be out of McCain’s reach. If their attention returns to national security in the next week or so, he could still come back.

The race isn’t necessarily over for Obama and McCain

By Michael Barone, U.S. News & World Report

Does Obama have it all locked up? My colleague at Thomas Jefferson Street, Robert Schlesinger, thinks so. And he may very well prove to be right. When we look back over the course of the campaign some time after November 4, we may very well conclude that Barack Obama sprinted to a lead during the two weeks following the coagulation of credit on September 18. Obama’s coolness during the financial crisis, combined with John McCain’s impulsiveness, convinced many voters that Obama was the safer choice, the story line will go. And Obama’s big advantage in television advertising contributed to his advance in target states, as Republican blogger Patrick Ruffini argues. As Robert notes, Obama’s current leads in several Bush ’04 states means that McCain must change the basic tenor of the campaign in order to win; eking out a narrow margin in one or two states won’t do it in the current state of opinion. And no one has a clear idea of how McCain can change the dynamic. So, the argument goes, Obama has this thing locked up.

But maybe not.

When I was in the political polling business, I once wrote an optimistic report on a poll. My boss, Peter Hart, took me aside and said, “Whenever you put something on paper, keep in mind how it will read after the election and your client has lost.” This election has been compared to 1980, when, just about all analysts agree, voters were prepared to get rid of Jimmy Carter and only waited to see whether Ronald Reagan was an acceptable alternative. Reagan’s performance in the only debate convinced voters he was, and he went on to win by a 50 percent to 41 percent margin, carrying 44 states. Similarly, some say, Obama’s performance in the two presidential debates so far (and Joe Biden’s performance in the vice presidential debate) has resolved voters’ doubts and led a majority of them to conclude that Obama is an acceptable alternative to the candidate of George W. Bush’s party.

Karl Rove begs to differ. He thinks voters haven’t really decided yet and are still waiting for more evidence. The Carter-Reagan debate, after all, took place on the Thursday before the election. Voters had only five days left to make up their minds. Today, as I write, voters have 26 days left to decide. Maybe they’ll wait and see how things go before they make their final decisions.

One reason to doubt this is that early voting is much more common than it was in 1980. The Obama campaign has spent much time and effort on organizing registration, early voting, and turnout efforts. Marc Ambinder of, usually a cool observer, is in awe of their efforts. But as Jim Geraghty of notes, very few votes were cast during the one-week period of early voting in the crucial state of Ohio—far fewer than Geraghty (or I) expected. The most successful recent turnout drive was that of the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign, which relied on peer-to-peer volunteers, local people who made connections with neighbors with whom they had something in common (fellow members of a particular church, fellow accountants, nearby neighbors). The Obama campaign, in contrast, seems to be depending on youthful volunteers who seem unlikely to have such connections. Ambinder notes that, over the summer, the Obama organization concentrated on attracting more volunteers and only in September started concentrating on metrics of voter contacts.

A disciplined approach, certainly. But how effective are all those volunteers? Are they as effective as those stocking-capped Perfect Stormers of the Howard Dean campaign in Iowa in January 2004? You saw those orange stocking caps swarming all over Des Moines, but they didn’t end up producing many caucus votes. And that was in an early stage of the contest. As a supporter of George McGovern in 1972, I remember that it seemed relatively easy to knock on a strange voter’s door and get a commitment to vote for a then little-known candidate who stood near the left of the political spectrum. “Hey, if this nice young kid is willing to come over on a cold day, why not give this guy a vote?” But when you knocked on people’s doors in September and October, the response was more like: “Hey, kid, it’s nice that you’re motivated and I’d like to give you some milk and cookies, but big things are at stake, and I’m gonna vote for Nixon.”

The Obama candidacy is obviously in far better shape today than McGovern’s was in fall 1972, and there are surely more voters today who are persuadable. And there are surely a lot of marginally involved young and black Obama supporters susceptible to organization efforts—people who would not vote if not contacted but who will if urged and helped to do so. But as Sean Oxendine of argues, the one-week Ohio early voting numbers suggest that the Obama organizational efforts may not be producing as many votes as the Obama campaign hopes. We simply don’t know. There will be other metrics in the weeks ahead on which to base judgments. But I think we’ll have to wait until the actual election results start coming in to make a judgment on the effectiveness of these tactics. Which was the case in 2004. Journalists then provided good accounts of the easy-to-cover Democratic organizational efforts in black neighborhoods and university towns. They provided very little on the harder-to-cover Bush-Cheney ’04 organizational story. My working hypothesis is that peer-to-peer is a lot more productive than young, stocking-capped volunteers. The Obama campaign’s organizational efforts are obviously far superior to the McCain campaign’s. But I think it’s an open question whether they will produce the kind of turnout increase that the Obama campaign wants and, if the balance of opinion changes a bit, will need.