Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pennsylvania Is a Keystone for Obama's Quest for 270 Electoral Votes (Well, 269)

It's time to forget about the daily tracking polls and take a serious look at the Electoral College map.

It's the only thing that matters. As you might remember, a candidate can win the national popular vote and lose the election. Matter of fact, a candidate could win 11 specific states by one vote and not even be on the ballot in the rest of the country and still win the election. There are 538 electoral votes. This number no longer increases (well, at least until any new states are added to the union) because the number of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate does not change. Instead, every 10 year with the new census, the number of electors shifts from states who have lost population to states who have gained population. So in 2012, some states will have a new number of electoral votes.

A candidate, therefore, needs to win 270 electoral votes to have a majority plus one. But for Sen. Barack Obama, he only needs 269. That would result in a tie, which is broken by the House of Representatives. It's highly unlikely that a Democratic-controlled House will be favorable to Sen. John McCain.

So, which states does the road to the Promise Land go through for Obama?

Well, if he successfully defends the states won by Sen. John Kerry in 2004, he will start off with 252 votes. Of those states, a few are close, but still leaning toward Obama. Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes) is the most notable. A number of state polls there show a 1-3 percentage-point lead for Obama. It's tight, but for the Democrats, turnout is the key. If the Democrats can get a strong turnout from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh it will be very difficult for McCain to produce the numbers in the rural and suburban areas to match. In Pennsylvania, Obama can win with sheer volumne alone.

And by winning Pennsylvania, the Electoral Map becomes very easy for Obama. He would need only 17 more electoral votes to win, and there are plenty opportunities for him to find them. Ohio, where McCain has only had a 2-3 point edge in polls, is obtainable. That alone will do it for him. (I'm sure John Kerry has thought of that already.) But here is Iowa (7 votes), where he is leading in the polls; New Mexico (5 votes) is blue on most maps right now; Colorado (9 votes), where many polls give him an edge; Indiana (11 votes), Virginia (13 votes), and Nevada (5 votes) are toss-ups in many polls.

There are a number of combinations for Obama to dial in. But for him, the key is Pennsylvania. Ironically, if he had chosen Sen. Hillary Clinton as his running mate, he would have had that state in his pocket. So on election night, watch for the Pennsylvania results. If they go blue, it's going to be a very blue night for John McCain.

1 comment:

S said...

The real issue is not how well Obama or McCain might do in the closely divided battleground states, but that we shouldn't have battleground states and spectator states in the first place. Every vote in every state should be politically relevant in a presidential election. And, every vote should be equal. We should have a national popular vote for President in which the White House goes to the candidate who gets the most popular votes in all 50 states.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral vote -- that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Because of state-by-state enacted rules for winner-take-all awarding of their electoral votes, recent candidates with limited funds have concentrated their attention on a handful of closely divided "battleground" states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential election.

Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes-- 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.