Oct 29 2008

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How to Get to 270

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According to the Book of Genesis, man and the Universe were created in six days. Now Republicans have six days to stop the Messiah.


All that stands between Obama and unchecked Democratic rule in Washington is John McCain and his diligent posse.  More than 40 years of tangible, honorable service is now on the line as the only protection for a continued Republican voice in Washington.

The election facts on the ground are harsh and unrelenting.

The gargantuan Obama cash haul is funding colossal Democratic ad buys, leaving McCain in the dust in major media markets. Vast community networks and paid volunteers are itching to put intricate plans in action to get voters to the polls.

Pollsters show Obama leads of various lengths across the board.

For his part, Obama feels a “righteous wind’ at his back.

Teddy Kennedy is writing an intrusive, rationing health care bill from his sick bed, and Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid – who is working hard for a filibuster-proof majority – are already retooling legislation that will no longer need Republican or moderate buy-in to pass an Obama administration.

The sense of impatience is palpable.  Inevitability is the warm blanket of reassurance that comforts those so long on the sidelines, maddened by the Bush administration and Republicans.

But a non-scientific gut check tells me that the Obama legions would have preferred that the election be held yesterday.

Six days is, as Genesis points out, a life time, both in the ecclesiastic and the political.  Now we have audio of Obama commenting on the US Constitution as a tool of social engineering to spread wealth. We have donations to his campaign that are unchecked for the legalities of campaign finance that Obama has not already rejected. We have campaign affiliated community organizers registering Mickey Mouse and the Dallas Cowboys.

And the Los Angeles Times won’t release a video of Obama toasting a former PLO terrorist and aide to Yassir Arafat. All last minute stuff that comes out in any campaign, but it raises questions about Obama’s perceived Democratic centrism and financial transparency.

Amid all the static and polls stands one stark fact: John McCain can still win the presidency. This election is not done, no matter how many times the MSM try to close the door.

It will be uphill all the way.  It will require a level of precision that has not been a McCain campaign hallmark. It will require determination and yes, courage, to stand up against the tide of Obamamania. It will require touch choices, and yes, a little luck.

National polls are all over the place, both in proliferation and positioning.

Obama up 15, Obama up 1. For the purposes of consistency, the Soapbox is utilizing Realclearpolitics.com’s “toss up” and leaning” states as the basis for this analysis.  Pennsylvania was added as it was a state where Democrats lost ground in 2004.  Wisconsin and Iowa were added as the margin of victory in 2004 was measured in 10ths of percent.

Taking these fourteen states off the map, Obama begins in a superior strategic position.

9 of the 14 states are Red states from the Republican coalition. Three states (Iowa, New Mexico and New Hampshire) have been passed back and forth in the last two elections.  Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are in the Democratic coalition that have come close to flipping to the GOP, but not quite. All five of those states are currently in the Obama orbit according to current polling.

Excluding these 14 states, Obama starts with a lead 217-160 with 161 outstanding.

To assess priorities, Duffy assembled discrete and varied data points that show current conditions and long term trends, placed in the following matrix to help assess the battleground states and how and where to assign resources:

State RCP Av
Obama LD. 1
Most Recent Poll
/MOE 2
Sept  ‘08
US: 6.1% 3
Sept ’08
Fore-closure Ranking4
Net Party Point Gain since:
2000 5
Last 5 6
More Than 50% 7
FL-27 3.3 4 (3) 6.6%
#4 +4/-1 4/1 2/0
OH- 20 6.4 4 (3) 7.2%
#8 +2/+3 3/2 3/0
MO – 11 .06 1 (3) 4.6%
#21 +3/-1 3/2 3/0
VA – 13 7.3 4 (3) 4.3%
#13 +2/+1 5/0 3/0
CO -9 7.0 4 (3) 5.2%
#5 +1/+5 4/1 3/0
NV – 5 4.6 4 (4) 7.3%
#1 +1/+2 3/2 2/0
NH – 11.2 4-5 (4) 4.1%
#22 +1/+3 2/3 1/1
NM – 5 8.4 13 (4)
#39 +2/+1 2/3 1/0
IN – 11 1.4 6 (4) 6.2%
#11 +3/-2 5/0 3/0
NC – 15 15 1 (3) 7.0%
#27 +0/+0 5/0 3/0
MT -3 3.4 4 (4)
#46 +1/+5 4/1 3/0
PA – 21 9.8 9 (3) 5.7%
#33 +2/+0 ¼ 1/2
WI – 10 10.6 7 (4.5) 5.0%
#34 +1.7/+1.9 ¼ 1/0
IA – 7 11.4 10 (4) 4.2%
#42 +1.7/+.7 ¼ 0/2

Cut Your Losses:

There are some immediate decisions that are obvious. McCain should re-direct efforts from Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada.  Iowa has gone Democrat 4 out of 5 times in the last 20 years, and it is only one of two places where the Democrats have reached the all important 50% threshold during that time. Obama won big there in the caucuses and the polls have not moved appreciably.

New Mexico has gone Democratic three times in the last 20 years. True, that the GOP picked up 2 points net since 2000, but Obama is running a double digit lead, despite the closeness of the race in 2004. McCain’s deficit continues to increase, from 5 points in September to 13 now.

Nevada is a nominally reliable Republican state. But it is the #1 foreclosure market in the US and has unemployment about a point higher than the national average. Republicans won by 2.6% in 2004, and the Democrats managed to improve their overall position from 2000 by 2% while the GOP received a bump of 1%. It seems to be tilting left.

This puts the race at 234-160-144.

By the same token, there are states listed in play on the Republican side that are in “play” mostly from the economic upheaval and the superficially positive Democratic image that will likely come back to the fold. These are Montana, Indiana, North Carolina and Missouri.

In Montana, unemployment is a point and a half lower than the nation, it is the state that is least hit by the housing crunch.  Republicans have won four of the last five elections, with three over 50%. The last election was won by 20 points.

North Carolina is another reliable state. It is 5-0 for the GOP in the last 20 years, including the Clinton plurality years, and 3-0 at 50% or more for the GOP in that time. Unemployment is higher than the national average, but growth is good and the mortgage crisis is middling.

The same is true with Indiana.  5-0 for the GOP and 3-0 for over 50% for the GOP. It too survived the Clinton plurality years. Bush won the state by 20 in 2004. Unemployment is consistent with the national average. Since 2000, the GOP has improved its position here by 4 points, while the Democrats have lost 2 points.

Missouri used to be a bellwether, but has moved right. It has gone for the GOP in 3 out of the last 5 races, all of those races by more than 50%. Unemployment is 1.5% less than the national average, the mortgage crisis is not an immediate concern, and there has been economic growth. Obama leads here have been in the 10ths of points, while McCain wins most individual polls.  The GOP improved its position here since 2000, gaining 4 points overall. In all four states, McCain is either leading or in the margin of error.

This puts the race at: 234-200-104. The last seven states, Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia will decide the election.

Assembling the GOP Coalition:

The McCain effort has to start in Florida. No realistic strategy works without it. Republicans have won 4 out of 5 elections over the last 20 years and 2 by over 50%.  After the tension of the 2000 election, Republicans won by 5 points in 2004. That represented a 4 point gain for the GOP since 2000, while Democrats lost a point.

The challenges are economic. Unemployment is close to the national level, foreclosures are 4th in the nation. There was little economic growth in Florida in 2007.

The polling in Florida gave McCain a significant advantage through the summer and now he is in the margin of error. He first needs to lock the state with money and resources.  The historical pattern is there.  He needs to make it a reality.

This puts the race at 234-227-77

The next series of states relies of the previous data but also data from the primaries.

State Primary General
Ohio Clinton 1,259,620
Obama 1,055,769
Bush 2,859,768
Kerry 2,741,167
Pennsylvania Clinton 1,260,937
Obama 1,046,822
Kerry 2,938,095
Bush   2,793,847
Virginia Obama    627,820
Clinton   349,776
Bush 1,716,959
Kerry 1,454,742
New Hampshire Clinton   112,404
Obama   104,815
Kerry 340,511
Bush    331,237
Wisconsin Obama  646,851
Clinton  453,954
Kerry 1,489,504
Bush   1,478,120


The Buckeye State is the second leg of McCain’s triad for victory. Ohio is a center-right state with a populist streak. It has gone for the Republicans 3 out of the last 5 times, and 50% or over for each GOP win. But growth has sagged, and unemployment is up a full point over the national average. The most current polls show a margin-of-error race, but the composite poll show an uncomfortable Obama lead outside the margin.  The GOP is up 2 points since 2000, but the Democrats are up 3, keeping the state competitive.

President Bush won Ohio in 2004 with 118,000 votes. In this year’s primary, Senator Obama lost the race to Hillary Clinton by 204,000 votes. This represents a demonstration effect of how Senator Obama has failed to connect in Ohio. It is not – to be clear – a suggestion that all these “excess” Clinton voters will automatically vote for McCain.  However, these ethnic blue collar, working class voters are the key that McCain needs to unlock Ohio. The primary demonstrated that Obama, even late in the process was not getting it done.

At one point, during the heat of the primary, it was said that 30% of Clinton voters would defect to McCain. That would be a net 377,000 votes. And while unrealistic, if even 10% of the Clinton voters came over, the 125,000 votes could be the cushion and difference for McCain in the election.

This puts the race at 234-247-57


You don’t win from behind playing defense. If McCain wanted to lose gracefully, he’d pull out of Pennsylvania and focus on the remaining states for a good showing and a possible outside win.

But if you want to win from behind you have to gamble, and Pennsylvania is a strike on “enemy territory” that McCain needs as a game changer for the election. If he succeeds in taking it, he significantly complicates Obama’s path to victory.

Pennsylvania is an otherwise natural state for McCain, with a cultural demographic similar to Ohio. Democrats stayed static in 2000 and 2004, hovering at 50%.  The GOP gained 2 points.  The difference was 144,000 votes.  Unemployment is below the national average, growth was close to the national average, and the mortgage crisis is middling for Pennsylvania. And Senator Obama had the same problem here as he did in Ohio, losing the Senator Clinton by 214,000 votes, demonstrating a pool of potentially disaffected voters to make up the difference from ‘04.

The challenge is obvious. The state hasn’t gone Republican since 1988 and the Democrats have won the state with 50% or more twice to the GOP’s once (in ’88). The Philly suburbs used to compensate for the liberal urban votes out of Philly proper, but those more prosperous counties Bucks and Montgomery, have tilted left over the years. McCain needs to focus on these counties and those outside Pittsburgh, and fire up the rural vote to drive a win.

This is one state where polls are a sign of promise for McCain. Obama’s lead in individual polls has gone from 12 points to 7, with a MOE of 4.5.  It makes Pennsylvania doable if the effort is put there.

This puts the race at 234-268-36

Importantly, it puts McCain in the pole position. With PA, McCain would have four states and 36 electoral votes to pick from, any one of which would put him over the top for victory. Obama would have to win all of them to win the election.


The Old Dominion has been a GOP firewall, its’ voters unimpressed with Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore and Kerry.  VA is 5-0 for the GOP in the last 20 years and 3-0 over 50% in that time. The GOP won by 8 in 2004, improving its position by 2 points over 2000, while Democrats improved a point. Moreover, Virginia’s unemployment is almost a full two points under the national rate.  Growth in 2006 was near national averages. The mortgage crisis has put VA in the top 15.

But Virginia has been an Obama sweet spot from the beginning.  He has 50 offices here. During the primaries, he trounced Senator Clinton by 278,000 votes, a margin that is larger than the 262,000 that the Bush campaign won in 2004.  Obama continues to come back to the state for campaign rallies. The explosive growth in northern Virginia which now tilts left, gives Obama the opening to win the state over the more conservative and traditional parts of the state down south.

Obama has opened up a lead beyond the margin of error in the composite polls, though individual polls have it within the margin of error. This will be a turnout state. If the Obama operation is half of what it is cracked up to be, he can win here, despite the history.

This puts the race at 247-268-23


This might have been a prime Republican pick up target under different circumstances. Republicans came within less than a point of winning in 2000, and less than that in 2004. Unemployment is lower than the national average and the housing crisis is not as great in Wisconsin as other states.

But the Democrats have won here 4 out of the last five times. Economic growth in 2007 was lower than the national average in 2007. But more than anything else, Obama has offered a new dynamic here from his primary win.  His margin over Senator Clinton, almost 193,000 overwhelms the margin of 11,000 that John Kerry won by, building a cushion for the Democrats. This state goes to Obama.

This puts the race at 257-268-13


Another, reliable Republican state in transition. Colorado has gone for the GOP in 4 or the last five elections, voting for the GOP by margins of 50% or more 3 times.  Unemployment is less than the national average and growth in 2007 equaled the national average.

But GOP margins have been falling in the state.  Since 2000, the Democrats have picked up a net 5 points to the GOP’s net 1 point gain, even though the GOP carried the state by almost 5 points last time. Alarmingly, Colorado had the fifth highest foreclosure rate in the nation.

It is another state that will be determined by turnout.  Right now polls put it just outside the margin of error for Obama.

This puts the race at 266-268-4

New Hampshire:

John McCain lives and breathes New Hampshire.  It’s the state that made him politically when he was written off in 2000 and provided the Lazarus effect for McCain in 2008. It seems somehow odd that McCain could win the presidency without NH.

It is the place where the “maverick” message sells best and where McCain has spent the most time.  Unemployment is a full 2 points below the national average, and NH falls in the middle of states suffering from the mortgage crisis. In the primaries, NH voters denied Obama a certain victory predicted by the polls and gave Clinton a 7,600 vote winning margin.

But liberal transients fleeing Massachusetts’ confiscatory tax policy have changed the state’s make up from solidly conservative to toss up. The Democrats have won 3 of the last five elections here and tie the GOP 1 for 1 in getting over 50%. Moreover, the Democrats have improved their position since 2000 by 3%.

NH is tough going, but it is the place where McCain has done his most solid base work. He is probably the best known, non-New Hampshire politician on the ballot. Bush lost by slightly more than 9,000 votes in 2004. It is a total McCain should be able to make up, though it will be very tight. A win here gives McCain the presidency.



With Florida and Ohio as the base, Pennsylvania is the fulcrum that opens the doors to various McCain options, in NH, VA and/or Colorado, if not immediately Wisconsin.

Without Pennsylvania, McCain must win Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire, or Virginia, Wisconsin or New Hampshire.

By contrast, if Obama wins Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he only needs either Colorado or Virginia to put him over the top. McCain could take the other state and New Hampshire and still lose.


So, in order of priority, the Order of Battle is:

– Florida is the base.  We cannot win without it.

Ohio is the center.  If for some reason Ohio and Pennsylvania were to flip with Ohio going Obama, and PA for McCain, the GOP would have to win New Hampshire, Virginia and Colorado to win the election.

– Pennsylvania is the game changer that preserves McCain’s options and puts Obama on defense.

If McCain loses both Ohio and Pennsylvania, there is no path to victory short of a truly stunning upset elsewhere.  To show how steep the climb would be under this scenario, McCain could win in Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and New Hampshire, hardly a sure thing, and so long as Obama carries Iowa and Wisconsin, he still wins 275-263

– New Hampshire is where it started and its retail style and long history with McCain bodes well.

– Virginia is a wild card of old tradition and new enthusiasm.  Organization will be at a premium.

– Colorado is a state trending Democratic at a time when the mortgage crisis has hit the state hard. It’s worth a fight, but with diminishing returns.

– Wisconsin is the outlier, the surprise that doesn’t inspire, the date that didn’t show up. It’s just possible.

This is the path to victory.  Six days to create the universe. Six days to stop its undoing in the US.

All hands, Battle stations.

1. Realclearpolitics.com

2. Ibid

3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor

4. Department of Housing & Urban Development

5. David Leip, Atlas of US Presidential Elections

6. Ibid

7. Ibid


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