6.09.2008

McCain's map and the electoral college

Showcasing its general election strategy, the McCain campaign released data, slides and maps from a recent strategy briefing. The material confirmed that McCain will portray Obama as "outside the mainstream" and will seek to use his opponent's clear problems in the Appalachia (which include Southeastern Ohio and Southwestern Pennsylvania) to take control of states that Democrats are hoping to contest. The campaign also released the following electoral map of the states it believes the candidate will be able to strongly contest:


The extent to which both parties believe they will be able to "change the map" this cycle is remarkable, especially when we consider that this was one of Obama's main electability arguments against the more traditional approach of the Clinton campaign. McCain's map is most in terms of what is left out and the two surprising states that are included. First, notice the exclusion of:

  • Red states that the Obama campaign is planning on contesting, starting with Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina, in what is an attempt to downplay Obama's competitiveness in traditionally Republican areas. Note how confident McCain sounded today when asked about Virginia's new status as a swing state. "We will win," he insisted.
  • Florida and West Virginia, traditional swing states which the GOP is a bit more confident of carrying with Obama bearing the Democratic mantle.
  • Washington and Oregon, traditional swing states which McCain is said to want to compete but which Obama will have an easier time defending than Clinton would have.
  • New Jersey, Iowa and Minnesota, states in which polls find a tight race and which the GOP is committed to contesting (particularly if McCain chooses Gov. Pawlenty), so I am puzzled as to their exclusion.
The exclusion of Minnesota and Iowa when Michigan is included confirms that MI will be at the center of McCain's campaign and should be considered as one of the most important battles of the campaign, along with PA and OH. Obama could conceivably lose the latter two but get to the White House through a less conventional route, but the loss of all three states would surely be fatal to Democratic hopes.

Furthermore, the exclusion of those two states and of New Jersey's is striking considering the campaign's choice to list California and Connecticut, two states which conventional wisdom (and polls) rate as more safely anchored in the Democratic camp. While the map-changing potential of McCain's appeal to independents is undeniable, it is hard to envision that it could lead the Republican to an upset in the Golden State without first putting him on top in a state like Oregon.

In fact, California's inclusion can be best described as an effort by Republicans to get Democrats worried about the state, forcing them to spend resources defending this must-win state instead of setting their sights in more interesting contests. The GOP sets a similar trap every 4 years, though Democrats rarely fall for the trick; in 2000, Al Gore did not revisit his campaign plans to defend California and it is George Bush who wasted the most time pretending like the contest there was competitive. Expect the McCain campaign to continue making a similar case in the coming months.

Yet, it is most likely that Republicans will have no money to actually contest the state and actually move numbers. This is why McCain has to settle for the minimal strategy of convincing the press that California could swing and thus propagate a narrative that will (the GOP hopes) lead Democrats to panic and play defense. Indeed, Republicans are at a major financial disadvantage this year, and given Obama's financial advantage it would not be that much of an inconvenience for him to drop a few millions in the Golden State to make sure its 55 electoral votes are safely in his column.

In fact, Obama's financial advantage should allow Democrats to play the same trick on Republicans in McCain's must-win states. And since Obama will have plenty of money, he will be able to spend some of it in places like Texas and Arizona to test McCain's vulnerabilities (while the GOP can do little else than leak strategy briefings). If Democrats are successful in moving these races within single-digits, they would tie McCain down to playing defense in states he cannot afford to lose.

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11 Comments:

  • There's no way McCain thinks Connecticut is more competitive than Florida. And it's great if Republicans have already given up on the Northwest.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 09 June, 2008 22:16  

  • Why would he spend money in California and not Iowa, Minnesota, and other, much cheaper markets?

    This doesn't make sense.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 09 June, 2008 23:33  

  • CS,

    The point I was making was precisely that McCain cannot afford spending in California and is simply trying to convince the press (and Democrats) that California could swing. Obama, on the other hand, can afford to spend money in states equivalent to CA and actually move numbers enough to force McCain to play defense.

    By Blogger Taniel, At 10 June, 2008 00:27  

  • "The point I was making was precisely that McCain cannot afford spending in California and is simply trying to convince the press (and Democrats) that California could swing."

    I was going to say the press can't be that stupid, but then I realized I was I was about to say.

    I guess the press would be the only group to fall for that.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 10 June, 2008 01:52  

  • On a side note, I hear Obama's going to campaign in 25 states. I would assume this would include Texas, which would be the Republican California. I can't wait to see if he can move the numbers there.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 10 June, 2008 01:55  

  • I think that McCain's confidence in Connecicut is purely based on the most recent Rasmussen poll that shows him only 3% behind Obama. The problem for McCain is that it is likely that Clinton supporters who don't like Obama now in CT will eventually move to him and McCain is unlikly to have the money to ensure that CT stays competive. In addition, his association with Lieberman doesn't help him as Lieberman is so strongly despised by Democrats in CT that he would lose to a Democrat such as his 2006 opponent Lamont. And be assured that Democrats will remember his endorsement of McCain and will target him for defeat in 2012 no matter if he is still caucusing with the Democrats or not.

    I agree with Taniel's assesment that McCain mainly bluffing in Calfornia: it is a strong Democratic state and light dem states Washington and Oregan would fall to McCain first before California would, and McCain's lack of interest in the upper two betrays his true intentions on California.

    Michigan is defintly going to be McCain's central point of offense as Obama doesn't have any organiztion in that state and McCain probaby hopes that the delegate controvery will help him win the state in the fall. Also, compared to New Hampshire, the other state most likely to switch to the Republicans, a loss in Michigan would seriously dent Obama's quest to the 270 mark, although it wouldn't derail him completely.

    By Anonymous jaxx raxor, At 10 June, 2008 01:59  

  • "Michigan is defintly going to be McCain's central point of offense as Obama doesn't have any organiztion in that state and McCain probaby hopes that the delegate controvery will help him win the state in the fall."

    I can understand McCain thinking that way, but I don't think that's a good plan. Sure, McCain is ahead now, but that's only because Obama hasn't campaigned there. Once Obama starts campaigning there, I don't think McCain will be that competitive for that long. Hell, the post Clinton concession speech along could give him enough of a boost to put him ahead.

    (On a side note, I'm dying to see massive state by state polls to see if there was any boost.)

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 10 June, 2008 06:18  

  • Michigan is vitally important for the McCain camp to steal if they're going to start tamping down the available routes that Obama has to win. Right now, Obama has a clear advantage in money, vision, supporter enthusiasm, and momentum. He's made it clear that he intends to contest the entire map this time around, and it's become increasingly clear that this is not a bluff. McCain has the opening due to the DNC penalty, and the Democrats having not campaigned there, but it's looking like Florida is the state where Obama is going to really be hurt by that situation.

    Obama can conceivably win in November without winning Michigan, but the way I'm reading the electoral map right now, I don't see much chance of McCain keeping Obama below 270 if Obama takes Michigan.

    However, if McCain is relying on winning Michigan to get himself to 270, then he's in a lot of trouble.

    By Anonymous dannity, At 10 June, 2008 11:09  

  • "However, if McCain is relying on winning Michigan to get himself to 270, then he's in a lot of trouble."

    Obama could get to 300 without winning Michigan. It would be weird if he did, but he could.

    I think he will win Michigan, and I think he will get to 300 EC votes.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 10 June, 2008 23:52  

  • Michigan is Obama's to lose. Polling right now is fairly even there, but, 1: Obviously Obama will contest it hard in the general, and he has the money and the campaigning skills to do it, 2: I think there are both a lot of Democrats in Michigan who don't normally vote who will for Obama, and a lot of Republicans and Independents who normally would vote for the Republican who won't vote for McCain. I think, in general, polls probably underestimate Obama's GE performance against McCain based on their likely-voter screens.

    If Obama keeps MI and PA, he's in a very, very strong position.

    By Blogger Stephen, At 11 June, 2008 07:40  

  • "If Obama keeps MI and PA, he's in a very, very strong position."

    Latest poll has Obama up in Michigan, but within the margin of error. By September Michigan will probably be looking quite Blue.

    Pennsylvania is already looking quite Blue, and should be trending Bluer.

    By Anonymous C.S.Strowbridge, At 11 June, 2008 12:47  

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