Editor's note: Noam Scheiber wrote this column for The New Republic. He references polls and projections from Real Clear Politics. Be sure to check CNN's electoral map and polls.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/22/art.electoralmap.jpg caption="CNN's electoral map"]
The New Republic
At our election discussion last week at the Sixth and I Synagogue, Frank asked if anyone thought Obama could lose barring some catastrophic external event. I happen to think Obama's chances of winning are upward of 80 percent, and so I didn't say anything. In fact, none of us chimed in. But, truth be told, I can imagine a losing scenario that doesn't involve outside events. It goes something like this: Obama wins all the Kerry states plus Iowa and New Mexico, giving him 264 electoral votes, then narrowly loses the rest of the red states where he's currently competitive.
According to the latest RCP averages, the next most competitive red states, in descending order of favorability to Obama, are: Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Nevada, Florida. Let's focus on Virginia, since it represents the knife-edge between winning and losing–the potentially decisive red state where Obama's currently got the biggest lead. According to RCP, Obama now leads there by 8 points–very close to his national lead of 7.2. (In fact, polling in Virginia has pretty much mirrorred national polling over the last few weeks.) That should speak well to Obama's chances: Since it's hard to imagine Obama losing the popular vote barring that catastrophic event, it should be hard to imagine Obama losing Virginia, too.
And yet here are the caveats that keep me up at night:
1.) We're at the point in the race when national trends may start diverging from trends in battleground states where McCain is still competing. After all, having an active campaign in a state makes a big difference. Just look at Michigan since McCain pulled out in early October. According to RCP, Obama is up 1.5 points nationally since October 2, but nearly 4.8 points in Michigan.
McCain is husbanding his resources for the absolute minimum number of electoral votes he needs to win, which means ignoring the national numbers and focusing on everything from Virginia on down the list of battlegrounds. There's no reason to think he couldn't lose the popular vote by 2-3 points but still win Virginia by 1.
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