May 16, 2008

How Will Obama Win 270 Electoral Votes?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , — Volt @ 8:54 am

Paul Maslin, Salon, May 16, 2008

Thanks to John Adams and James Madison, an American presidential election really does begin and end with the Electoral College. Didn’t 2000 tell us that? (Well, it ended with Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, but you get the drift.)

Critics scoff and call it an antiquated and unfair system (it is). Many Democrats — notably, this year, Obama backers — would like their party to stop thinking in terms of three yards and a cloud of purple-state dust and instead embrace the beauty of a 50-state strategy. Somehow, they say, 2008 can and must be different.

OK, I’m listening. Different how? In that the Democrats win?

Certain cold realities haven’t changed. A candidate must still reach 270 electoral votes to gain the White House. Unless there is a popular-vote landslide in November, the presidential election is still best seen as a collection of 50 statewide contests. Should this fall’s election be as close as the last two in 2000 and 2004, no more than one-third of those 50 states will be in serious contention. In fact, only about half of that number will ultimately decide the outcome, since the vast majority of the other “close” states actually lean pretty strongly to one side or the other and are unlikely to shift their preference. Once again we’re all going to be spending a lot of the next six months, at least psychically, in the Rust Belt.

To figure out how Obama can assemble the magic 270, then, let’s look at the 17 states where this fall’s outcome is not a mortal lock. I am a Democratic pollster — this presidential election cycle I worked for Bill Richardson, and last time I worked for Howard Dean. But my collection of swing states is not based on current match-up polling between Obama and McCain. I mostly ignored the polls — come on, it’s May. Instead, I looked at long-term voting trends and demographics.

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