Forget all about the polls being bandied about going into this final weekend before the Presidential Election, if only during the time you might be taking right now to read this piece. Put aside the questions as to whether or not Barack Obama really has an almost insurmountable lead or, on the other hand, whether or not John McCain might end up with a Harry Truman-like 'Cheshire cat' grin as he holds up a mistaken headline reading 'OBAMA DEFEATS McCAIN' come next Wednesday evening.
There have only been two basic self-evident 'truths' about this Presidential Election from the very start of the "marathon" that began about a year ago with 18 principal Major Party presidential contenders (only half of whom had any real chance- however outside- of actually prevailing) wrestling for 2 Major Party presidential nominations:
1. It has always been more the Democratic presidential nominee's election (no matter who that nominee might have been) to lose than it has been the Republican presidential nominee's (again, regardless of who ended up with the GOP prize) to win...
yet, at the very same time,
2. The Democratic Party's national ticket (again, no matter who were the two persons actually on it) was not going to win without picking up a couple of what we might call "Republican" States of late.
The reason for this is simple, basic Electoral Vote math:
If we take the States that voted for George W. Bush both times (2000 and 2004) and, if only as a "base line", place them in the Republican presidential (now John McCain) column, we get 274 Electoral Votes (3 more than Bush's 271 in 2000 because of shifts in Electors per State as a result of the 2000 Census but which kicked in only after the 2000 contest)- or 4 more than necessary to elect a Republican to the White House; meanwhile, if we take the States that voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 as being- again, only as a "base line" 'starting point'- "Democratic" States of late (and, thus, we put them in the Obama column for now), we come up with but 248 Electoral Votes, 22 short of the number necessary to win the Presidency. Only 16 Electoral Votes- from three States which switched presidential sides between 2000 and 2004 (Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico) would not be treated as either "base line" 'Democratic' or "base line" 'Republican' in this particular discussion.
Just from these numbers alone, it can clearly be seen that Barack Obama would not only have to a.) hold onto those States Gore and Kerry both actually won in the previous two Presidential Elections and b.) pick up the 16 Electors from the "Party switcher" States (which would bring Obama only up to 264 Electoral Votes, still 6 short) but he would have to also c.) take at least one 'George W. Bush' State (assuming, of course, that it happened to be one with at least 6 Electoral Votes) in order to actually win the White House!
For, if one takes only the States that gave their Electoral Votes to Bill Clinton in both Presidential Elections he won (and the use of States going for Clinton in both is significant here-- one might well argue that moderates more supported Clinton before he became President or that the presence of Ross Perot on the presidential ballot in '92 more benefited Clinton but, if a State went for Clinton in '96 as well as '92 [Clinton, in 1996, being an incumbent President with an actual record in the White House to defend], it has to be considered to have recently been a State in which a Democratic presidential candidate can at least be competitive, if not actually win!]) and gives them the number of Electors to which they would be entitled in 2008 (for, again, there were shifts in numbers of Electors among some of these States since the 1990s), one gets a total of 339 Electoral Votes, 69 more than necessary to elect...
in other words, it's doable...
but it is, by no means, easy!
So, just where would Senator Obama be able to so eat into the heart of where Senator McCain would otherwise be thought to have an advantage? One would think it would, most likely, be in those States where Democrats have shown marked improvement over the past few two-year congressional/legislative election cycles and, to this end, one should take a good look at something along the lines of the table on this very website dealing with State-by-State Relative Electoral Strength of Major Parties from which, I think, we can discern just what the recent political landscape might actually be going into next Tuesday's voting.
First and foremost, there is COLORADO (in the 100-point scoring system used in the table cited above, Democrats have gained 41 points here over the previous two two-year election cycles and turned a State recently so solidly Republican into a State in which Democrats are highly competitive)-- with 9 Electoral Votes. Another, similar State (though it only gets one 3 Electoral Votes) is MONTANA (36 points gained by the Democrats over the same four years).
Even States where the Republicans still seem to have held onto a slight edge Statewide are, as a result, now in the mix: in VIRGINIA (13 Electoral Votes), the Republicans have lost 17 points over the past four years; in OHIO (20 Electoral Votes), so obviously a battleground State in this year's Presidential Election, the GOP has dropped a cool 37 over the very same period. Clearly, these- then- are "Republican" States (again, those States which have gone for George W. Bush twice) that are so ripe for the picking by the Obama/Biden ticket.
And, if McCain/Palin can't stop them from doing this, then that ticket has to- somewhere!- pick off a "Democratic" State (again, a State that has gone for both Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004) to offset any "pickoffs" by the Democratic slate... but the pickin's sure are slim for the Republicans in this regard, for the table cited earlier shows that, for the most part, the Democrats have been holding their own in these "Democratic" States (even where they have lost points over the four years in question, the Democrats still hold a formidable percentage of the total 100 in the scoring).
Perhaps the weakest hold the Democrats have had, of late, on a "Democratic" State is in MINNESOTA (10 Electoral Votes) but that is one of the States in which- at least as of around a week ago as I type this- Obama/Biden seems to have a fairly solid lead (although incumbent Republican Norm Coleman seems to be barely holding onto a slight lead in his bid to keep his U.S. Senate seat).
Of course, having said all this, there are all those unknowns attached to this particular Presidential Election, such as:
- Early Voting: Quite a few voters have already cast their ballots, thanks to the allowance for early voting in a number of States. Conventional wisdom has it that the vast majority of these (who, obviously, made up their minds rather early on as to whom they wanted to have as the next American President) are "hard-core" supporters of one National Ticket or the other (Republicans who would never be caught dead voting for a Democratic presidential candidate and vice versa)-- but: are they, really?-- or, rather, were they? In any event, these early voters will be counted in the returns seen come next Tuesday evening as if they had waited until 4 November to vote... how much does this early voting, however, dilute the polling numbers being seen going into Election Day? (After all, if you've already voted, how can you then tell a pollster who you will vote for?)
- The Palin Factor: It is quite clear that Governor Palin will attract the votes of at least some women who would have preferred to have seen Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, as the Democratic nominee or, having not seen this, would have liked Senator Clinton to at least have been Obama's running mate (however politically unrealistic just such a prospect might actually have been)-- but how many? Gaining a mere sliver of a percentage of any "Hillary women" who are not so committed to sociocultural liberalism will not help McCain's prospects all that much: gaining significantly more than this mere sliver, however, will.
- The Tom Bradley Effect: Named for former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American Democrat who ran for Governor against Republican George Deukmejian twice back in the 1980s; in his first race for that office, polls showed him winning on the eve of the Election- yet Deukmejian eked out a victory once the returns had come in (Deukmejian's re-election over Bradley would be far more decisive): it appeared that many respondents to the pollsters of the time lied about their intent to vote for Bradley in order to not be seen as being at all racist. A similar effect was noted in other races involving African-American candidates back during that same decade (Doug Wilder, in his race for Governor of Virginia in 1989, and David Dinkins, seeking the Mayoralty of New York City on that very same Election Day, both had much closer victories than had been indicated by the last series of pre-election polls). The pollsters claim they have largely mitigated this in today's polling methodologies-- but have they?
- Mad as Hell and not taking it anymore: It is well established that most Republican voters are ticked off at President George W. Bush; it is also just as well established that most of these voters are ticked off at 'Dub-ya' the man, not general conservative Republican policies as promoted by the Bush Administration over the past nearly eight years-- but some (albethey a minority) are: how many? And how many of these few will see Senator McCain as truly the maverick they can still vote for?
- Still Undecided after all these weeks (and months): There are still, as of this typing, quite a number of undecided voters who have not yet made up their minds between McCain or Obama (or- for that matter- Baldwin, Barr, McKinney, Nader-- or even a write-in for, say, General Zod)-- but just how many?
The above are all questions that, for the most part, can't really be answered until we see the returns actually coming in during the course of next Tuesday evening and this, too, is all part of the political landscape as we now "round the final turn and head down the home stretch"... perhaps this is all for the best... for the only poll that actually counts is the one that will produce the numbers we will see coming out of 4 November 2008 itself.