According to Karl Rove, who knows a thing or two about reading the electoral map, there are four states that will be really contested and which can make a difference, comparing 2004 to 2008. The states are Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia. Switching the way those states voted from the way they voted in 2004 will be the keys, in Rove’s eyes, to governing the outcome of this election.
Current polling numbers in each:
- Colorado is leaning Obama, 48% to 44%.
- Michigan is leaning Obama, 46% to 43%.
- Ohio is leaning Obama, 46% to 44%.
- Virginia is leaning McCain, 47% to 48%.
To the list Rove provided, I would add Florida, Montana, New Hampshire, and maybe even New Mexico.
- Florida is leaning McCain, 44% to 47%.
- Montana is tied, 47% to 47%.
- New Hampshire is leaning Obama, 46% to 43% (this based on three-week old polling data).
- New Mexico is leaning Obama, 49% to 43% (this figure is also three weeks old).
In the hands of skilled politicians and political handlers, these are numbers that can move over the next 82 days. (Yes, that’s all the time left between now and the election — just under 12 weeks.)
The trick will be to find some kind of a common theme that will play in the battleground states, so that a unified message can be broadcast that will tip the balance one way or another. Given that the polling currently favors Obama, the impetus is on Camp McCain to come up with something that will change the existing momentum.
Much of that will depend on things beyond either candidate’s control, like world events. No one predicted that Russia would invade Georgia, for instance. No one would have predicted that such a thing would have played out in the campaign the way it did. McCain looks like the net victor in terms of raw electoral calculus to me, although it is most likely that for most people, the candidates’ rhetorical responses to the crisis only reinforced pre-existing preferences. That was likely true for me; I reflexively responded well emotionally to McCain’s bellicose rhetoric and shrank from what seemed like weak ketchup coming from Camp Obama.
A sober step back makes one realize that the official U.S. reaction to the crisis ought to have been about what it was — a diplomatic slap, vague threats of unspecified or unrealistic economic sanctions, and silently accepting that there was never really a lot we could do about the situation without actually going to war with Russia — something we do not want to do and currently lack the ability to do, with so many of our military resources tied up elsewhere. But I’m not talking about policy here, I’m talking about politics. McCain’s political posturing was better than Obama’s — but I’m predisposed to the Republican side of the equation to begin with, so I may not be the best judge.
The election will not be decided in South Ossestia. It will be decided in the suburbs of Cincinnati, along the banks of the Rappohannock, in the parking lots of Trader Joe’s in Arvada, and near the apple orchards outside of Lansing.