It All Comes Down to Colorado?

Stuart Rothenberg tries to identify the one state that will determine the next president: I've become convinced that my initial list of five states probably ...
by | September 24, 2008
 

Stuart Rothenberg tries to identify the one state that will determine the next president:

I've become convinced that my initial list of five states probably can be boiled down to just one -- one state that is most likely to determine who will be the next occupant of the White House. And that state is Colorado.

If John McCain carries Colorado in November, I'd expect him to hold onto all of George W. Bush's 2000 states, with the exception of New Hampshire. If he does that, and if Obama holds all of Al Gore's states, plus New Hampshire, McCain would win 274 electoral votes to 264 for Obama.

If Obama carries the state, he has altered the arithmetic of the Electoral College so as to make it difficult for McCain to win.

Several days ago -- at about the point that the Palin bounce was starting to recede, but before it became clear Obama was back ahead (slightly) -- I was convinced that Obama was one flame short of a firewall. He looked like he would carry the Kerry states, as well as Iowa and New Mexico (which is the same thing as the Gore states, plus New Hampshire).

That, as Rothenberg points out, isn't enough to win the election. And, with McCain still looking strong in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, it was Colorado that seemed most likely to decide the winner.

Now, though, I'm finally coming around to the idea that trying to determine the one crucial state is an act of folly. Over the last few days, Obama has looked stronger in Florida. Polls in Ohio and Virginia are all over the map. Even Indiana and North Carolina might be in play.

On the other hand, McCain is clearly polling better in Minnesota and New Hampshire than he was before the conventions. He may have made up some ground in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania too. Each of those states (all of which Kerry won in 2004) appeared to be slipping away from McCain at one point or another, but now they're back in play.

Add it all up and you get the clear sense that the playing field is expanding. Even though some of his more exotic targets such as North Dakota and Georgia haven't panned out, Obama has a chance to win four states that weren't considered swing states in 2004: Colorado (although some people thought it might be competitive), Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana.

Those states add up to 48 electoral votes -- not a shabby job expanding the map. The only 2004 swing state where Obama doesn't appear to have much of a chance is Missouri and it always tested the definition of a swing state. Colorado actually ended up being quite a bit closer in 2004.

McCain hasn't expanded the map, but he looks to have a chance in every swing state from 2004 except Iowa. Perhaps New Mexico is slipping away from him too. Even if you remove Iowa, New Mexico and Missouri from the playing field, there are still 25 more electoral votes in play this time than in 2004.

For that reason, trying to pin down the presidential map is a bit like speculating on the veepstakes. It's fun, but there are too many possibilities to really have a clear idea what's going to happen. Voters in Denver, Detroit and Dixville Notch might all react differently to events over the next six weeks, rendering everything we think we know about the presidential election completely wrong.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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