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Electoral College Update: October 16

A Commentary by Larry J. Sabato

Thursday, October 16, 2008

John McCain's position in the Electoral College continued to deteriorate in the previous seven days. We are making the following adjustments, accordingly.

AR from Solid McCain to Likely McCain : The financial meltdown is lowering McCain's percentage here, but as of now, we do not believe a McCain win is seriously threatened. If Bill Clinton spent a week here advocating Obama, though, the tide could turn.

FL from Toss-Up to Leans Obama : We're still not completely convinced that the Sunshine State is in the Obama camp, but the polling data from many organizations suggest that Obama is doing well in the critical Tampa Bay area and elsewhere, and therefore he has at least a narrow lead. It goes without saying that there is zero chance that McCain can win without these 27 electoral votes, so this is one state where his campaign simply must reverse the tide.

MT from Solid McCain to Lean McCain : McCain thought he nailed down Big Sky Country when he picked an NRA favorite, Sarah Palin, for his ticket. But polls show it close enough for an Obama upset, especially if some of the third party candidates can collectively grab 5-8%. We still think McCain is the probable winner, but it will be no Bush landslide.

ND from Solid McCain to Lean McCain : ND has been swinging wildly this year. This usually guaranteed GOP state in presidential elections might be listening to its all-Democratic congressional delegation when they urge the state to vote Obama. McCain has been having problems in some farm states due to his agricultural policies and voting record.

WV from Likely McCain to Leans McCain : Good sources tell us that the economic downturn has made this most unlikely Obama state a possible surprise pick-up for the Democrat. WV went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the May primary, and a McCain victory in November was then assumed (following on two Bush wins in the Mountain State). What a difference a financial meltdown can make. However, our sources caution that McCain is still narrowly favored, at least for now.

These changes result in the following adjustments to the Electoral College totals:

Obama has 190 Solid, 49 Likely, and 39 Leaning electoral votes, for a total of 278, or 8 more than needed for election.

McCain has 143 Solid, 20 Likely, and 11 Leaning electoral votes.

Obama has 190 Solid, 49 Likely, and 66 Leaning electoral votes, for a total of 305, or 35 more than needed for election.

McCain has 122 Solid, 30 Likely, and 22 Leaning electoral votes, for a total of 174.

One note about Virginia : We have preserved its toss-up status despite a series of polls showing Obama winning by double digits (such as yesterday's CNN-Opinion Research Corporation survey, with Obama at 53% and McCain at 43%). It's not that we think the polls are necessarily wrong. In fact, the Crystal Ball was the very first analyst website to call Virginia a toss up last spring, at a time when the McCain campaign denounced the very notion, and listed the state as "Solid Republican". Still, we have covered Virginia closely for almost forty years. We have yet to talk to a single experienced political observer in Virginia who believes that the state isn't relatively close. Almost all say, if Obama wins Virginia, it will be by two or three points--certainly not ten. So while Obama probably leads in Virginia today, as he does in almost all our remaining toss-ups, we're going to hold off tilting the state for now. This represents an abundance of caution, perhaps, but wise from our perspective. There is plenty of time to color in the whole map before Election Day.

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