Yesterday afternoon, preparing for a TV appearance about the elections in New Mexico last night on KVIA (7) El Paso, I figured I'd better understand the math behind the recent appearances in New Mexico of Joe Biden, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. So I went to the David Leip electoral college map at: uselectionatlas.org and RealClearPolitics.com. and Pollster.com
All were showing the most likely scenario on election day to be 306 electoral votes for Obama, with Ohio almost too close to call. We always knew Ohio would be a battlground state and both sides would fight tooth and nail for it. And no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. So let's take Ohio's 20 electoral votes off the table for a moment and assume the Rs will win it in the end. This leaves the map with 286 electoral votes for Obama, exactly 16 more than needed to win. This, in fact, has been perhaps the most steady electoral map of the past three weeks. Now: how can McCain pick off 16 electoral votes?
The most likely target to start off with is Virginia, 13 electoral votes, which has not voted for a Democrat since 1964, but which has been trending toward Obama in recent weeks. YET: in the past 5 days new polling shows Obama's lead narrowing down to below the margin of error in Virginia. So it may seem doable to the Republicans. Expect some action in the last week in Virginia.
So let's assume McCain spends time, money, and energy in Virginia and is able to win it. Now: where do you find 3 more electoral votes? A jim dandy might be New Mexico! 5 electoral votes! Voted for Bush in 2004! Lost to Gore by 366 votes in 2000! But New Mexico is trending to Obama, to the tune of 5-7 points. Yes, but the last public polls available were two weeks ago: where is NM today in this shifting arena? My guess? Both camps polled and found the lead in NM has narrowed to within the margin of error. If the Leip-RealClear-Pollster maps are correct, and Virginia can be brought in, New Mexico could make the difference between winning and losing the whole ball game!
Does this math help explain the sudden onrush of top candidates to New Mexico?
Yes, it does. But that is not the end of the story. In order for this scenario to develop, McCain needs to win in Nevada (nudging toward Obama with a 3 point lead), North Dakota (normally Republican, but nudging toward Obama), Missouri (often Republican but Obama has a 2 point lead), Florida (not yet in the bag for McCain) and Indiana (too close to call). Now we are talking about a lot of "ifs" strung together, but these states are normally with the Republicans: IF McCain can take all of these (and don't forget Ohio, which we conceded too readily to McCain a couple of paragraphs ago!) New Mexico is in play.
Bottom line: because of all these problems McCain is having in normally Republican states, Obama is highly likely to win the election, most likely with far more than 306 electoral votes. But because shifts in voter preferences in most states are not likely to be dramatic between one election and another, the most conservative scenario for both the Obama and McCain camps would have these states trending back to the more normal R column. Thus, in both camps, look to Virginia and New Mexico and send the troops down there with ten days to go.
Valle del Sur: Su Voto Importa! Salganse a votar! This may be, statistically, the most important vote you will ever cast!