I’ll preface this with the possibility that John Sidney McCain III taking ads off the air and removing staffers from Michigan does not automatically put the state in the Obama column. That said, it is such an incredibly unlikely scenario (probably involving lots of effective voter caging and/or a game changer that makes everything preceding it irrelevant) that it won’t factor in the rest of my analysis.
Back in the day, there was a group of states John Kerry won in 2004 where McCain had the chance to try to turn based on both Obama’s vulnerabilities and the nature of the race itself. People had their own opinions on this, and mine was that the three Kerry states that McCain had a non-negligible chance at winning were New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. For New Hampshire, the logic was the same as for why Obama is leading in Iowa right now- it’s a state where their early, defining primary matters and New Hampshire was huge for McCain in both 2000 and 2008 in the GOP primaries. Pennsylvania has some big demographic advantages for McCain (comparatively), and while Rendell’s GOTV efforts will now benefit Obama, those strengths are in areas where Obama was already strong, lessening the advantage gained. Michigan was more of a different beast- part of it was that Obama had stuck very well to his oath not to campaign there in the primaries and partially becase of the crazy political dynamics of the state, from Kwame Kilpatrick to the relationship between Detroit and the rest of the state.
John McCain may still want to target states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, but I did not and do not see those as reasonably possible turn states. They are far more likely to be money drains for the GOP, just like New Jersey has been.
As such, one way of looking at this race since the start was to analyze in the context of the truly solid Obama states (the Kerry states minus the possible swaps), solid McCain states (a portion of the Bush states), and the ones in the middle that obviously had their own swings and characteristics.
What made this election so hard for McCain is that Obama had such a strong advantage in two Bush states: Iowa and New Mexico. At this point, both of those states would be shocking to go back in the Red column this year. Those serve the function of changing the margins of the race in the exact manner we are seeing now. Keeping New Hampshire, Michigan, and Pennsylvania out of the Obama column but adding in New Mexico and Iowa gives Obama 222 electoral votes, meaning that he would need 48 to take the Presidency.
Taking Michigan off the board lowers that 48 to just 31, which takes on a partcular significance in the context of the rest of the election. Today’s Rasmussen poll puts New Hampshire at Obama +10, which makes me more comfortable with putting it in his column (for now). That lowers the 31 EV’s needed to 27. Now let’s talk Pennsylvania. While I said earlier that Pennsylvania had the chance to swing, it is not looking as favorable right now with the way things have played out. Going as far back as July (an eternity in presidential politics), McCain has not led in a single legitimate poll. While I do think that there is a chance that the Bradley Effect lives to a small degree, it is not sufficient to cover the current margin of around 5-6 points in PA. If you put their 21 electoral votes in the Obama column, he sits at 264, which is just 6 away from taking the Electoral College outright.
What makes this so significant is how it affects the rest of the races. In this race, there are what I call “surprise states”, meaning states where I would be genuinely shocked to see them swing in the other direction. These range from the locks (CA and IL for Obama, Alabama and Utah for McCain) to the heavy leans like Iowa and West Virginia. How this makes its impact is in terms of what John still needs to do to win. Taking out the “surprise states” and the ones already discussed, we get a compelling group:
Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida
If we take Obama’s 264 (Kerry states + New Mexico + Iowa) and put them in his column, John McCain must win each of these eight states to become the next President [Note: Technically, he would not need Nevada, but that would be a tie and a nasty proposition for both sides and Obama would likely be favored should he win the popular vote].
Think about those eight states- they bring a variety of different elements into play and each have their own key issues and positions. Barring major national/international events that moot much of this, it is hard to think of a line that McCain can take that works effectively in that entire group. What makes it all the more challenging is that Obama actually has a lead and/or institutional advantages in many of “The Eight”, most notably in Virginia (polling advantage) and Nevada (massive influx of CA volunteers). As such, John McCain does not only need to do well in all of those states; he must beat Barack Obama in each one of them, taking back the lead in a vast majority. To me, this is nearly impossible to do barring the unforeseen.
All in all, what the Michigan move indicates that John McCain either has to sweep “The Eight” or pull a state which would be even further in Obama’s column while still winning nearly all eight. It’s a gambit that will prove prohibitively unlikely over the next five weeks.