But my gut is telling me that there is not a lot of love for McCain or the Rs right now. That indefinable sense that I get sometimes about mood is still leaning heavily in the Obama direction, although that might be self-delusion.
The poll that has most folks concerned is the Quinnipac Poll which shows Obama shrinking lead in national polls (which I tend to distrust) and shrinking in key "battleground states" (which is more troublesome). The LA Times has Gallup results which show a large national bump from the Europe trip, and which show Obama's lead increasing further when you factor in Bob Barr and Nader (who seem to be getting the disaffected Rs and Ds who would vote for McCain over Obama). Still, as I said before, I find national polls very misleading given how our electoral system works.
My gut also puts more states in play, but a lot depends on too many unknowns. Here's my current list:
May flip to R from D in 2004:
PA - PA was a squeaker for the Ds in '04, although results in the '06 by-election are encouraging. I confess I'd like to run an add campaign along the lines of "is it really worth losing your own house to keep a black man out of the white house?" But that is not exactly a productive line of argument as it gets people all bitter and clingy. Still, I think PA is the most likely to slip, despite what I predict will be much heavier Democratic turnout in Pittsburgh and Philly and solid Dem turnout in Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg. Still, look for coal country to go heavy anti-Obama.
NH- I really don't think NH will flip as the biggest support for Clinton came from the Democratic machine backing Sheehan, who is turning out massive support to try to unseat Sunnunu. But conventional wisdom thinks it may flip, so I put it in the question mark.
MI - I keep thinking laid off auto workers are more likely to return to their democratic roots than to fall out along Demographic lines. MI also may see unexpected turnout among traditionally lower voting demographics more likely to vote Dem this year: Muslims, African Americans, and the young.
WI- Same for me as MI.
MN - Again, this was close for the Ds last time, and recent polls show things tightening up. Much will depend on how well Barr and Nader do in drawing off disaffected voters who might otherwise vote for McCain. (My sense is that Nader will actually help the Ds this year, because the progressives and disappointed Clinton supporters voting against Obama are more likely to go to Nader than McCain.) It is also likely that McCain will get a bump in the state from the R conventions. Also of interest will be whether the hotly contested Senate race draws out Dems or Rs. The interaction here is very tough to predict, especially as progressive Ds are holding their nose twice for both Obama and Franken. Much will also depend on Native American vote, which I predict will break heavily for Obama.
I really do not believe NJ is likely to swing, however much folks there loved Hillary and hate the thought of a black man in the white house. NJ is too solidly machine and the economic problems too damn real for a swing to McCain. And the fact that key voting districts are in Democratic hands mean that vote suppression tactics are less likely to work. Newark, Trenton, and other areas with heavy African American populations are likely to be well supplied with voting machines for a change. Nor do I see WA or OR likely to flop, despite close margins in 2004.
Possible R swing states:
Alaska -- There is a very tight Senate race here, and the Democratic caucus had a huge turnout. Coupled with major turn out by Native Americans, this could swing to the Ds.
MT- This state has been steadily drifting to the economically progressive side of the ledger, as evidenced by displacing Conrad Burns in '06. Burns also had Abramoff problems, so this may not be indicative. Still, Obama inspired a large turnout here in the caucus, and there is a huge Native American population. While McCain has generally been good on Native American issues, the general responses I have seen show that if Native Americans are actually going to turn out to vote, they will do so largely for Obama. I believe the possible heavy turn out among Native Americans is one of the real unknowns not tested in polls, since NAs are typically not heavy voters. Finally, this is another state where Barr or Nader may play spoiler to disaffected Republicans.
NV- Large Hispanic population (which seem to be embracing Obama), large NA population, and extreme drop in property values creating hard economic times among what had been the Republican base last time may tip the balance for Obama, despite McCain's regional advantage.
WY, ND, and SD -- again, large NA population, larger than usual D registration, hard economic times from high energy costs make these usually reliable states more in play. In addition, the last 8 years have eroded two major factors that made these states solidly Republican. First, conservation has become a major issue -- with hunters and others who enjoy the western lifestyle now seeing conservation as an issue of preserving their own land against foreign mining interests and wealthy tourists than about damn tree huggers from California or Vermont. Second, the Republicans used to enjoy a huge advantage with Libertarian westerners who believed Ds were the Nanny party. These Rs, sometime known as "South Park Republicans" after South Park creators Trey Parke and Matt Stone told off the ACLU convention that had gathered to honor them that they were Republicans, have become really disillusioned with the Rs and their domestic spying and perceived catering to the religious right. Meanwhile, the actual religious right feels abandoned.
These states are still long shots, unless Barr starts polling at above 10%. But most folks do not consider them in play at all. I also note the energy issue may tilt the other way, with voters wanting immediate relief they are being told they will get from offshore drilling on the OCS. But if gas prices actually come down over the next few weeks -- as experts now predict -- then this demand for an immediate solution will become less severe. Still, as I say, I think these states are long shots, but worth looking for surprises.
CO- Same factors as above. Yes, polls have tightened up recently, which is alarming to the Obama campaign. It will be very interesting to determine why support has started to break for McCain. It will also be interesting to see whether having the convention in Denver will give the Ds a boost, and whether the heavy concentration of college students in will make a difference.
NM -- A toss up. Like NV, NA and Hispanic vote for Obama may offset regional advantage. Alternatively, these constituencies may go for McCain in NM, given close familiarity. Much depends on whether Richardson, a relatively popular Governor, is the VP choice and/or can really gin up the D campaign.
IA -- was reliably D in until 2000. Obama showed his first major strength here, and his organization remains strong. Religious conservatives, the backbone of the R wins in 2000 and 2004, likely to stay home rather than vote. Also, people underestimate the now considerable Hispanic population in the Midwest.
KS -- Yes, I think KS might flip. Religious turnout is likely to be significantly depressed, as Obama neutralizes the "Ds hate religious" feeling among evangelicals who are now worried about issues other than abortion and are less enchanted with the free market. 2006 saw some rejection of hardline religious conservatives elected in 2002 and 2004. Finally, Obama's Kansas relatives are really big news. Again, strong organization in Caucuses has been maintained. KS Governor Seibelus an early Obama supporter. and possible VP choice.
IN -- Another state that has traditionally been for the Rs that most folks are not yet putting in the "in play" column. But Obama showed he could get white Indiana voters to turn out for him when he split evenly with Clinton. As with many states that have remained for a very long time with one party, the state has been plagued by a number of Republican scandals and general frustration among voters. I predict much closer for the Rs than in 2000 or 2004, and possible squeaker win for Ds. Barr and disaffection of hardcore conservatives could be a major factor, as well as small but growing Hispanic population.
MO -- Disaffection of religious conservatives a major element here, along with victory of Ds in Senate race. Also the general increase in Hispanic population in Midwest could tip the balance, as could unusually high minority turnout in urban centers. Another state where economic populism is starting to awaken in face of hard economic times after embrace of free market philosophy of Rs.
AR -- A lot depends on Clintons activating their political machine for the good of the party and doing intense campaigning for Obama. Other factors in my projection include disaffection among religious voters and general anti-Republican sentiment. Possible NA turnout also an issue.
LA -- Surprise win of conservative D in special election, where anti-Obama campaign did not have impact, should send a red flag on this one. NO likely to see huge turnout, and resentment over Katrina/abandonment likely to be very high. LA has picked up a large Hispanic contingent as part of rebuilding. Fact that corrupt state Democratic officials control many polling places a plus. OTOH, state has a young, popular R governor who can offset many Obama advantages. At the end of the day, Rs probably carry the state, but closer than expected.
FL- I still think, in the end, this will go to the Rs. There is simply too much working against Obama here, and too much of the mechanism of voter suppression is still in place. It would take armed violence by African Americans against police in the panhandle to get all black votes counted. Jewish vote hard to predict. Hispanic vote hard to predict, as Cubans have traditionally gone very heavily for Rs. OTOH, there appears some evidence that Cuban machine is starting to break up as first generation exiles die and are replaced by younger generation with other issues and greater willingness to trust Ds. Immanent regime change due to natural causes also a factor. Huge turnout in African American Community and potentially among Native American tribes that are usually inactive could be a spoiler.
TN- Harold Ford lost in a very close election here in '06, in part because bad weather hurt turnout in possible D strongholds. Increased disaffection among religious conservatives, possible appeal of Barr to fiscal conservatives, likely heavy voter turnout by African Americans, all conspire to make this state closer than I believe most analysts credit at this point. Again, much may depend on whether Clintons and former Clinton surrogates campaign actively for Obama.
VA- This state has been drifting steadily D since 2004. Upset by Jim Webb, two Democratic governors, changing face of Northern Virginia, growing disaffection with the war, and general problems with religious conservatives all make this state very much in play.
WV & KY -- a tough sell after the primaries. But Ds can still hope to take these states if the unions campaign heavily for Obama and tough economic times persuade folks that they need to abandon Rs for Ds. Also, Mitch McConnel is having a surprisingly tough time in his reelection campaign in KY. In the end, I think McCain carries both these states, even if the Ds pick up House and Senate wins. But there is too strong a streak of economic populism for me to write these states off completely.
OH -- A great big question mark. Ds did very well here in '06, as state became fed up with R corruption. But broke heavily for Clinton on primary and Obama is unlikely to be able to sell enough Ohioans that they should take a chance on the young charismatic N-word over the person who most resembles themselves. McCain's "maverick" rep likely to allow folks who despise Bush to rationalize that McCain is different. In the end, I give this one to McCain, which makes taking PA an extremely high priority for the Ds.
Despite a number of factors, I simply do not see Obama taking the deep south states of TX, OK, (despite heavy Hispanic and NA populations) AL, MS, GA, SC, and NC. Mind, it is possible, especially in SC and NC if religious conservatives stay home and Clintons and Edwards can convince enough white voters to give Obama a try. But I'm just not believing it.
Imponderables: One will note that there are a lot more R states in play than D states, which reflects the overall state of the nation and my personal feeling that people underestimate the organizational power of the Obama organization. I expect many of these states to be resolved by "boots on the ground," echoing the "50 State Strategy" that shocked everyone in '06. The only thing that will overcome the various whisper campaigns and media attacks -- especially among older voters who do not rely on the internet for election information beyond the forwarded emails about Obama being a Muslim -- are direct conversations with people they know. Since 2004, the advantage in fielding volunteers has shifted to the Ds, as the Evangelicals become increasingly alienated and the Ds become increasingly energized.
OTOH, the non-stop efforts of the Dem leadership to squander all these potential advantages cannot be underestimated. This is exactly where all the idiocy over FISA and the rest hits home, in ways people like Hoyer appear simply incapable of understanding.
The impact of energy prices is also difficult to gauge. Initially, the public responded well to Obama staying firm on OCS and McCain flipping. But the steady rise in prices has pushed a number of voters to want to see some action, and this solution has the boost of the conservative noise machine and big oil. But a reversal on this would seriously wound Obama and the Ds, convincing the progressives and the youth vote that the Ds are spineless wussies who cannot be trusted while failing to attract new voters. Finally, if prices decline or even stabilize -- as appears likely over the next few months given significant reductions in consumption -- then flipping on OCS now would be both craven and stupid. If Ds hold firm, however, the R solution of drilling will be seen as yet another attempt to serve corporate masters at the expense of real solutions.
Fun rides until November.