It would be difficult for anyone to argue that Sen. Obama has the easier path to the presidency at this juncture. He will have considerably more money for the effort and will likely have a much larger and better organized get-out-the-vote effort than Sen. McCain. Obama is aided by the low view the voters have of the Bush administration and the strong feeling captured in public opinion polling that the country isn’t going in the right direction. He is further assisted by the rather weak campaign Sen. McCain has run to this point (some say it makes Bob Dole’s look dynamic by comparison). Sen. Obama, indeed, has a lot going for him. But he hasn’t yet cinched the win.
Could Sen. Obama somehow squander such advantages? It would be difficult, but not impossible. One only has to think back to another Democratic candidate—Michael Dukakis—who blew a 17 point lead three months out from the election in 1988.
Sen. Obama is very much on message, but the message is light on meaning at this point. In a word, it is “change.” Change is a powerful—but polarizing—concept in politics. For every voter who worships change, there is another who fears it—particularly if it isn’t properly defined. In spite of Republican blunders and Sen. Obama’s “change” message, he is nowhere near the sizeable lead in the polls that eventual loser Dukakis had in the 1988 campaign. In fact, his poll numbers seem to have plateaued recently.
Fortunately for Sen. Obama, he doesn’t need to generate much forward momentum. To win, he needs to solidify the states leaning toward him but not firmly there yet (Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maine) and lock down a few of the toss-up states (Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida).
Sen. McCain has a much more daunting challenge. He must lock up every state currently only leaning his way, according to the Real Clear Politics map (Alaska, Texas, Montana, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Georgia). Then his real challenge begins. He must either sweep 107 of the 137 electoral votes in the toss-up states (a tough chore) or move some of the “lean to Obama” states into his column. The most likely of those states—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, andPennsylvania—would be tough assignments for McCain. If he could win 20 electoral votes in those four states (a very difficult assignment), he would still need 87 from the toss-up states to win.
McCain’s best scenario is to win all of his “lean” states and win Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and Colorado. Those states would give him a combined 108 electoral votes—just enough to win if he held on to the states leaning his way. McCain still has a chance but the clock is ticking-- and his campaign needs better performance immediately.