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By Stephen Wildstrom
Thursday’s debate was a sideshow. The real news of the day was the decision of the McCain campaign to pull its resources out of Michigan. By doing so, John McCain may have effectively conceded the election.
The arithmetic of the electoral map is inexorable. Barack Obama needs 270 electoral votes to win. Four years ago, John Kerry got 251. Obama is now ahead in all the states Kerry won, and only Wisconsin can even be considered close (New Hampshire, once a toss-up, seems to have moved decisively to Obama. Minnesota seems to be moving toward the Democrats as well, though a new SurveyUSA poll bucks the trend, showing McCain up 47-46% in the Gopher State.)
That means Obama’s task of holding all of Kerry’s states is relatively easy. To win, he only needs to pick up 19 electoral votes. Iowa, where Obama’s lead appears to be somewhere between 8 and 15 points, gives him seven. (McCain’s continued campaign activity there is a mystery.)
I find it hard to believe that Virginia would vote Democratic for the first time in 44 years, but Obama now leads in all polls by between 3 and 9 points. Virginia and Iowa alone would put him over the top. But Obama is also leading by 7 to 11 points in New Mexico (five electoral votes) and has, astonishingly, opened up a tiny lead in North Carolina and is even to ahead in Colorado (9 electoral votes).
Then there are the two biggies: Recent polls show Ohio still very close, though a recent Quinnipiac poll puts Obama up 8. Recent polls suggest that Florida is moving to Obama (my guess is that elderly Jewish Jews in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, who are suspicious of Obama but who believe deep in their hearts that their right arms will wither and fall off if they vote for a Republican, are coming home.)
Another important fact is that in most of the states where he leads, even if his lead is in single digits, Obama is over 50%. That is a very big deal because once you are over 50, it doesn’t matter how the remaining undecideds break.
The bottom line here is that, barring a tectonic shift which would require an external event of some sort, Obama has a long list of good possibilities and he only needs a couple of them to go right. McCain needs all of them to shift in his favor.
Brian Gardner, a political analyst for the brokerage firm of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, sums up the situation by saying that it’s not looking good for McCain in “the key states in which he had been leading—Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. We may be on the verge of looking at an Obama blowout. It’s tough to find anyplace where McCain is gaining”—though he doesn’t rule out the chance of “one more McCain comeback.”