Why Pennsylvania?

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November 1, 2008 @ 3:18 UTC

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Barack Obama, John McCain
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 John McCain’s campaign has focused much of its energy on Pennsylvania, despite remaining well short of winning the state in most polls. At first glance, the state appears to be a tough ask, which it is, but McCain’s Pennsylvania strategy reflects his overall difficult position on the electoral map.

Pollster.com rates states that “lean Republican”, “lean Democrat” and “toss-up” adding up to a total of 156 electoral votes, more than a quarter of the total EVs. However, when you look at the map, every single one of those states voted for George W. Bush in 2004. In addition to the 252 EVs won by John Kerry in 2004, the 7 EVs of Iowa are also classed as “safe Democrat”.

Assuming that the race is limited to current toss-up and leaning states, John McCain needs to contain his losses to 9 EVs out of 156. That means over 90% of close EVs need to fall into John McCain’s lap. In contrast, Barack Obama only needs to win eleven of 156 votes. So while McCain could still theoretically win using the same states as Bush in 2004, he would need to be lucky in a wide variety of states. Assuming Iowa is lost, McCain could lose one of Mississippi, New Mexico or Nevada, or all three of the marginal Plains States. But if any of the larger marginal states, including Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Arizona, Colorado, or the bigger states of Ohio or Florida. Any one of these would be sufficient to knock out McCain’s chances.

Considering that McCain is currently behind in six different states, each of which would be solely sufficient to defeat him, McCain’s only alternative is expand the field. Hence Pennsylvania. Four Gore/Kerry states carry over 20 EVs. California’s 55 EVs are well out of reach, as is New York’s 31 EVs. Barack Obama has locked in Illinois’ 21 EVs. Considering Pennsylvania’s relatively marginal status, and Obama’s poor performance in the Pennsylvania primary, clearly the McCain campaign has decided that Pennsylvania is the best prospect for expanding the field. If Pennsylvania was to become competitive, then McCain would only need to win 147 out of 177, allowing him to concede losses in Virginia and other small states.

There’s only two problems with this strategy:

  • One Blue state isn’t enough to stem the tide of losses in Red states. If Virginia and either Florida or Ohio falls, then Pennsylvania won’t be enough, before counting other losses in the Mountain West and the South.
  • Pennsylvania still hasn’t shifted. Pollster.com still has Obama leading by 10% in Pennsylvania.

But I guess when you’re in as weak a position as John McCain is, the Pennsylvania strategy is the best you can find.

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