Upper Blowout Limit?

I am on record from a little over a month ago predicting a 35-state win for Obama. (OK, I initially predicted 40 states, and backtracked a few days later to 35.) I provided some of my analysis behind that prediction, at a time when polls showed a dead-even race. Now, with the polls widening, many are sensing that Obama's victory might -- emphasize might, obviously much can change -- be sizable. But how big? Is 35 states, or more, really possible?

Yes indeed, says I.

Let's start with the states John Kerry won in 2004, all of which appear to be in Obama's pocket as things stand today. There are 20 of them (including DC): HI, WA, OR, and CA out west; the six New England states; MN, WI, IL, and MI in the upper midwest; and PA, NY, NJ, MD, DE, and DC in the northeast.

There are 11 states that voted Bush in 2004, where Obama is leading, tied, or very close in the polls: NV, CO, NM, IA, MO, IN, OH, WV, VA, NC, and FL. If movement continues in the current direction -- and if turnout favors the Democrats, as I suspect it will in most "battleground" states -- Obama could sweep them all.

Two others have been shown in recent polls to be within single digits and closing: Montana and Georgia.

And that's where most people will say the possibilities end -- at a maximum of 33 states. After all, if you stop by the electoral-map web sites at the major news outlets, or sites like, you'll generally find the remaining 18 states deep, deep red, indicating "safe McCain."

But that evaluation is based almost entirely on a combination of past history and old polls -- which are perfectly valid reasons to paint them red until new evidence comes along. And since nobody bothers to poll states like Arkansas or South Dakota very often, there's no new evidence.

Arkansas is a perfect example. The Real Clear Politics (RCP) rolling average gives McCain a 16-point lead in the polls there -- but the polling dates included to make up that average, include nothing more recent than July 17, and go back as far as February.

Bear in mind that the RCP national rolling average has swung nine points in Obama's direction since Sept. 8. For all we know, Arkansas might have easily moved 10 points toward Obama since this summer -- as, say, North Carolina or West Virginia have.

Arkansas is one of 11 deep-red states with RCP average leads of between 11 and 16 points for McCain. For nine of those 11, that RCP average is based at least in part on polling conducted before the political conventions. Those nine are SC, MS, LA, AR, TX, KS, SD, ND, and AZ.

The other two, Kentucky and Tennessee, are probably out of reach, as are the seven states with RCP average McCain leads over 16 points: AL, OK, NE, WY, ID, UT, and AK.

But, based on the national trends, the other nine are probably closer to "lean McCain" status than "safe McCain" right now -- we just don't know it yet. Also remember that those states are being hit by national ads, where Obama has been recently outspending McCain 2-to-1, a margin likely to increase considerably in the final weeks. And, Obama is planning a half-hour all-major-networks prime-time infomercial before the election, which McCain almost certainly will not do.

So, if the race continues moving in Obama's direction, the uppermost limit looks like 42 states -- with 483 electoral votes.

That kind of total landslide is unlikely, to be sure. And the race could certainly tighten rather than widen over the next three-and-a-half weeks.

But I'm still standing by my 35-state prediction.


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