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Electoral map, math look bleak for McCain

Look at where John McCain and Sarah Palin are spending time lately and you see the brutal electoral map before them:

Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida — all states President Bush won in 2004. The only traditionally Democratic state where McCain is seriously campaigning is Pennsylvania, and polls show him trailing there by double digits.

Barack Obama's campaign long planned to use its vast fundraising network to target more Republican states than usual. With a big assist from the financial collapse, it has paid off. A week before Election Day, Obama has a host of possibilities for reaching the necessary 270 electoral votes, while McCain's options are dwindling fast.

The standard rule for the last few presidential campaigns has been that whoever wins two out of three between Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, wins the White House. With so many states in play, that's no longer valid.

Obama could lose all three and still win the election if he picked up several states won by Bush in 2004, states where Obama leads in the polls. Or, just winning Florida or Ohio could put him in the White House.

"Strategically we tried to have as wide a map as possible,'' said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who oversaw the opening of 770 campaign offices across the country. "We believed that on the morning of Nov. 4 we wanted to have as many ways to get to 270 as possible.''

Republicans aren't counting out McCain for a narrow-upset victory. Undecided voters could swing some critical states to McCain, they say, and the GOP's high tech, micro-targeted get-out-the-vote program can't be underestimated.

"McCain's behind now, but this is not over. John's a fighter and in some ways he relishes the role of the underdog,'' said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent Democrat campaigning for McCain in Tampa on Monday. "What's clear to me is that Sen. McCain has to win Florida and Ohio and Missouri, and then you've got a lot of different ways to get to 270."

Actually, not that many ways, based on current polling.

McCain's problem is that Obama has opened up comfortable leads in 2004 red states including Iowa, New Mexico, Virginia and Colorado. Even if McCain won Florida, Ohio and Missouri — where polls show Obama at least narrowly ahead — he would still have to pick off perhaps several other states where Obama looks strong.

The McCain campaign is betting heavily on Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes. But Democrats have won Pennsylvania in the past four presidential elections, and Obama currently leads by an average of 11 points. Still, McCain advisers say Obama is weak in key parts of the state including around Pittsburgh.

"If you look at cold, hard numbers, in order for McCain to win Pennsylvania, he is going to have to win at least 15 percent of the Democratic vote, 95 percent of the Republican vote and 60 percent of the independent vote," said Plouffe. "We believe McCain is losing independents by about 20 points right now in Pennsylvania, so he would need a 40-point swing."

Given the grim electoral map, though, Pennsylvania could be McCain's only shot at compensating for former Bush states seen as likely to swing toward Obama.

"The math gets really hard, looking at this map,'' said Jamie Miller, a Republican consultant in Sarasota. "I think there still seems to be about 10 percent that are still undecided in many polls, and I've contended that the majority of those folks are going to decide the last weekend. In this final week he needs to get those folks to break his way, and probably break his way 2 to 1."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727)893-8241.

Electoral map, math look bleak for McCain 10/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 6:56pm]

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