Friday, October 24, 2008

How Obama Could Lose

President Obama? Not so fast, says The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber. John McCain doesn’t need a “catastrophic external event” to defeat Obama on Election Day, Scheiber says.

“I happen to think Obama’s chances of winning are upward of 80 percent,” he writes at The Plank, his magazine’s political blog. He later adds, “But, truth be told, I can imagine a losing scenario that doesn’t involve outside events. It goes something like this: Obama wins all the Kerry states plus Iowa and New Mexico, giving him 264 electoral votes, then narrowly loses the rest of the red states where he’s currently competitive.”

Scheiber devises other plausible losing electoral maps for Obama. “Keep in mind that Obama loses if he wins all the Kerry states except Pennsylvania, even if he picks up Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, and Virginia,” he writes. Here’s what Schieber, an Obama supporter, worries about:

1.) We’re at the point in the race when national trends may start diverging from trends in battleground states where McCain is still competing. After all, having an active campaign in a state makes a big difference. Just look at Michigan since McCain pulled out in early October. According to RCP, Obama is up 1.5 points nationally since October 2, but nearly 4.8 points in Michigan.

McCain is husbanding his resources for the absolute minimum number of electoral votes he needs to win, which means ignoring the national numbers and focusing on everything from Virginia on down the list of battlegrounds. There’s no reason to think he couldn’t lose the popular vote by 2-3 points but still win Virginia by 1.

2.) State polls seem to lag national polls, one-off polls tend to lag tracking polls, and polling averages (like the kind you find at RCP,, and FiveThirtyEight) lag any single poll by design. Which is to say, those state-level averages could easily be 5-7 days behind the current on-the-ground reality.

3.) While eight points is a lot to make up in two weeks, it’s not nearly as daunting over three weeks–well under half a point a day (.38, but who’s counting?). Or put differently: If, as some analysts** believe, the momentum shifted somewhat toward McCain last week, then Virginia could actually be much closer than 8 points today. We just wouldn’t know it till next week.

4.) Throw in a Bradley Effect of even a point or two on top of that, and a few more costly Biden gaffes, and I don’t think Virginia is necessarily out of reach.

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