McCain abandons Michigan, shores up the levees in Virginia

John McCain is in trouble. Public polling has shifted toward Obama, and Obama's larger donor base allowing him to outspend McCain in traditional Republican strongholds like Indiana. With Colorado and New Mexico in play out west, and a good chance that Obama will take Nevada, too, traditional battlegrounds like Ohio and Florida are less critical than in 2000 and 2004.

Indeed, there are several plausible scenarios in which Obama wins the Electoral College without Ohio or Florida. With Iowa, Virginia, and the western states in play, the struggle is much broader than it has been in several elections. Obama's strong organization and fundraising have let him exploit that broader field, forcing McCain to play defense.

In the same week that McCain began running TV ads for the Indiana market, he has also had to announce that his campaign in Michigan (which voted for Kerry and Gore) is shutting down. And he's being forced to play defense in Virginia, a state Gore and Kerry lost.

Obama is playing defense in only one Kerry state: New Hampshire. And its four electoral votes are more than matched by Nevada's 5, or the 5 from New Mexico, or the 9 available from Colorado. Or the 13 in Virginia. Iowa Obama can safely assume he's got 248 electoral votes, out of 270 needed to win.

Tack on the 7 from Iowa (which is solidly in Obama's camp), and need only pick up 15 electoral votes. There are 9 in Colorado, 13 in Virginia, 5 in Nevada and in New Mexico, and 4 in New Hampshire, leaving lots of combinations which yield a win (or a tie, which would be resolved by a vote of the Democratic Congress). Ohio has 20 electoral votes, and Florida has 27, so a win in either state would mean a clear victory.

On the other hand, McCain cannot win without taking Florida and Ohio. Even granting him Virginia, the western states, Iowa, and New Hampshire, he doesn't clear 270 without both of those swing states. To have any other path to victory, he would need to put new states into play, and the withdrawal from Michigan leaves him no plausible chances in a Kerry state. There will be a big fight in Pennsylvania, but Joe Biden is a native son there, and if enough folks travel in from New Jersey and New York to knock on doors, I don't see how Obama/Biden can lose there.

It isn't over yet, and tonight's debate and the second presidential debate could still shake up perceptions, and could events in the financial world. But so far, McCain's floundering on the economy and Palin's general floundering make those shorts of shift very unlikely.

McCain is playing defense at this point, and while a the best defense is a good offense, that doesn't mean being offensive. Someone should tell McCain.

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