John, I’m as realistic as any other observer about the uphill struggle John McCain faces. He’s got the drag of George W. Bush’s unpopularity, the economy, the falling number of registered GOP voters, and the Iraq war (which, although not calamitous from a political standpoint, is definitely not a winning issue for McCain). But if you look at the race from an electoral college standpoint, it doesn’t seem quite so bleak.
You can quibble here and there with this count, but it’s a helpful starting point. It gives McCain a 245-221 lead over Barack Obama if you include states which are “sure bets” and “leaners.” As Larry J. Sabato said to me when I started asking about all the talk about the electoral map changing, “My guess is that, despite all the happy talk from both sides, the vast majority of Blue States will stay Blue and the vast majority of Red States will stay Red.” (He cautions that everything could go downhill for McCain if the war takes a turn for the worse.)
The South, for example, is heavily Republican. So outside of Virginia (just barely Southern and not at all Southern in the heavily populated suburbs of D.C.), there likely is not another state that truly will be in play for Obama, despite his huge support among African-Americans in the Democratic primaries. There just aren’t enough Democrats in these states to deliver the states for him.
And those states Republican always hope to win but never do (New Jersey and California tend to top the list)? McCain might con the Democrats into spending some money and time there but the chance that either state would actually vote for McCain is slim to none.
So the candidates, once again, will be back to fighting over a short list of states and for the swing voters within those states. Can McCain win states like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Ohio? If Ohio remains problematic for Obama, and New Mexico and New Hampshire break for McCain, then the race looks do-able for him.
Yes, the Democrats have more registered voters in all these states than they used to and more money than any political party has ever had. But looked at from an electoral standpoint–which is the way Presidential elections actually work–McCain may be remarkably competitive. The underdog to be sure, but competitive.