In the comments section this morning, SarahLawrenceScott brought up what I think is a major reason or why we are seeing what we are seeing from the McCain campaign from a strategic standpoint lately. Why let it come out that you are potentially pulling out of Colorado? Well, for starters, it telegraphs where they are focusing, or have to focus: Pennsylvania. But why target Pennsylvania instead of Colorado? The latter looks closer now than the former -- at least by FHQ's measure.
Well, here's what Scott had to say:
"I just came up with what I think may be the explanation for a lot of what seems to be irrational behavior by the McCain campaign in their choice of states to allocate resources to.
Think, for a moment, what is the most likely victory scenario for McCain in terms of electoral votes. Just move up the Electoral College Spectrum until you get to 270?
No. The problem is that some of those states have already voted in large numbers. For McCain to win, he has to have the state of the race change nationally. But if that change occurs late (say, something equivalent to the Bin Laden tape of 2004 the weekend before the election), then its effect is tempered in early voting states.
Here's the map of states with early voting:
McCain's best chance of winning is to get some of the states on Obama's side of the partisan line that don't have early voting.
MN, WI, VA, MI, DE, PA, NY, CT, RI, MA, and NH.
Start by throwing out the deepest of the blue states. Now we've got, in reverse order of their position on the spectrum,
VA, NH, MI, PA, WI, and MN.
Looks an awful lot like where McCain is concentrating his resources, doesn't it?
The one exception there is Michigan. And if they're actually thinking things through (which I admit doesn't seem to be the case), then in the event of one more game-changer they can sweep into Michigan and try to launch a surprise attack of sorts. McCain has enough resources to do that in one largish state, and in the mean time he can save money and resources by leaving it off the list.
The other mystery is why he seems so fixated on Iowa. That I can't understand.
But at least this explains why the interest in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and even Ohio seems a little tepid. McCain needs to defend his states up through Florida, early voting or no (and thus we do see plenty of activity in North Carolina and Florida). That brings him to 227. Assume a major game-changer in the last week. He now adds the non-early-voting states of Virginia, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. He's at 265. McCain now wins if he can somehow pick off Nevada or Ohio (early voting, but pretty close), or Michigan (no early voting, but would need a last minute blitz).
It's a long shot, but that's the point. To win, McCain has to assume something crazy goes his way, and then be ready to capitalize on it if it does. Going after Pennsylvania, rather than the western states, is the best way to do that.
So the football analogy is no longer the hail Mary pass. Now it's down by 16 with under a minute to go and no time outs. If you can score a touchdown, the plan is clearly to go for a two point conversion. Not because that's the high percentage play--in fact, it's likely to make the defeat worse in point terms. But because if lightning strikes (in the analogy, recovering an onside kick), then at least you're poised to take advantage of it.
That's hypothesis one. Hypothesis two is that they're just clueless."
This is the exact same conclusion we came to yesterday in our weekly campaign discussion group meeting. I absolutely reject the notion that the typically top-notch campaign strategists the GOP has in its fold are clueless. They just don't have a favorable political climate in which to operate and that makes message consistency that much more difficult. We have to look no further than four years ago to see a similar contrast in message consistency. John Kerry never to did find the proper balance on how to deal with the Iraq war just as McCain has been back-peddling since the economic crisis hit. As Scott says, an early voting strategy is a long shot, but if the polls we have seen lately are accurate, then that is all the McCain campaign really has.
Good stuff, Scott. Thanks. I should also extend a thank you to Rich Clark who brought this to my attention yesterday.
Credit where credit is due: The map comes to us courtesy of Wikipedia (plus some FHQ alterations).
The Electoral College Map (10/25/08)
The Electoral College Map (10/24/08)
While You Wait for the New Map, Here's a...Map