Four to watch

Karl Rove argues that the presidential election probably will come down to four key states: Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia. Rove provides valuable insight into the political dynamics of each state.

President Bush carried three of these four states in 2004 (all but Michigan). However, his margin in Ohio was small, and the Democrats have surged in Colorado and Virginia since 2004.

To win Michigan, McCain will have to run substantially better than Bush did in 2004; to win Ohio he will have to run about as well. On the surface, both scenarios seem a little bit unlikely, since 2008 should be a better year for Democrats than 2004, especially in states like Michigan and Ohio whose economies have been hard hit. In Michigan, though, the Detroit’s Democratic mayor is fighting felony charges and the Democratic governor is widely blamed for much of the state’s economic woes. On the other hand, McCain ran poorly in the state’s primary, experiencing a rare defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney. McCain’s strong free trade, free market stance is not well calculated to win over voters in either Michigan or Ohio. But Obama fared poorly against Hillary Clinton in Ohio, and Rove shows that the state’s demographics don’t favor Obama.

Virginia and Colorado are similar in that, as noted above, the Democrats have surged in both since 2004. But they diverge in that Obama seems like a good fit in Colorado, whereas he’s substantially to the left of the Democrats who have prevailed in Virginia recently. Perhaps putting Tim Kaine, one of those Dems, on the ticket would partially compensate for this disadvantage.

The state polls, such as they are, also point slightly in Obama’s favor. He’s a few points ahead in Michigan and Colorado, and even in Virginia. For some reason, there are no current polls in Ohio, but Obama led by two percentage points in the most recent one.

In sum, the picture in Rove’s four battleground states looks basically the same as the picture nationally — Obama has a small edge. This makes sense; in a tight national race one would expect the swing states to be tight. A surge by either candidate nationally would almost certainly bring along enough of Rove’s four states (probably all four) to ensure victory for the beneficiary. But if the race remains tight nationally, these are probably the states we’ll be biting our nails over in late October and early November.

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