The Magical 270

A bare majority of the electoral votes is 270. In order to be elected president, a candidate has to carry enough states to garner the magical 270. In 2004, the Republicans (Bush/Cheney) managed a 16 vote cushion, winning the election with 286 electoral votes.

Getting to 270 is the entire object of Barack Obama and John McCain in the 18 or so days remaining between now and election day, November 4. Everything else, and I mean everything, is secondary to their relentless pursuit of 270 electoral votes.

Pre-election polls (an entirely separate universe of numbers) ultimately are significant only as tools for the respective campaigns in the race for 270 electoral votes. The polls inform the candidates’ critical decision-making about which states to contest down the home stretch. Neither campaign enjoys limitless resources, and spending mistakes or scheduling miscalculations could spell doom for either. At this juncture, less than three weeks out, the toughest decisions clearly are McCain’s.

Karl Rove, the architect of Bush victories in 2000 and 2004, suggests that McCain/Palin should employ a focused “red state” strategy. Writing in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, Rove urges the GOP to narrow its efforts to “toss up” states which McCain must carry: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado and Nevada. If those states remain “red” together with the safer ones Bush carried in the last election, then McCain will win the White House with 274 electoral votes, even allowing for likely losses in New Mexico and Iowa, both of which Bush carried in 2004.

McCain’s big problem is that the latest polls currently show him trailing Obama in every one of these critical battleground states. Nevertheless, McCain is within striking distance in all of them, and if he closes the gap and runs the table in just these states (all of which traditionally are “red,”) he will beat Obama. Rove believes McCain should eschew further efforts in “blue” states (he has already abandoned Michigan), and build a narrow electoral victory on his “red” base.

Curiously, though, McCain appears to be set on another course. As David Paul Kuhn wrote Thursday for, the GOP ticket is still heavily invested in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, all “blue” states where current polls give Obama hefty (indeed, double-digit) leads, plus the likely-lost “red” state of Iowa.

Greg Snowden Blog
Clarion Ledger