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Obama's Path to an Electoral College Victory

Johnny Moon

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We hear a lot about national poll numbers in the media but as everyone should remember from the 2000 election, our President isn't elected by the popular vote, our President is elected by the electoral college. In 2000 Al Gore won the popular vote by about half a million over George W. Bush but because of the disputed outcome in Florida, Bush won the electoral college (270 electoral college votes are required for victory) and became our 43d President.

Both 2000 & 2004 were extremely close elections where the flipping of a single state would have won the election for the Democrats instead of the Republicans. In 2004 John Kerry won 252 electoral college votes, 18 shy of winning the election. Ohio was the disputed state in 2004 with much evidence of vote fraud (in Bush's favor. ) If Kerry had been able to win Ohio he would have won the Presidency with 272 electoral college votes, despite losing the nationwide popular vote by three million votes.

So what's Obama's best path to victory in 2008? All of the best scenarios include winning all of the states that Kerry won in 2004 along with some other states to put him over the top.

Of the states Kerry won in 2004, Obama is currently favored to win all of them. But there are three “Kerry states" that are most important for Obama to defend: Michigan, Pennsylvania, & New Hampshire. These three states appear to be the most likely to flip from from the Democrat's side to the Republican's side this year. So clearly the “defense" of these three states have to be a very high priority for Obama (and likewise picking them off is a high priority for McCain. ) Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes) & Michigan (17 electoral votes) are particularly important due to the large amount of electoral votes each has. It would be very difficult for Obama to win the Presidency without winning those two states. New Hampshire's 4 electoral votes are less important which is good for Obama because that's the state McCain appears to have the best chance of winning of the three.

Assuming Obama can successfully defend all Kerry states, the following scenarios are Obama's easiest paths to an electoral college victory:

1. Iowa New Mexico Colorado. This appears to be Obama's easiest path to victory because he's currently leading in polls in all three states. If the election was held tomorrow, it's likely Obama would win all three of these states (and defend all Kerry states) and win the Presidency.

2. Ohio. I just mentioned that Kerry would have won with Ohio, so obviously Obama would win with Ohio as well. The latest polls indicate that Ohio is a “toss up" or slightly leaning towards McCain.

3. Florida. I'm sure you remember that Al Gore would have won the Presidency with Florida. The same is true for the Democrats this year. It's hard to see how the Republicans could win the White House without Florida's 27 electoral votes. The latest polling there indicates Florida is a “toss up" state but with a lean towards McCain.

4. Iowa Virginia. Iowa looks to be the most certain pick up for Obama, he's lead in polls there all year. When you add Iowa's 7 electoral votes to Virginia's 13 you have enough to put Obama over the top. Like Ohio & Florida, Virginia is a “toss up" state that has leaned towards McCain.

5. Iowa Indiana. This would put Obama right at the 270 he needs. Although it's very likely that if he won these two he would also win New Mexico's five electoral votes as he's pretty heavily favored in New Mexico.

There are many other possible scenarios to an Obama victory but most of them are rather unlikely unless one of these paths has already been reached. Obviously these possible paths are really only important in a close election, if Obama wins the national vote by 2% or more then the electoral college vote is unlikely to be close at all. McCain is slightly more likely to win a popular vote and lose the electoral college vote as McCain is likely to roll up huge advantages in some deep red states (such as Utah and Idaho. )

New Mexico's Role As Insurance For New Hampshire

While New Hampshire is polling extremely close, Obama has a significant lead in New Mexico and is very likely to win that state. New Hampshire's 4 electoral votes become much more expendable because of New Mexico's 5 electoral votes.

The Possibility Of A Tie

There is a distinct possibility of an electoral college tie this year. The most likely scenario is if path #1 (Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado) minus New Hampshire. If that were to occur the electoral college vote would end up at 269 to 269 with neither candidate receiving the 270 needed to win. What happens in such a situation? The vote is thrown to the congress (very likely to be Democratic controlled. ) It's very likely that Barack Obama would end up as President in the case of such a tie due to the Democratic advantage in the congress.

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