The presidential race seems to be tightening, at least according to the two tracking polls. The Rasmussen tracking poll showed Barack Obama in a statistical tie with John McCain last weekend; the latest numbers show Obama ahead 47 percent to 44 percent. Here is Scott Rasmussen's nut paragraph:
A review of Rasmussen Reports full week tracking confirms the slight tightening of the race. Seven-day tracking shows less volatility than three-day tracking and is based upon interviews with 7,000 Likely Voters each week. For the first five weeks after clinching the Democratic nomination, Obama led McCain 49 percent to 44 percent in every week but one. The sole exception found Obama ahead 49 percent to 43 percent. However, for the seven days ending July 13, Obama leads McCain 47 percent to 45 percent.
The Gallup tracking poll has Obama up 46 percent to 43 percent—almost precisely the same numbers as Rasmussen. The most recent week shows Obama up 46 percent to 43 percent; the week before, Obama was up 47 percent to 43 percent.
It is conventional wisdom that candidates improve their standing by moving to the center, as Obama has done on myriad issues in the past two weeks (for a pungent summary, see Charles Krauthammer's July 4 column). But Obama's movement undermines one of the central premises of his candidacy, that he is not a Washington-style politician, just as his 20-year embrace of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright undermined another central premise, that he is one who seeks to transcend racial barriers. In any case, Obama may have slipped a bit and does not seem to be making significant gains by "refining" his positions.
How could that affect the standings in the 50 states? I took a look at all June and July polls (except for the Zogby Interactive polls, which I'm dubious about) as compiled in www.pollster.com (there were no polls in Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Vermont, and Wyoming, and I couldn't access the polls for Mississippi, but we don't have any doubts where those 36 electoral votes are going). Those polls (and my inclusion of Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, and Vermont) show Obama leading n 26 states and D.C. with 320 electoral votes, and McCain leading (or, in the case of North Dakota, tied) in 24 states with 218 electoral votes.
Some of the results are very much out of line with the results in 2000 and 2004. Obama is carrying New York and New England by double digits, and he has a 20-point lead in California, as well as double-digit leads in Illinois, Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin. He has much narrower leads in the three polls conducted in Colorado, the one conducted in Indiana, the one conducted in Montana, and the three conducted in Virginia, all of which were carried by George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.
McCain is ahead by double digits in Utah (and probably would be in Idaho and Wyoming, if there were any polls there), Nebraska, and several southern states—Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Most of these polls were conducted in June, when Obama was faring marginally better than he is at present in the two tracking polls. If one assumes McCain is running a little stronger now, in which states would he be overtaking Obama, assuming a uniform rise across the country? In the South, Virginia (13 electoral votes). In the West, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Oregon (24 electoral votes). In the Midwest, Indiana and Ohio (31 electoral votes). In the East, probably nowhere: He trails in June-July polls by 8 percent in Pennsylvania and 9 percent in New Jersey (36 electoral votes). Leaving aside the East, these 68 electoral votes added to his current 218 would give him 286 electoral votes, the number George W. Bush won in 2004.
Conclusion: This has the potential to be a furiously contested race. And on unfamiliar turf. The only 2000 and 2004 target states in the list above were New Mexico and Ohio. The others—Virginia, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, and Indiana—either were not on anybody's target list in 2004 or dropped off one candidate's target list pretty early in the season.