Wednesday, October 22, 2008

John McCain's gamble and why he's doing it

Yesterday, I posted about John McCain's bizarre focus on Pennsylvania given the difficult odds he faces there. The more I think about it, however, the more it makes sense, even though the odds are long. To see this, let's look at his paths to 270:

States he's basically got in the bag - Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Idaho, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska, South Carolina, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, South Dakota (152 EV). He's polling way ahead in each of these states. For argument's sake, let's add Montana and West Virginia and North Dakota - although that's far from a sure thing (11 EV) to his pile, so he's at 163.

States he's got no chance of winning - DC, Vermont, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, California, Delaware, New Jersey, Iowa, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota (234 EV).

What's left - being very generous to McCain (in descending order of EV) - Florida (27), Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Indiana (11), Missouri (11), Colorado (9), New Mexico (5), Nevada (5), and New Hampshire (4). Out of that, he needs 107 to win out of a possible 141.

Now, let's look a little more closely at how McCain could put together combinations of states to win.

If he doesn't win Florida, he needs 107/114 available. There are only 3 ways he wins if he loses Florida - losing exactly one of NM, NV, or NH, and sweeping the rest (OH, PA, CO, NC, VA, MO, IN).

If he doesn't win Pennsylvania, he needs 107/120 available. There are only 11 combinations where he wins if he loses PA. First of all, he absolutely cannot lose in either Ohio, Florida, or North Carolina. He could lose PA and either Indiana, Missouri, or Virginia, but how realistic is it to think that Obama wins any one of those states (or North Carolina, for that matter) and Pennsylvania, but none of the other 9 tossup states? In list form, of Obama wins PA, then the only ways McCain wins the election are:
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, CO, NM, NV, and NH; Obama wins: Nothing
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, MO, VA, CO, NM, NV, and NH; Obama wins: IN
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, VA, CO, NM, NV, and NH; Obama wins: MO
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, CO, NM, NV, and NH; Obama wins: VA
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, NM, NV, and NH; Obama wins: CO
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, CO, NV, and NH; Obama wins: NM
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, CO, NM, and NH; Obama wins: NV
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, CO, NM, and NV; Obama wins: NH
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, NM, and NV; Obama wins: CO, NH
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, CO, and NV; Obama wins: NM, NH
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, CO, and NM; Obama wins: NV, NH
  • McCain wins: OH, FL, NC, IN, MO, VA, CO, and NV; Obama wins: NM, NH
Ohio is similar, so I won't bore you here with the details.

The upshot of all this is that if McCain does not win Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the electoral maps that lead to victory for him basically go away.

5 comments:

Carlos said...

I can't conceive of any likely scenario that McCain wins PA. Nothing, short of an unlikely external event that causes a massive tectonic political shift in that state. The Obama ground game and Rendell political machine are too much to overcome in 12 days.

I'm Not Ned said...

Kerry took PA 50.8% to Bush's 48.6% in 2004.

They'll need some serious vote tampering to get PA.

drmagoo said...

Oh, I agree. I wasn't arguing that he can win, just why he has to try. If he can't take PA, he's basically screwed.

Rousing Rabble said...

Nate Silver at 538.com reinforces your take on this:

McCain loses OH/FL/PA and wins election: 0.00% (0/6340)

McCain loses OH/FL and wins election 0.00% (0/7131)

McCain loses OH and wins election 0.06% (4/7131)

OBAMA LOSES OH and wins election 77.66% (2228/2869)

OBAMA LOSES OH/FL and wins election 66.21% (1219/1841)

OBAMA LOSES OH/FL/PA and wins election 1.72% (3/174)

Losing PA drops his chances from 2 in 3 to enarly ZERO...

I'm Not Ned said...

The Oct 23rd state polls are in. Obama has double digit leads in all new PA and OH polls reporting, for what that's worth. FL is still 5%ish.

Throwing out the closer states (FL, NC, MO and NV) and ignoring MT and ND (effective deadlocks) and giving Obama every state he polls at least 6% (ie. drop CO) ahead he's tallying over 300 electoral votes.

All Obama has to do is keep is solid states and make sure he doesn't lose IN, OH, VA and NH. He currently holds 6% to 7% leads on those states.

538 has the odds of a 375+ electoral vote landslide at over 54%. This is going to take some serious criminal activity to over come.