The State Of the Races

The Washington Post's Dan Balz and David Broder explain their 50 State Outlook piece. Balz and Broder, along with Chris Cillizza, have evaluated every states' congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial candidates, as well as presidential battleground states.
By David S. Broder, Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 2, 2008

Barack Obama and the Democrats hold a commanding position two days before Tuesday's election, with the senator from Illinois leading in states whose electoral votes total nearly 300 and with his party counting on significantly expanded majorities in the House and Senate.

John McCain is running in one of the worst environments ever for a Republican presidential nominee. The senator from Arizona has not been in front in any of the 159 national polls conducted over the past six weeks. His slender hopes for winning the White House now depend on picking up a major Democratic stronghold or fighting off Obama's raids on most of the five states President Bush won four years ago that now lean toward the Democrat. He also must hold onto six other states that Bush won in 2004 but are considered too close to call.

Two factors cloud the final weekend projections. The first is how voters ultimately respond to the prospect of the first African American president in U.S. history, a force that could make the contest closer than it appears. The other, which pushes in the opposite direction, is whether Obama can expand the electorate to give him an additional cushion in battleground states.

Obama leads in every state that Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry won four years ago, which gives him a base of 252 electoral votes of the 270 needed to win. He also has leads of varying sizes in five states Bush won: Iowa, New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada. Were he to win all of those on Tuesday, he would claim the presidency with 291 electoral votes.

The tossup states include traditional battlegrounds such as Ohio, Florida and Missouri, as well as North Carolina, Indiana and Montana, which have been firmly in the Republican column in the past. They account for 87 electoral votes, and if Obama were to win several of them, his electoral vote total could push well into the 300s.

In Senate races, Democrats, who control 51 votes, are closing in on a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority. Three GOP-held seats whose Republicans are retiring -- in Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia -- appear almost certain to go to Democrats. In five other states -- Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon -- incumbent Republicans are seriously threatened. To get to 60, Democrats would have to win all those seats, plus one of three other competitive races: in Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.

In the House, Democrats look to repeat their gains of two years ago, when they picked up 31 seats and took control of the chamber. On Tuesday, they could add 25 to 30 seats to that majority, which would bring them to their highest number since 1990, when they had 267 seats. Ten Republican-held seats lean toward Democrats, and two dozen are viewed as tossups. Five Democratic-held seats are considered up for grabs.

Of the 11 gubernatorial races, only three are competitive. Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon has the advantage over Rep. Kenny Hulshof in Missouri, where Republican Gov. Matt Blunt is not running for reelection. Two other races in states held by Democrats are considered tossups.

In Washington, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who won a controversial victory four years ago, faces a tough rematch against businessman Dino Rossi. In North Carolina, where Democratic Gov. Mike Easley is term-limited, Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue and Republican Pat McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte, are in a race that is too close to call.

These projections are based on interviews by a team of Washington Post reporters with strategists in both parties, the presidential campaigns, state and local officials, and other analysts. The projections also include an analysis of a wealth of polling data on individual races and states.

In the Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll, Obama currently holds a nine-point national advantage, topping McCain 53 to 44 percent. The poll started after the last of the three presidential debates, and Obama's margin has held between seven and 11 points throughout.

More than half of all voters in the Post-ABC poll say the economy is their central voting issue, and Obama has been the main beneficiary of that focus. He has a double-digit edge on the question of which candidate is better able to handle the economy, and he has had even wider leads as the one who is more in touch with the financial problems people face.

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