The State of the Election: Battlegrounds

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Colorado (9 electoral votes)

The Rocky Mountains have become the newest presidential battleground, with Colorado looming as the biggest prize in the region this fall. Colorado hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1992, but it increasingly looks like Barack Obama country.

Democrats targeted the state early and held their convention in Denver to signal their determination to continue a political conversion in the state. And Obama has tried to overwhelm John McCain with money and manpower. The senator from Illinois has more than 50 offices around the state to mobilize his voters, compared with McCain's dozen. McCain drew several thousand enthusiastic supporters in Denver a week ago; two days later, Obama drew 100,000. An Obama victory here would close off a critically important avenue that the senator from Arizona needs to reach 270 electoral votes.

Democrats hope to continue their recent success in other races by picking up the seat of retiring Sen. Wayne Allard (R). Rep. Mark Udall (D) is the heavy favorite over former representative Bob Schaffer, who saw the Republican senatorial committee pull down its ads more than a week before the election.

In House races, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) is in trouble against Betsy Markey (D), a former aide to Sen. Ken Salazar (D). Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R), who served a tour as a Marine officer in Iraq, is expected to easily defeat Democrat Hank Eng in the race to replace Tom Tancredo in the strongly Republican 6th District. Tancredo is retiring after a failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Udall's 2nd District seat, which includes Boulder, is likely to be won by Democrat Jared Polis, a former chairman of the Colorado Board of Education. He faces Republican Scott Starin, who works in the aerospace industry.

Florida (27)

The state at the center of the 2000 presidential election is one of a handful of true tossups in the fight between McCain and Obama.

Obama spent millions of dollars on commercials in the late summer and early fall before McCain responded with ads of his own. While polling initially showed Obama's ads having little effect, as the fall has worn on the race for the Sunshine State has tightened considerably, with most surveys showing the two candidates in a statistical dead heat.

The crucial area is the Interstate 4 corridor, which crisscrosses Florida from Flagler County on the east coast to Sarasota County on the west coast. Every recent statewide election has been decided in this area, and all six statewide elected officials hail from one of the 12 counties considered part of the I-4 corridor.

The state is also rife with competitive House races. Two Orlando-area Republicans -- Reps. Tom Feeney and Ric Keller -- appear headed for defeat. Feeney is being challenged by former state representative Suzanne Kosmas, Keller by lawyer Alan Grayson.

In the Miami area, the GOP brothers Diaz-Balart -- Lincoln in the 21st District, Mario in the 25th -- face serious challenges from well-known figures in South Florida's Hispanic community. Republicans are more optimistic about Lincoln's chances against former Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez than they are about Mario's challenge from Joe Garcia, the former Miami-Dade Democratic chairman.

In South Florida's 16th District, Rep. Tim Mahoney (D) -- brought low by his high-profile admission of extramarital affairs -- is a likely loser against lawyer Tom Rooney (R), whose family owns football's Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rep. Verne Buchanan (R), who won by just 369 votes in 2006, seems safe in his 13th District rematch against Christine Jennings (D). In the state's only open-seat contest, state Sen. Bill Posey (R) is the favorite over physician Steve Blythe in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Dave Weldon (R) in the Space Coast 15th District.

Georgia (15)

Georgia has been a solidly Republican state, but Obama invested heavily in voter-registration efforts, hoping a huge turnout among blacks could push him toward victory. When polls showed McCain in good shape earlier this fall, the Obama campaign took down its television ads but kept some staff in the state. With polls now tightening and early-vote numbers looking positive, Obama decided to begin running ads again this weekend. McCain still rates a narrow favorite, but the margin could be smaller than expected.

The surge of black voters and the Obama campaign's aggressive voter registration could help the Democrats defeat Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), who is in a tossup race with former state representative Jim Martin.

Rep. Jim Marshall (D), who won by only two points in 2006, is in another tough race in central Georgia against Rick Goddard (R), a retired Air Force major general. In a district that Bush carried easily in 2004, Marshall has distanced himself from Obama. Rep. John Barrow (D), who won by 864 votes in 2006, is favored to hold his seat against former congressional aide John Stone (R).

Indiana (11)

Usually a solid state for Republicans, Indiana is so competitive this year that Obama paid a late visit to pump up the black vote in Gary. Since a narrow loss in the primary, he has launched an unprecedented ground campaign, opening 44 offices and launching a major registration effort. The key battleground is around Fort Wayne, and if the early-reporting results show Obama scoring there, watch out.

Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R), the former Bush administration budget director, had a rough stretch in the first two years of his term, with controversies over the leasing of the Indiana Toll Road and daylight saving time. But he has emerged with high approval ratings and is cruising to a second term over ex-U.S. representative Jill Long Thompson (D).

Democrats gained three House seats in 2006 and are favored to hold all of them, including the 9th District, where Rep. Baron P. Hill (D) has traded victories with former congressman Mike Sodrel (R) in three straight races. They will square off for the fourth time Tuesday. Rep. Mark Souder (R), who represents Fort Wayne, is favored over youthful lawyer Michael Montagano (D).

Iowa (7)

The place where it all began for Obama is one of the states most likely to switch from Republican to Democratic on Tuesday. Public polls show Obama with a healthy lead, although McCain advisers say the race is much closer than that.

Iowa has produced extremely close elections in the past two presidential campaigns. But in 2006, Democrats made major gains, and Obama spent almost a full year traveling the state on the way to his victory in the January caucuses that launched his candidacy. McCain, in contrast, skipped Iowa in his 2000 campaign and spent little time there during the Republican caucuses.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D) is cruising toward reelection to a fifth term. There are no changes expected in the state's five congressional districts, where Democrats hold a 3 to 2 advantage. Democrats believe a strong turnout for Obama could boost Becky Greenwald, who is challenging Rep. Tom Latham (R) in the 4th District, but the Republican remains the favorite.

Missouri (11)

In the past 104 years, Missouri has voted for the presidential loser only once -- in 1956, when it went for Democratic Sen. Adlai Stevenson, who hailed from the neighboring state of Illinois. That record has rightly earned the Show-Me State its reputation as a presidential bellwether.

Will it hold on to that coveted status after this election? McCain opened up a comfortable lead in the state over the summer, but a concerted television campaign by Obama has helped narrow the gap, and most polls now suggest that the race is a dead heat.

Democrats have made strides in recent years -- highlighted by Sen. Claire McCaskill's win in 2006 -- thanks to a heavy focus on the more rural portions of Missouri between St. Louis in the east and Kansas City in the west.

Using that blueprint, state Attorney General Jay Nixon (D) is a heavy favorite to defeat Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R) in the gubernatorial race caused by the retirement of one-term Gov. Matt Blunt (R).

In the northwestern part of the state, Democrats have high hopes for former Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes in her challenge to 6th District Rep. Sam Graves (R). The incumbent has successfully painted Barnes as a liberal, but she has the edge. In Hulshof's open 9th District, state Rep. Judy Baker (D) is hoping that a huge turnout in Columbia -- home of the University of Missouri -- will boost her against former state representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R). But the district's Republican roots may be too strong for Baker to overcome.

Montana (3)

Commonly known by natives as the Last, Best Place, Montana is also one of the last states that anyone would have expected to be a battleground.

The last Democrat to carry Montana at the presidential level was Bill Clinton in 1992, although that came with a major assist from independent candidate Ross Perot, who won 26 percent of the state's vote that year. Since then, Montana has moved heavily toward Republicans at the presidential level.

Despite that, Obama has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads here, and polling shows that the race is competitive -- although McCain maintains a narrow edge.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the man credited with the Democratic resurgence in Montana, is virtually assured of a second term in his race against Republican Roy Brown. Sen. Max Baucus (D), too, will cruise to reelection and a sixth term.

Nevada (5)

Nevada sided with Bush in the past two elections, but Democrats have done an impressive job over the past year in changing the composition of the electorate. That has given Obama hopes of picking off the state Tuesday, but McCain is fighting hard to keep Nevada red. Heading into the final days, it leans slightly toward Obama.

Four years ago, Republicans and Democrats were at rough parity in voter registration, but in the past year Democratic registration has surged, and the party now enjoys an advantage of just over 100,000. Another positive sign for Obama is in early-vote statistics. In the two big population areas -- Clark County (Las Vegas) and Washoe County (Reno) -- Democratic early votes significantly outnumber Republicans'. And, in contrast to John Kerry four years ago, Obama also has spent time courting rural voters.

In Nevada's 2nd District, Rep. Dean Heller faces stiff competition from state Democratic Chair Jill Derby in a rematch from 2006; the race narrowly leans his way. In the 3rd District, Rep. Jon Porter is in an even tougher race against 2006 gubernatorial nominee Dina Titus.

New Hampshire (4)

This state, which saved McCain in January's GOP primary (as it did in 2000) and caused Obama heartburn by backing Hillary Rodham Clinton, appears poised to reverse signals now. Obama has a lead approaching double digits, which McCain will try to stall with a visit today.

Anti-Bush sentiment, which fueled a Democratic sweep in 2006, is the biggest challenge for Sen. John E. Sununu (R) in his rematch with former governor Jeanne Shaheen (D). She has held leads from four to six points in most polls. In their final debate Sununu tried to focus independent voters on the endorsements he has gained from newspapers that supported Shaheen in their 2002 Senate battle.

Popular Gov. John Lynch (D) is headed for a third-term win over state Sen. Joe Kenney (R), a Marine reservist who took the nomination better-known Republicans had turned down.

Democrats captured both House seats in 2006, and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) is clinging to the slightest of leads in her rematch with former congressman Jeb Bradley (R).

New Mexico (5)

At the start of the 2008 election season, Republicans controlled two of the state's three House seats and one of its Senate seats, and were still riding high on Bush's narrow victory in the Land of Enchantment four years earlier. But for months now, Republicans have acknowledged that Obama is almost certain to carry New Mexico on Tuesday, and they have ceded the state in order to conserve resources for Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, among others.

The Democratic whitewash will continue in the Senate race, where Rep. Tom Udall (D) is comfortably ahead of Rep. Steve Pearce (R) for the seat of retiring Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R).

The House delegation will see new faces in January as all three members -- Udall, Pearce and Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R) -- left their seats to pursue the Senate seat.

The 1st District, based in Albuquerque and one of the most closely divided in the country, appears to be tilting Democrats' way, with former Albuquerque city councilman Martin Heinrich (D) favored over Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White (R). In the southern 2nd District, former Lea County commissioner Harry Teague (D) is favored over wealthy businessman Ed Tinsley (R) despite the area's conservative bent. Ben Ray Luján (D), son of the longtime New Mexico state House speaker, is a heavy favorite to replace Udall in the Democratic-friendly 3rd District.

North Carolina (15)

The top three races here couldn't be closer. Obama won big in the primary and has mounted a huge TV and ground game ever since, but McCain has fought hard to keep the state's record of being in the GOP column since 1976. Democrats figure that the black vote share would have to climb six or seven percentage points above the normal 18 to 20 percent for Obama to make it.

With Gov. Mike Easley (D) term-limited after eight years, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) was the early favorite, but seven-term Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) has captured the change theme. In the past, Republicans have won the governorship only in years of big presidential victories.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) became a target for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which ran largely unanswered TV ads all summer for her opponent, Kay Hagan (D). Dole found herself trailing in the polls and has opened a negative attack on Hagan, even linking her to atheism, but shut out of local newspaper endorsements, she may not have reacted in time.

Rep. Robin Hayes (R), who won by 329 votes last time, is facing the same opponent, populist teacher Larry Kissell (D), who this year has much stronger national support. Hayes added to his problems by telling a McCain rally that "liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God." The incumbent has dipped into his own fortune to try to save the seat.

North Dakota (3)

Despite the state's long history of supporting Republicans for the White House, four late polls showed the McCain-Obama race within the margin of error. In addition to the problems plaguing the GOP nationally, McCain has been hurt here by his vote against the farm bill and his criticism of ethanol subsidies. Obama folded his operation early, when the first post-convention polls showed McCain with a comfortable lead, and that decision may cost him in what has turned into a close race.

Gov. John Hoeven (R), the nation's longest-serving current governor, is headed for a third term over state Sen. Tim Mathern (D).

Ohio (20)

No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, and there's no realistic way to chart a course for McCain that doesn't include the Buckeye State. He and Sarah Palin are showering Ohio with attention, but he is in a struggle to keep Ohio in the Republican column. This state is rated a tossup, but polls have shown Obama with a small but consistent lead.

The most famous political figure in Ohio politics this fall is Joe the Plumber, the Toledo-area everyman who has become McCain's proxy in the economic debate. The economy is McCain's biggest burden here. Next to Michigan, Ohio may be the Midwestern state hardest hit by the economic downturn, and its slump long predates the mortgage and financial industry collapse.

Obama's hopes for converting Ohio lie in huge turnouts in the bigger cities and improving over Kerry's performance in small-town and rural southern Ohio. Obama ran poorly in those areas in the primary, and McCain is counting on those voters to pull him through.

Republicans are braced for the loss of House seats here. Rep. Steve Chabot is in a tossup race against state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) in the 1st District, where a large black turnout for Obama could sink the Republican. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) also faces stiff competition in her rematch against Democrat Victoria Wulsin, but her strongly Republican district may save her.

Retirements have created two vulnerable Republican seats. In the 15th District, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, who nearly defeated Rep. Deborah Pryce in 2006, is now in a tossup race against state Sen. Steve Stivers (R). In the 16th District, where Ralph Regula (R) is retiring, state Sen. Kirk Schuring faces real competition from state Sen. John Boccieri. Democrats say a big Obama victory also could pull in the district of retiring Rep. David L. Hobson (R), where Republican Steve Austria faces Sharen Neuhardt (D).

Pennsylvania (21)

Almost no state has seen more of McCain and Palin in the closing days than Pennsylvania, but Obama appears to be holding his hard-earned advantage. After losing the primary here to Hillary Clinton, he solidified his position by choosing Scranton native Joseph R. Biden Jr. as his running mate and rallied a blue-collar Democratic base. McCain and Palin have fought hard for those voters and lead among them in some polls. But Palin's weakness among suburban independents and the prospect of a massive black vote in Philadelphia tilt the race toward Obama.

Democrats, who gained four House seats in 2006, are favored for all of them, although Rep. Chris Carney (D) is getting a challenge from entrepreneur Chris Hackett (R). A more serious threat faces veteran Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (D), weakened by publicity over earmarks that benefited a family-owned business. He faces Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, who won national attention for an ordinance banning employment of illegal immigrants. Kanjorski was worried enough to enlist the help of former president Bill Clinton.

Longtime Rep. John P. Murtha (D) has found himself in trouble over remarks suggesting that his district is "racist" or "redneck." That brought fresh support from Washington for his opponent, William Russell (R), a retired Army lieutenant colonel. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats have rushed funds to Murtha, and he is expected to survive. Democrats have targeted seven-term Rep. Phil English (R) and are running a new candidate, landscape architect Kathy Dahlkemper, known for her work as director of the Lake Erie Arboretum.

The retirement of Rep. John E. Peterson (R) opens the way for former Centre County GOP chairman Glenn Thompson to come to Congress.

Virginia (13)

No state has seen its politics change more dramatically over the past four years than Virginia.

In 2004, Bush won it rather easily -- 54 percent to 45 percent -- over Kerry, the 10th straight time the Republican presidential candidate had carried the commonwealth.

The intervening years, however, have brought almost no good news for the GOP. Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine claimed the state's highest office in 2005, and the following year Sen. George Allen (R) fell in a stunning upset to James Webb (D).

Democrats seem likely to keep up their momentum Tuesday. Polls conducted in recent weeks have shown Obama leading McCain by between four and nine points.

Former Democratic governor Mark Warner is cruising to a victory over another former governor -- Republican Jim Gilmore -- in the race to replace retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R).

The House is filled with possibilities for Democrats as well. Northern Virginia's 11th District, held by retiring Rep. Tom Davis (R) since 1994, is almost certain to be represented by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D) in 2009. He faces newcomer Keith Fimian. Republicans are also increasingly pessimistic about Rep. Thelma Drake's chances in the 2nd District, which includes large swaths of Norfolk and Virginia Beach and has a 21 percent African American population. She is being challenged by Glenn Nye (D), who has been promised a seat on the locally vital Armed Services Committee. The 5th District, a conservative redoubt held by party-switching Republican Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., is also in jeopardy as Goode finds himself in a much more competitive race against Democrat Tom Perriello than expected. Tenth District Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) is facing a rematch with Democrat Judith Feder but should win.

West Virginia (5)

After the shellacking Obama took in West Virginia during the primaries, there was little expectation that the state would become competitive in the general election. McCain is still favored, but Obama has held it closer than his performance in the spring would have foreshadowed.

The Mountain State was solid Democratic territory for years, but in 2000, it shifted to the Republicans in the presidential race, and Bush expanded his margin here in 2004. Obama got only 27 percent in the primary against Hillary Clinton but has converted some of those voters. Still, if Obama picked off the state, he would be on his way to an overwhelming electoral college margin.

In the Senate race, John D. Rockefeller IV (D) is breezing toward reelection to a fifth term, although he remains the junior senator to the venerable Robert C. Byrd (D). Gov. Joe Manchin III (D) also is cruising toward a second term.

The only House member with a race is Republican Shelley Moore Capito, although she is favored to hold her seat over Anne Barth (D), a former aide to Byrd.

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