The story--whether it is true or not I do not know--is that in 1988 Michael Dukakis said that he wanted to go campaign in Western Massachusetts in September, at the Massachusetts State Fair in Springfield. A nd his campaign manager Susan Estrich--anxious to tell the candidate what he wantd to hear and not what he needed to hear--said that that was a wonderful idea.
It wasn't. There are state fairs everywhere. There are additional votes to be gained by visiting places personally. And some of those votes count more than others.
Which votes count the most? It's not the votes in states that the polls say are evenly divided that count the most. It's the votes in those states that will be evenly divided if the election turns out to be close that count the most. John McCain spent n weekend campaigning in Arizona. But if Arizona is close--if John McCain actually needs to spend time in Arizona to shore up the votes there--then John McCain is probably already and also behind in Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado, Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and other states with a total of 375 electoral votes. For John McCain to carry Arizona and thus collect 163 rather than 153 electoral votes is simply not very important.
Which states will be close if the election is close? Take the average difference in the two-party vote in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Correct for the fact that in this election our African-American citizens are likely, for the first time, to turn out in proportion to their numbers--and to turn out for Barack Obama--by adding 1/10 of the African-American share of the population to the average two-party difference. Normalize, so that all of these state-level numbers together add up to zero.
We then have three groups of states:
I. States Which Barack Obama Is Likely to Win by More than 4% in a Close Election:
From D.C. to Wisconsin, adding up to 248 electoral votes.
II. States Which Barack Obama Is Likely to Lose by More than 4% in a Close Election:
From Utah to Arizona, adding up to 172 electoral votes.
*III. The States in the Middle:
New Hampshire, Iowa, New Mexico, Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado, Virginia, and Tennessee--with 118 electoral votes.
Some of these states--Florida, for example--may be harder for Barack Obama to win than this very rough cut at the numbers would predict.
But if I were running the Obama campaign, I would not bother to send the candidate to California or Washington or Pennsylvania or Oregon--if those states are close enough for personal campaigning to make the a difference, the election is already lost. And I would also not bother to send the candidate to Arizona, West Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, Indiana, Texas, or Kansas--if those states are close enough for personal campaigning to matter, the election is already won.