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It’s election day, and this is my best guess (not a projection) as to how tonight’s result will pan out. The state I am least sure about is Virginia (followed by Colorado):

In a nutshell, with just hours to go, Barack Obama is the clear favourite to win. The reason can be summed up in a single word – Ohio. Mr Obama has maintained a modest but consistent lead in polling in Ohio, a state whose 18 electoral votes are likely to prove decisive.

Without Ohio there are almost no viable routes to 270 for Mitt Romney – Mr Obama on the other hand can win without Ohio, although losing it would make his path to victory far more precarious. My ‘best guess’ map above is an example of this – Mr Obama would win that map even if he lost Ohio, but he couldn’t afford to lose Colorado or even New Hampshire.

Should make for a fascinating election night – if Ohio’s on a knife-edge, it could be a real nail-biter.

(PS – you can create your own ‘best guess’ electoral map at http://www.270towin.com)

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There are now less than four months until the US presidential election in November. Presidential elections nowadays have such a lengthy lead-in (years not months) that it is almost startling to realise that election day itself is now just round the corner.

You just have to look at the final few months of the 2008 election to know that lots can change between now and election day. Nevertheless, it seems like a good time to check in and look at the state of the campaign.

At a media briefing last December, chief Obama strategists David Axelrod and Jim Messina outlined five viable paths to winning 270 electoral votes, assuming Mr Obama holds the states won by Mr Kerry in 2004 – states now worth 246 electoral votes. These paths are:

  • A ‘Western Path’ – Colorado (9 electoral votes), New Mexico (5), Nevada (6) and Iowa (6) = 272
  • A ‘Florida Path’ – Florida (29) = 275
  • A ‘South Path’ – North Carolina (15) and Virginia (13) = 274
  • A ‘Midwest Path’ – Ohio (18) and Iowa (6) = 270
  • An ‘expansion path’ – by winning Arizona (11), along with Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada (20 in total), Mr Obama could compensate for losses in Pennsylvania (20) and New Hampshire (4).

Seven months of campaigning later, how are each of these paths shaping up as viable routes to winning the electoral college?

Here are the current FiveThirtyEight polling averages for the four ‘Western Path’ states:

These numbers are not quite so promising for Mr Obama as they may seem at first sight. Recent polls in Iowa have the race as a dead heat – Mr Obama’s lead in the Iowa average reflects a two month old PPP poll that had him with a 10 point lead.

His lead in New Mexico is impressive although the state hasn’t been polled since late April. The Nevada figures are more recent, although the most recent poll in the Silver State is almost a month old. By contrast, we’re now getting polls out of Colorado most weeks, and the Obama campaign clearly enjoys a slight edge there.

Florida is another state now being polled most weeks, and here too Mr Obama has a slight advantage – though still too close for comfort:

Of the available routes to 270, it is the ‘South Path’ – winning both North Carolina and Virginia – that now looks most challenging for the Obama camp:

Just one of the five most recent North Carolina polls has Mr Obama ahead, and polls since mid-May have given Mr Romney consistent leads of anything from 1% to 8% .

The situation for Mr Obama in Virginia looks more promising and, indeed, he would lead by more in the average were it not for a recent We Ask America poll that had Mr Romney up by 48-43.3 – numbers which stand out quite strikingly from many months of polls favourable to Mr Obama in the state. This poll, along with the 6 May PPP poll in Iowa, looks like it may well be an outlier.

The ‘Midwest Path’ requires a win in the all-important state of Ohio and here Mr Obama appears to be doing pretty well:

It is difficult to understate the importance of Ohio in the electoral map arithmetic. Despite a string of disappointing monthly jobs figures in this high unemployment state, Mr Obama has consistently polled well here in recent months. That said, two of the four most recent polls had Mr Romney with his nose in front and four months is an awful long time in politics. We can expect a ferocious contest in this most crucial of battleground states between now and November.

Finally, there’s the ‘expansion path’, which would see the Obama campaign seek to win Arizona’s 11 electoral votes, along with those of neighbouring Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Mr Obama might need Arizona’s 11 electoral votes to compensate for losing a Kerry 2004 state such as Pennsylvania or New Hampshire.

Arizona now looks pretty much out of reach for the Obama campaign, who haven’t led in a poll there since mid-April. On the up side for Mr Obama, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire both look like terribly big asks for Mr Romney, even if they are not quite yet a done deal for the Obama camp.

Taken as a whole, these state-by-state polling figures show that the Obama campaign still enjoys a choice of viable paths to victory. Of the scenarios sketched out by Mr Axelrod and Mr Messina last December, only the expansion path (Arizona) now seems definitely out of reach, although recent polls out of North Carolina are making the southern path look increasingly challenging.

However, the paths are not, of course, mutually exclusive – an Obama win in Virginia for instance would more than compensate for, say, a stumble in Iowa along the ‘Western Path’.

At this stage, four months out, it’s difficult to do more than provide a snapshot of how things stand. Overall, it seems like Mr Obama retains a slight overall edge – a position he has enjoyed since the start of the year. However, with the conventions, debates and the rough-and-tumble final weeks of the campaign still to come, it’s simply impossible to predict what will happen in November.

Today is Super Tuesday, and there are now just a couple of hours until the first polls close on the east coast.

This could well be the night in which the GOP nomination contest shifts decisively in Mitt Romney’s favour. A win in tightly-contested Ohio, a strong performance in challenging states such as Tennessee, plus solid wins in the more Romney-friendly states of Massachusetts, Idaho and Vermont, would probably be enough to make Mr Romney the presumptive GOP nominee.

The late polling evidence, which gives Mr Romney a modest edge in Ohio and has him competitive in Tennessee, points to just such a scenario. Indeed, it is now easier to see how tonight would pan out in a way which sees Mr Romney essentially wrap things up, than it is to imagine a scenario in which tonight sees Rick Santorum somehow manage to up-end the GOP race.

That is not to say Mr Santorum is not in with at least a chance. He’s clearly within touching distance in Ohio and, in terms of the media narrative coming out of tonight, so much will depend on the result in Ohio. The late polls may have given Mr Romney a slight lead – but they have also heightened expectations of a strong Romney performance.

If Mr Santorum pulls Ohio out of the bag, along with wins in Tennessee, Oklahoma and perhaps North Dakota, all bets would be off. The next states to vote after Super Tuesday are Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi – all of which hold momentum-building potential for Mr Santorum.

But, in my view, Mr Santorum needs to come out of tonight with at least a win in Ohio under his belt in order to keep his candidacy alive. That’s a big ask, but far from impossible. If Mr Santorum and Mr Romney are as close as the polls say, we’ll be in for a long, fascinating night.

With just hours until polls close, Michigan is down to the wire. Late-breaking polling evidence points to a last minute comeback by Rick Santorum, who now seems neck and neck with Mitt Romney.

The final polls by Mitchell/Rosetta, PPP and Rasmussen show a lead for Mr Romney of  +1, -1 and +2 respectively.

This is a much improved situation for Mr Santorum than was the case just a few days ago, where most polls had Mr Romney with a modest but clear single digit lead in the state.

I believe Michigan is just too close to call. I wouldn’t put money on it, but my gut says Mr Santorum – who has consistently over-performed the polls – will eke it out, although it may well be a long night.

2.30am update: Well, the race has just been called for Romney, so my gut was wrong about that one! Romney also won a blow-out victory in Arizona. He’s now positioned strongly with a week to go to Super Tuesday. But in a race that’s seen so many twists and turns, he’ll surely not be counting any chickens just yet. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday was the first multi-state contest in the GOP nomination race, with caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota, and a non-binding primary in Missouri.

It was a great night for former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Mr Santorum swept all three states, winning Missouri and Minnesota by handsome double-digit margins, and even beating Mitt Romney by over 5 points in Colorado, a state where Mr Romney was the clear favourite.

GOP voters in all three states fired a clear shot across the bows of their party establishment. Last night’s results will also ensure a ‘think twice’ moment among observers who, following Mr Romney’s wins in Florida and Nevada, were increasingly regarding Mr Romney as the presumptive GOP nominee.

Maine is expected to declare the results of its week-long primary at the weekend, after which the next contests are in Arizona and Michigan, each of which have primaries on 28 February. They’ll be followed on 3 March by caucuses in the state of Washington and, on 6 March, by Super Tuesday, which sees ten states voting in primaries or caucuses – Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

In a race in which the momentum factor has so far proved rather ephemeral, Mr Santorum’s campaign will be looking to translate last night’s results into a more solid bounce going into Super Tuesday. In particular, he’ll be looking to consolidate conservatives, and the broader ‘non-Romney’ GOP vote, behind his candidacy.

Last night’s results are, so far, a challenge not a crisis for Mr Romney’s campaign – but Mr Santorum has now won his chance to shift the narrative and, potentially, the trajectory of this intriguing GOP nomination contest.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s comprehensive 12.5% victory in South Carolina, in which he won 43 of 46 counties, has already had a major impact on the polls in Florida.

Mitt Romney held a solid lead last week in Florida, with one poll putting him up by 26 points. This week, post-South Carolina, things look somewhat different.

Here’s PPP – a 15 point Romney lead has turned into a 5 point Gingrich lead, a swing of 20 points:

And here’s Rasmussen’s verdict, in which a 22 point Romney lead has become a 9 point Gingrich lead – a truly remarkable swing of 31 points in ten days:

Florida votes next Tuesday (31 January), so there remains almost a week to go, with a CNN debate tomorrow evening just around the corner, and plenty of campaigning still to come.

However, on this evidence Mr Gingrich looks to be in pole position and, with back-to-back wins in SC and FL under his belt, all bets will be off heading towards Super Tuesday.

While doing my best to sift through the South Carolina runes a week ago, I noted that I would be watching the polls closely to see whether Newt Gingrich could consolidate conservative support, and emerge as the clear conservative standard-bearer by winning over supporters of Rick Santorum and Rick Perry.

Over the past few days, a slew of opinion poll evidence has answered that question decisively in the affirmative. Here’s the unanimous verdict of the final polls taken before the voting starts:

All of the most recent polls agree that Mr Gingrich is now in pole position to win the primary. You have to go back to the Politico/Tarrance poll taken Tuesday and Wednesday to find the last poll which placed Mitt Romney in the lead.

What on earth happened? When even the NY Times’ Nate Silver describes himself as “surprised a great deal”, you know it must have been quite some week in politics.

Well, for starters, Mr Gingrich was at least partly the author of his own success, after pulling off a pair of very strong performances in the week’s two debates. Mr Romney, by contrast, had moments at each debate which his campaign will almost certainly prefer to forget.

In particular, seasoned observers were left scratching their heads when Mr Romney, who badly fumbled a question on publishing his tax returns on Monday evening, was left by his advisers without an effective answer to the same question when it predictably came up again at Thursday’s CNN debate.

Mr Romney’s team ended up spending much of the week battling a negative media narrative about his wealth and effective tax rate. Mr Gingrich, by contrast, was helped by the impact of Rick Perry’s endorsement. Polls taken since Mr Perry dropped out of the race show a modest but clearly identifiable boost for Mr Gingrich.

The same cannot be said for the short-term impact of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s endorsement of Mr Romney. That said, the lack of a challenge from his left should deliver strategic benefits for Mr Romney’s campaign over the long run, freeing up the option of resorting to a rightward shift if that’s what’s needed to tackle Mr Gingrich in Florida and beyond.

Finally, with the first early-morning voters starting to cast their ballots as I write, Mr Gingrich seems to have all the late momentum. The final day of the Public Policy Polling survey (PDF) shows Mr Gingrich leading Mr Romney by a whopping 9 points. The same poll shows Mr Gingrich leading 41-21 among Evangelicals, 52-18 among Tea Partiers and, crucially, ahead of Rick Santorum 44-21 among ‘very conservative’ voters.

PPP also provided the NY Times with a detailed breakdown of their night-by-night results which show that, over the three days of polling, Mr Gingrich led Mr Romney by 4 points on Wednesday evening, 6 points on Thursday and by 14 points in interviews conducted Friday.

With such a preponderance of polling evidence, not to mention a strong gut feeling I’ve had since watching Monday’s debate, I feel confident in saying that former Speaker Gingrich will be heading to Florida with a victory tonight under his belt. His margin of victory remains to be seen, although I don’t expect viewers to be burning the midnight oil before they know the winner.

What also remains to be seen is the impact a success for Mr Gingrich will have on the race as a whole. Florida, with it’s large population of migrants from northern states, is kinder territory for Mr Romney’s more moderate brand of conservatism. Post-Iowa, Mr Romney surged into a solid lead in Florida, where some recent polls have him up by as much as 26 points.

Those numbers could well be misleading. Mr Gingrich, should he pull off a solid victory in SC tonight, has a lot of upside potential in Florida. He led there until Iowa, and voters who switched from Mr Gingrich to Mr Romney after Iowa may feel tempted to switch back after tonight.

A solid margin of victory for Mr Gingrich over Mr Santorum tonight will also help reinforce his increasingly convincing assertion that he is now the only conservative capable of stopping Mr Romney. The first polls out of Florida after tonight’s result may tell a very interesting story indeed.



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