The PJ Tatler

Electoral College Watch: Are We Down to Four Toss-Up States Now?

On Thursday RealClearPolitics moved a handful of states from “Lean Obama” to “toss-up.” Those states are Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Collectively they represent 43 electoral votes. RCP aggregates and averages polls, so its moves tend to lag what may be happening on the ground. Its average also still includes some pre-presidential debate polls that have yet to cycle out. Based on their electoral history, though, we should expect that Virginia will go to the GOP and Pennsylvania will go to the Democrats. I’m not saying definitely that they will go that way, but it’s the safer way to bet at this point.

Wisconsin, however, is much more difficult to predict. After the election of Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and majorities in the legislature, and the failed recall attempts against them that followed, it’s fair to say that Wisconsin is very much a state in transition. This year at the presidential level, it is the very definition of a toss-up state. Wisconsin could just as easily stick to its blue roots as it could continue turning red.

RCP’s move followed another significant move regarding a trio of toss-ups. Suffolk polling announced this week that it was pulling out of three states believed to be toss-ups: Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. Reason: They are now lost to Obama in that pollster’s view. Following that announcement, a Tampa Bay Times poll backed up Suffolk’s take in Florida, showing a 7-point lead for Romney. Obama won all three of those states in 2008. Collectively the three Suffolk states represent 57 electoral votes.

RCP has a feature that allows users to rearrange the electoral map, which RCP’s poll averages currently show 201 electoral votes for Obama, 181 for Romney and 156 in the toss-up lane. RCP also counts several states as leaners for both sides that, in my opinion are fair to call. Arizona, for instance, shows as “lean Romney” when the reality is that it stopped swinging months ago and is a likely Romney state. Oregon, on the other hand, is a likely Obama state. New Mexico and Minnesota are likely Obama states; Colorado is likely a Romney state.

Reallocating those leaners to their appropriate sides and taking into account the history and trends in other states, here’s where I landed this morning on the RCP map.

If my read is correct, fifty electoral votes remain up for grabs in just four states: Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. Romney only needs either Ohio or Michigan to get to 270. He could also win Iowa and Wisconsin to get there. Obama needs a combination of some among those four states to win. Even winning Ohio and Michigan only gets him to 265. He needs to pull a triple play to get past 270.

Last night’s vice presidential debate isn’t likely to have changed much. President Obama has to repair the damage done during the first presidential debate plus contend with the building scandal from the Benghazi attack, while appealing to middle ground voters, among whom Romney currently and consistently leads. This race isn’t Romney’s to lose, but it could become that after the second presidential debate if Obama does not perform far better than he did during the first debate.

Update: New numbers from Rasmussen show Romney cracking the 50% mark.

Update: New numbers from Virginia show Romney leading by 7.