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Wargaming the Electoral College

This week we're going to limit our focus to the battlegrounds and the leaners, and avoid all the Byzantine scenario building. Taking the latest from Rasmussen, Nate Silver, and some other sources, here's the map we get.

This should be easy to read. Dark blue is safe for President Obama, while light blue states are his leaners. Dark red is Mitt Romney country, with light red leaners. Uncolored states are the toss-ups.

Three surprises this time around, one of which you might already be pointing and laughing at: "He has Illinois is a leaner? What a maroon!" Very likely, yes. But the only poll I've seen out of Illinois showed Obama with only 49% -- in Cook County, home of Chicago. Any Democrat running statewide in Illinois needs to run up the numbers in Cook, because they're going to get slaughtered downstate. Now, I don't really think Illinois is in play, but until I see some other indicator, I'm putting it in the leans column. It might even stay there long enough for me to finish writing this paragraph.

Missouri got downgraded to leans Romney, thanks to the heroic jerkiness of one Todd Akin. Women will turn out in droves to vote against this guy. Missouri, once safely red, is now a state to watch. You can't hear me, but I'm saying very bad words right now.

And Colorado lost its blue tint for the first time ever on a battleground map. I thought my home state was going to be a tough nut for Romney to crack. He underperformed here during the primaries, I thought, and our state GOP has been in a circular firing squad for the better part of a decade now. You'd think they'd have run out of ammo, but no. Anyway, the last Rasmussen poll gave Romney a nice edge, with an R+5 sample. Colorado was R+1 in 2008 (when Obama was the Messiah) and R+9 in 2004 (when it went heavily for Bush). So R+5 sounds about right, as Colorado tilts back partway towards its historic norm.

And I stand by my year-old prognostication that Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are in play. Some recent polls bear this out, too.

But the map imparts too much data and not enough knowledge. So I've prepared a couple of tables for you.

This first table reflects today's map with a twist.

You get five totals, for safes, leaners, and toss-ups. Obama and Romney are nearly even on the safe votes, 171 to 181, respectively. They're pretty much tied on leaners, too, with 60 and 63. Another 63 EC votes are dead-center toss-ups.

So what's the twist? The twist is, states Obama won in 2008 are in blue text. States John McCain won that year are in red. So the colors don't represent this year's predictions; you're already getting that from the column placement. Instead, you're seeing a kind of overlay of the actual results from four years ago.

Again, though, I think there's just too much data. Let's strip it down further, to just the leaners and toss-ups.

That's better -- we don't really need giant color blobs or a list of all the 57 states when just 14 will do.

There is just one McCain state in play this year. Just one. Missouri. And the only reason it's in play is because Claire McCaskill really knows how to pick her own opponent, who just so happens to have too much ego and too little sense stuffed into an otherwise empty suit.

So Mitt Romney has Missouri's ten Electoral College votes to lose, which assuming no other wins, would result in a loss of 357 to 181. Incidentally, that's eight points better than McCain did, because Indiana's 11 votes are already red, and because of reapportionment.

Obama, on the other hand, has a total of 176 of his EC votes from 2008 at risk. So if we assume everything goes Mitt's way, Obama would lose 367-171, or six votes worse than what McCain scraped together. The final result is likely to be... not that.

Numbers aside, what this last table tells us is the momentum of the race, the movement of the voters. And so far, virtually all of that movement is Blue-to-Red, or the exact opposite of 2008. 2008 went Red-to-Blue because of a weak candidate of the incumbent party and a lousy economy. 2012 is going the other way... because of a weak candidate of the incumbent party and a lousy economy.

That's why Team Obama went so nasty so early, and why they'll get nastier still.

NOTE: Map courtesy of 270toWin's iPad app. I play with that thing like most folks do Angry Birds.

UPDATE: It's nice to be on nearly the same page as Tom Dougherty, who is even more bullish right now on Romney than I am.

UPDATE: First table updated to include West Virginia. Its electoral votes were included in the totals, but it somehow got left off the list. Apologies.