McCain’s Battlegrounds

I’m going to try avoiding too much emphasis on early polls, but because I just found this entry from Nate at 538, and because I had a similar, pronounced, reaction to McCain’s campaign’s so-called electoral map that breaks down safe states, leaning states, and toss-ups.

In case you’re not familiar with the list, well, there’s no way to characterize it as anything short of absurd. Virginia and North Carolina are both listed as “safe” states for McCain, states where RCP’s poll average (albeit a flawed number, but it works well enough here) have a tie and a 4% McCain lead, respectively, and lists states like Connecticut (Obama has an average lead of 13.6%), Washington (13.4%), Iowa (8%), Minnesota (9%), Oregon (8.7%), Colorado (6%), Wisconsin (7%), and Maine (13%) as “toss ups.”

So allowing for the obvious, that there’s no conveiable objective standard for the classifications, you’re left with 2 possible explanations. The first is arguably the more (seemingly) obvious one; it’s politcal bullshit, er, spin. But while that may seem obvious on the face of it, from the standpoint of a political professional, it doesn’t make sense. When you’re spinning with poll numbers and so on, you’re down playing them. Remember all the talk of lowering expectations during primaries? Same basic concept. You certainly wouldn’t want to do something like go around claiming a tight state like Virginia as being in the bag, because the invitation from there is for poll numbers to be taken as a sign of weakness, that you’re doing very badly in areas you ought to be blowing the opponent away in. And considering that Charlie Black and Rick Davis are at least seasoned enough to know that, this seems highly unlikely as a sound explanation to me.

The second possibility, and I think the more likely one, is that the McCain campaign is just completely out of touch with reality. I imagine they really do think that traditionally red states are in the bag, while McCain is going to compete in blue states like Washington, Connecticut, and Maine, even if he’s lagging much further back in the polls than Obama is in McCain’s “safe” states. It would fit perfectly well with some of the recent accounts of the campaign’s self belief, and would certainly fit with McCain’s own sense of self grandeur that has been well documented over the years. But then, there’s nothing really empirical to back that up, other than the fact that it obviously can’t be objectively based on the numbers, and it seems to ass backwards of basic political workings to be spin.

What can I say? I report, you decide.