Monday, October 06, 2008

Jay Cost on ... Nebraska and Maine?

I've been working on a look at some of the key battleground states, but Jay Cost beat me to an unexpected analysis of two states--Nebraska and Maine. Now, Nebraska is going red and likewise Maine is going blue. If that is the case, then why did both camps do the following?
I noted with interest stories today discussing McCain and Obama opening up campaign offices in some far-flung places: McCain in Bangor, Maine and Obama in Omaha, Nebraska.
The answer turns out to lie in the details of the rules in what happens if there is a tie in the electoral college. In that case, the House decides, but each state only gets one vote. That makes things very tricky, as described by Cost:
That's right, the House of Representatives - which acquitted itself so beautifully over the last week! - gets to make the choice, but with a twist. Each state gets one vote. That makes things a little dicey, for both campaigns.

For McCain, the problem is obvious: the Democrats control the Congress. Not only that, but they currently control 27 of the 50 state caucuses. The GOP controls 21 and 2 are split.

But Obama has a problem here, too. In this scenario, McCain will have won more states, which means that to win, Obama will have to convince some Democrats to vote against their states. A few unfortunate souls would probably have to vote against their own districts. In 2004 George W. Bush won 255 congressional districts to Kerry's 180. A 269-269 tie like this implies that McCain will probably have won more districts than Obama, which would complicate matters for the Democrat.
Neither of these situations are happy ones for either candidate so in a strange twist of fate, neither wants a tie. Cost explains:
Why is it that Maine and Nebraska are relevant to this scenario? Most states allocate electors on a winner-take-all basis. Maine and Nebraska do, too - but they also dole out electors depending upon who won which congressional districts. If McCain were to win Maine's second district, he'd get an elector. If Obama were to win Nebraska's third (Correction: second), he'd get an elector. That could make the difference.
For the full analysis, including a discussion on how the VP could end up being from the opposite party of the President, see Cost's piece.

My point in linking it is to point out a key fact that I will be bringing up repeatedly as more and more poll results pour in. If you want to see beyond the smokescreen that is modern, biased polling, you have to watch how the campaigns act and, in particular, where they spend and send resources.

If Obama really thought he was up eight points, as some national polls suggest, he wouldn't bother with an elector in Nebraska. A candidate with an eight point lead will not end up tied in the electoral college--it would be a decisive win. The fact that Obama's campaign is sending people to Nebraska in case of a tie means they themselves don't believe the poll numbers. And that means you shouldn't either.

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