Sunday, August 03, 2008

Could Montana be the Clincher?

Several weeks ago, Left-Over stuck his neck out and predicted that Montana Senator Jon Tester would be Barack Obama’s running mate.

I decided to revisit this prediction, after seeing Friday’s post by Kos in which he highlights the graph from Pollster shown above. It divides the states into “Strong Obama” and “Strong McCain,” with Obama leading 231 to 104. After adding “Leaning Obama,” and “Leaning McCain” states, Obama’s lead increases to 284 to 147. There are 107 electoral votes in states considered “toss ups.”

Based on this breakdown, all Obama has to do is maintain the states where he already has the lead, since he already has more than the 270 votes he needs to win the presidency. In other words, he doesn’t need a huge geographical boost from his VP choice, but only to pad his lead with a few more electoral votes from the toss-up states.

So how does this relate to the so-called “short list” of Obama’s VP candidates? Here’s the same graph with the electoral votes listed, and most of VP short-listers plotted by their home state. I’ve also included Tester and fellow Montanan, Governor Brian Schweitzer (who is a favorite of Nate Silver, aka Poblano, at, whose work probably inspired this analysis).

Clearly, it’s easy to see why Kaine, Bayh, and McCaskill are on the list, with Virginia’s 13, Indiana’s 11, and Missouri’s 11 electoral votes in the toss-up category. It’s also easy to see why Tester and Schweitzer, with Montana’s mere 3 electoral votes are considered extreme longshots. Oh, and clearly there just aren’t any suitable candidates who would help in Florida (as much as I wish Robert Wexler could fill the bill).

At this point, I’m going to offer a premise that I think is reasonably sound, which is that people who live in more populated areas feel connected to others within a much narrower radius than people who live in rural areas. Local politics rule, but for people who live in rural areas, “local” can extend quite far, based more on a similar lifestyle than on a similar locality.

Accepting this premise, I’ve categorized the toss-up states into a couple of additional categories relative to each VP candidate, with the idea of assessing the influence that each potential candidate might have on electoral votes in the toss-up states. The categories are “adjacent,” which is self explanatory, “similar,” which is influenced by the relative population density of the nearby states, and “both,” which covers similar, adjacent states.

Because of the rural nature of large portions of most of the western toss-up states, I consider South Dakota, Colorado, and Nevada to be similar to Montana. Although Virginia and North Carolina are adjacent, I do not consider them similar because of higher population density (as well as demographic differences). None of the other states are considered similar to any of the other toss-up states, as the higher populations suggest they are likely to have their own local issues.

Next, I created a “Toss-Up Influence Index,” by assuming that each potential VP candidate would have a 100% influence on their home state. Spillover influence would also be 100% for any state that is both adjacent and similar, 50% for any state that is similar, and 25% for any state that is adjacent. This is admittedly a crude estimation, but it highlights the point that influence can extend beyond one’s home state, and extend further when states are similar.

The following chart shows the Toss-Up Influence Index for each of the potential VP candidates:

Kaine seems to have the most potential influence, which is consistent with the attention he’s been getting from the Obama campaign and the media in recent days. Of course, there is also the issue of his less than stellar approval ratings in his home state, and the fact that he may have hurt his chances with premature public statements about his vetting process.

After Kaine, the two choices from Montana don’t seem so unlikely, particularly since both Tester and Schweitzer are immensely popular in their state. They appear capable of influencing more toss-up state electoral votes than any of the other potential VP choices, with Bayh and McCaskill close behind, and Sebelius and Biden far behind.

To summarize, when you look at the map of toss-up states, evaluate the VP options, and consider what Obama needs to give him a workable cushion toward getting 270 electoral votes, the chance to lock up Montana and several surrounding states might just be what it takes to clinch the presidency!


  1. Left-Over8:32 PM

    Wow - nice work Seenos. That's exactly the way I came to my prediction of Tester!

    Not................It was just a hunch!

    You should send this to Obama's campaign if its not too late.

  2. Anonymous9:55 AM

    To make every vote in every state politically relevant and equal in presidential elections, support the National Popular Vote bill.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.