Looking over the Presidential election numbers this morning, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that the general election should be considered a toss-up at this point, rather than Obama being the favorite. Consider the following:
McCain Slightly Ahead On Money
Despite record-breaking fundraising for Democrats this cycle, the hard money cash on hand figures actually slightly favor McCain and Republicans at this point:
McCain Cash on Hand (COH) + RNC COH: $55.06M
Obama COH + DNC COH: $51.86M
At this point, the RNC and DNC are effectively part of the McCain and Obama campaigns respectively, and should not seriously be considered separate entities. The picture isn't any better in terms of April fundraising, either:
McCain + RNC April fundraising: $38.3M
Obama + DNC April fundraising: $35.5M
McCain and the RNC, which can directly coordinate with each other, have more money on hand, and are raising money at a faster rate, than Obama and the DNC.
Obama Only Slightly Ahead In State Polls
My entirely poll-based electoral vote map shows a virtual dead heat in the electoral college:
Obama 242, McCain 207, Toss-up 89
(Dark Blue means "Solid Obama," or Obama +10% or more
Light Blue means "Lean Obama," or Obama +4.1%-+9.9%
White means "Toss-up," from between Obama +4.0% to McCain +4.0%
Light Red means "Lean McCain" or McCain +4.1%-+9.9%
Dark Red means "Solid McCain," or McCain +10.0% or more)
In this map, Obama's narrow lead is built on the unlikely swing states of Indiana, Nebraska-01, Nebraska-02, North Dakota, and South Carolina. Without those states, the campaign is a dead heat.
Obama Only Slightly Ahead In National Polls
The best site to monitor the status of national polls is Pollster.com, with its regression line and "house effects" methodology. Pollster.com currently shows Obama narrowly ahead of McCain, 45.4%-44.3%, backing up the numbers derived from state polls.
What About The National, Pro-Democratic Mood?
Viewing the Presidential campaign as a toss-up might seem incompatible with the overwhelmingly pro-Democratic mood in the country. After all, Democrats have built massive advantages in partisan self-identification, are turning out in record numbers in primary after primary, are well on course for smashing victories in both the Senate and House, and have left all fundraising numbers for campaigns in the dust. In this environment, how on earth could the Presidential campaign be a toss-up?
The answer is simple, and two-fold. First, John McCain has long outperformed generic Republicans, and is not tightly associated with their brand. Second, no one can unite all of the different Democratic voters on a national level. Our coalition remains highly localized, with progressives dominating the cities, New Dems dominating the suburbs, and Blue Dogs dominating the rural areas. While this diversity has allowed us to dominate elections at the state and local level recently, we just don't have a nominee who can bring all of the different local and state Democratic voting groups together at the national level. Obama and Clinton bring very different voters to the table in a general election. Had someone else other than John McCain been the Republican nominee, it is probably likely that virtually any Democratic nominee could have united all of the groups.
Off-hand I can think of three solutions to this problem. First, lower-ticket Dems are actually going to have to help out the top of the ticket this time around, with Democrats in more Clinton-friendly areas campaigning with Obama (an with both of them campaigning as Democrats). Second, McCain needs to be defined as the conservative Republican that he is. Third, Obama needs to pick a good VP, someone who can bring more of the various Democratic groups together without emphasizing Obama's weakness among some groups. I might be asking for too much on that one, a pick that is both reinforcing and balancing, but one can always hope.
It is frustrating that Democrats are not favored in the Presidential election despite our overwhelming advantages everywhere else. However, it is also an indication that we are still have a long way to go in order to pull off a realignment. If no one and nothing and unite the broad Democratic coalition, then there is no way to argue that we have realigned the country, no matter how large our majorities in Congress will be next year. We need to score a blowout Presidential victory in order for a realignment to occur, and right now we are nowhere near that.
At the very least, hopefully this will encourage people to "work as though it is tied." I've always thought that was better than working as though you are ten points ahead, or ten points down. Besides, it is also the truth.