The McCain Pennsylvania Theory

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Oct 22, 2008 at 07:00

OK, so commenters in the previous swing state thread have laid out what they see as McCain's rationale behind targeting Pennsylvania instead of Colorado, and I can kind of see how it makes sense. In the extended entry, I provide a full explanation.
Chris Bowers :: The McCain Pennsylvania Theory
Here is the McCain Pennsylvania targeting theory, as best as I can tell:

  1. McCain has to win a state where he is way down: Right now, McCain is more than 8.0% behind in states worth 277 electoral votes (the Kerry and / or Gore states plus Virginia). With only 270 needed to win, and 269 to tie, he has to target a state where he trails by more than 8%. That isn't even an option.

  2. Take a look at the 8% or more states: A quick glance at last week's polling from the 277 8% or more states (the Kerry and / or Gore plus Virginia states) doesn't show a pretty picture for McCain. A short list of states quickly emerges:

    State EV's Obama % McCain % Margin # Polls
    New Hampshire 4 50.0% 43.0% +7.0% 1
    Virginia 13 51.8% 43.8% +8.0% 4
    Minnesota 10 51.3% 41.3% +10.0% 3
    New Mexico 5 53.5% 43.5% +10.0% 2
    Pennsylvania 21 51.7% 40.7% +11.0% 3
    Wisconsin 10 51.0% 39.3% +11.7% 3

    If a state isn't listed here, then it is even worse for McCain. These six, crappy options are his only choices.

  3. Why not New Hampshire? McCain has did well in New Hampshire during the 2000 and 2004 primaries, and it is also the closest state here. So, why not New Hampshire? Because he needs to pick up at least nine electoral votes to crack the 277 8%+ Obama states, and New Hampshire is only worth 4.

  4. Why not Virginia?: Why doesn't McCain just target Virginia, which is worth enough electoral votes and closer than Pennsylvania? Because Virginia is the most early voting of all early voting states, with early voting starting one month ago. During that month, Obama has repeatedly and continually posted large leads in Virginia. By comparison, Pennsylvania has no early voting (except for no-fault absentee). Given that, compared to Virginia, a far lower percentage of the vote in Pennsylvania has already been cast, a 3% difference in polling doesn't really mean anything. Easier to come back from an 11% deficit with 3% of the vote in than a 8% deficit with 30% of the vote in.

  5. Why not Minnesota? Or Wisconsin? Or New Hampshire and New Mexico? Why shouldn't McCain just target a smaller, cheaper combination of states that reaches nine electoral votes, instead of Pennsylvania? The reason is Colorado, and it's nine electoral votes. While McCain only trails by 5% in Colorado, some estimates are that 50% of Colorado votes will be early votes. This means that McCain needs a way to overcome not only the 277, but potentially 277 + 9 (Colorado). The only state on this list that provides that sort of coverage is Pennsylvania.

So, when presented with a list of crappy choices, Pennsylvania is the best option for McCain. It's large size and lack of early voting provides McCain with potential time and a potential margin no other targeting strategy can. He has to win a state where he currently trails by 8% or more, and Pennsylvania is clearly the best option.

During this time, please ignore anything Ed Rendell says, as he is a long-time concern troll for Democrats (remember: he loves Rick Santorum,   Justice Alito, and Fox News, but hates Social Security). On top of it all, any trolling Governor in his position would write dozens of memos to cover his ass in the event of a Pennsylvania debacle. If, somehow, it all goes wrong, Rendell can at least say to Fox News "hey, I warned Obama to campaign more in Pennsylvania."

In summary, early voting and large poll deficits have forced McCain into a desperate play for Pennsylvania. There is basically no way it will work, but at least I will have a good way to rally the other committee people at our ward meeting on Thursday evening. That, and the World Series will unfortunately collide with the election now.

Oh, and any commenters (such as Jack Murtha) who might be tempted to say that McCain's strategy is also based on Pennsylvanians somehow being more racist than the rest of the country, please just shut up right now.

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"No way it will work"? (4.00 / 8)

 Well, I hope you're right, but I'm heading back up to Adams County this weekend just to make damn sure.

 But if Obama has offices in Littlestown (pop. 4000), which he does, I'm confident that he's got this contingency covered.  

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

Excellent analysis (4.00 / 4)
Now, the grammar police. :)  "It's" should be "Its" when used as a possessive.

Grammar class is now over. Have a good recess! :)

Yes, great job, folks! (4.00 / 1)
Now this whole thing makes sense. Thx!

[ Parent ]
Easy way to remember (0.00 / 0)
It's means "It is" or "It has".  If you type "It's" and you don't mean "It is" or "It has", then take the apostrophe out.  :)

[ Parent ]
I would be highly amused if McCain won PA on the back of racism (4.00 / 1)
Only to lose the election because of AA early voting in VA and NC.

Riding racism bareback! (0.00 / 0)

Tim Wolfe

[ Parent ]
Does this mean... (4.00 / 1)
we've got McCain right where we want him?

According to a New York Times article... (0.00 / 0)
...McCain's internals show him "only" down 8 points in PA...  Only!

That's almost 3 times worse than Bush was down in PA at this time in 2004...

That's reassuring news for us, IMO... but, we shouldn't let him chip away at that lead, either...  It's time to nuke his kamikaze strategy once and for all!!

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

I'll say any damn thing I please.. (4.00 / 1)
Oh, and any commenters (such as Jack Murtha) who might be tempted to say that McCain's strategy is also based on Pennsylvanians somehow being more racist than the rest of the country, please just shut up right now.

...but out of curiosity, you say that because (a) you think it is not true or (b) you think it is a losing proposition to point this out?

Both (4.00 / 2)
And he's a jack ass for saying it and it causes problems for the candidate.  

[ Parent ]
this scenario looks familiar ... (4.00 / 4)
mcpalin         = giuliani

pennsylvania = florida

hail mary       = epic fail

i'm glad you asked

Except (0.00 / 0)
At least Giuliani had some reason to pin his hopes on Florida (expatriated NYers). Rudy's big mistake was to ignore completely IA, NH and SC so he came into FL looking like an also ran. McCain has no reason to think PA might be more favorable to him than other more traditionally GOP battleground states.

Chris' analysis is correct though. Mccain knows he's lost this election with early voting so his only chance is to win the state that has no early voting. Plus, if he does make any headway there its a more dramatic story for the media of a blue state going red in a Dem landslide year than it would be for a traditional red state like VA or NC coming home to its natural turf.  

[ Parent ]
rudy's big mistake was that no one liked him. nt. (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Guiliani (0.00 / 0)
He didnt ignore NH, it was just that every time he went there, his poll numbers dropped.  Palin is having a similar effect, bringing NH from a stat tie to a strong Obama state.  

[ Parent ]
yuck, yuck (4.00 / 1)
Oh, and any commenters (such as Jack Murtha) who might be tempted to say that McCain's strategy is also based on Pennsylvanians somehow being more racist than the rest of the country, please just shut up right now.

No one could possibly say that... the bi-partisan zombie narrative is my neighbors here in West Virginians are 'somehow be more racist that the rest of the country'... including Pennsyltucky.


They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

Didn't General Lee already try this? (4.00 / 11)
A last desperate foray into Pennsylvania in hopes of rescuing a lost cause.

Jeff Wegerson

Hehehe, good point! (4.00 / 3)
Should be used as a slogan: 'John McCain 08 - just like Robert E. Lee 63!'

[ Parent ]
but McCain would reply... (4.00 / 5)
"Gray, I knew Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee was my friend. And I'm no Robert E. Lee."

[ Parent ]
Actually, he was doing that from a position of strength (4.00 / 3)
Lee was coming off his greatest victory of the war in VA, and he figured that the best way to take advantage of it was to try another invasion of the North (his previous one had failed at Antietam).  The South was getting desperate because of the siege of Vicksburg, but Lee convinced the government to go for the gold in the North instead of shifting troops West, which may or may not have worked.  So it was a big risk either way, albeit arguably the best option they had in the circumstances.  

[ Parent ]
And also, we know Robert E. Lee, and McCain ain't no Robert E. Lee! (0.00 / 0)
Yeah, you're right, in this way the comparison makes no sense. Somewhat unfair to the great general. And I guess it's not a good idea to piss off Democratic Lee fans after all...

[ Parent ]
Will GOP try to suppress the vote? (4.00 / 1)

Do you think another point in PAs favor is that the GOP can attempt to suppress the vote (since no early voting) and/or intimidate voters in urban areas?  I think the GOP has filed a lawsuit alleging massive voter registration fraud; maybe they think if they can manage to keep it close they can then claim the election was "stolen".

Yes, Absolutely (4.00 / 2)
This is the missing piece from Chris's analysis.  Not that it's needed to make his case, but it definitely is part of the picture.  DDay covers this at Digby's place, in a post that comes full circle with a closing link to an earlier diary by Chris.

There's been quite the little war going on there since the GOP filed a lawsuit late last week.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I thought it was assumed (4.00 / 3)
I honestly thought voter suppression was assumed, so I didn't list it here. I take it as ubiquitous, not as specific to Pennsylvania.

[ Parent ]
Misunderstanding of early voting in VA (4.00 / 5)
I live in VA, and we do NOT have early voting a la Florida, Georgia, and other states where you can simply show up to vote early if you're registered.  We do NOT have no-fault absentee OR early voting here in VA--you have to check off a form with a reason for why you can't vote on election day.  

I don't have any idea of the numbers regarding absentee or early voting in VA, but I can almost guarantee you that there are no "I waited in line for an hour to vote...two weeks before the election!" stories here in VA, unlike in FL, NC, etc.  So I doubt that early voting in VA has much to do with McCain's PA kamikaze move.

I vote for Chris' reason #5: Focusing on PA is effectively the electoral equivalent of focusing on VA AND CO (21 EVs vs. 22), and going all in on one state is easier than two.      

Somewhere in between (4.00 / 4)

I live in VA as well, and when I stopped by City Hall recently to change my registration (I moved in the summer, only a mile but a different precinct), the registrar all but begged me to vote early. She said the state was really pushing it, and when I said I didn't really have a reason she prompted me with "maybe you have to work long hours that day?". I said sure, and she said that was "enough". So I voted.

I also so in the local paper a story about this, how the Election Board was encouraging early voting, to help reduce the demand on election day.

So there's some early voting.

[ Parent ]
Really? (0.00 / 0)
Interesting.  Maybe they can be convinced to switch to no-fault early voting next time, if they're that eager to get people to do it.

Also, are there all that many sites open for it?  As I understand it, the only site I could go to would be my county's election office, which is at least a half-hour drive from where I live (the ginormous Fairfax County).  

[ Parent ]
There are at least five or six (4.00 / 1)
satellite offices in Fairfax County for in-person absentee voting.

Here in the City of Alexandria (I already voted), there is only one site.  

[ Parent ]
Cool (0.00 / 0)
I didn't really look into it, still waiting for my absentee ballot in the mail (should be arriving soon).  I'm going to be out of town on election day.

[ Parent ]
I suspect (4.00 / 2)
Maybe they can be convinced to switch to no-fault early voting next time, if they're that eager to get people to do it.

that under and Obama Administration that all states will be pushed to allow no-fault early voting.  And I really hope this is the last election where there is any real concern of GOP voter suppression tactics actually working.    

[ Parent ]
I should have mentioned (0.00 / 0)

That I live in Charlottesville, where there's an Obama sign in every yard. And that the registrar's husband is my son's art tutor. And that they live around the corner from me. So maybe not everyone will get the same hard sell that I did.

[ Parent ]
It's not that voters *are* racist; it's that McCain *thinks* they are. (4.00 / 3)

In my opinion, (while everything Chris says is probably correct too) McCain's people are in Pennsylvania largely  because they are making the mistake of believing the crap that the Hillary Clinton people were putting out there toward the end of the primary season (I was largely a Hillary defender at the time, but this stuff was crap!):

*Hillary won Pennsylvania;
*Obama lost Pennsylvania;
*(that proves that) Hillary can win Pennsylvania in the general election;
*(and) Obama can't win Pennsylvania in the general election.

It's hard to believe that even the Clinton people believed it at the time. It's the kind of thing one says when one is running behind in the primaries very late in the game. It's complete nonsense and I'm sure the Clinton people knew it was at the time, but hey -- they were trying to make their case and that's what people do when they're behind.

The problem (for McCain) is that his people actually believe this nonsense! They actually seem to believe that because of the "Appalachian Effect" during the primaries, Obama can't connect with people in certain parts of certain states based on their demographics. In fact, all it meant was that Clinton connected better than Obama did at that point in time.

While I see the logic summed up in Chris's summary, I still think McCain would have been better off focusing his energies in Colorado, Virginia and New Hampshire. For McCain and Palin to be spending the amounts of time and money in Pennsylvania that they have been doing qualifies as batsh** crazy! It's going to cause him to lose winnable states like Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina.

But hey, I'll take it!

"In a mountain half-way between Reno and Rome/ We have a machine in a plexiglass dome/ That listens and looks into everyone's home." -- Theodore Seuss Geissel

I've also been baffled by the "logic" (0.00 / 0)
that if Obama lost an area or state to Clinton in the primaries, that means he cannot win it in the general election.

In addition to your excellent point about how the voting was done at that point in time (long before Obama's message and personality was as well-known by the population as it is today), there's another thing that has bothered me with this so-called "logic". McCain and Hillary Clinton are extremely opposite on the issues - Hillary and Barack are very close to one another on the issues. By no stretch of the imagination is McCain dominating the working-class white voter in PA (per polling). If anything, one would think that Barack Obama would carry most, if not all, of Hillary's supporters. If these voters are so supportive of McCain's policies over the similar policies of Hillary and Barack, they would most likely have voted in the GOP primaries.

To make the leap that "Obama lost PA in the primaries to Hillary, therefore he will likely lose the state to McCain in the election" is like George Bush logic - since the Taliban in Afghanistan is our enemy, let's attack Iraq.

[ Parent ]
I think what is being missed in these discussions (4.00 / 2)
is the comparison of Ohio to Pennsylvania.  Right now McCain is probably tied in Ohio, yet polling shows him down 10 plus in Pennsylvania.  I find it hard to believe there could be that big of a gap between the two states.  In 2004 Kerry lost Ohio by 2.5 and won PA by 2.5.  

It would not surprise me to find that the interal polling shows Pennsylvania much closer than the public polls show.

I just have a hard time understand the size of the gap between Ohio and PA.  

What about the gap between OH and VA? (4.00 / 1)
The polling has Obama running about 15-20 points better (in terms of the margin between him and the Republican) than Kerry finished in '04.  That was why I was skeptical for much of this election season when people were pointing to CO and VA as better bets for us this time than OH; neither of them were as close as OH was in '04, and it was hard for me to believe that they'd swing that much.  But the polling has borne that out.

So I guess my point is that comparisons to '04 aren't necessarily going to illuminate anything in some of these states.

[ Parent ]
Unclear first sentence (0.00 / 0)
In my first sentence there, I should have made clear that I was referring to VA (Bush won it by 8.2 points over Kerry).

[ Parent ]
doesn't McCain need both OH and PA? (0.00 / 0)
I thought he needed both... plus a few others that are very close races (like FL).

I think the point is that he's going to focus more on PA than CO, but he'll still be doing a lot of campaigning in FL and OH.

Regarding the difference between the states, my impression (as a Michiganian) is that Ohio has a lot of entrenched Republicans in city & state government, and there is some concern about significant voter suppression efforts. Remember Warren County, OH from the last election (my stomach turns every time I think about it... and I've never been a tin-foil-hatter, but it really looks like the Presidency was stolen that night in OH due to fraud.) While there is a new Secy of State - a Democrat who has been trying very hard to make sure that people are not denied the right to vote - there are a lot of electronic machines and a strong GOP presence that could make that race very, very close.

Plus, when I'm driving in OH, I see a LOT more McCain (and yes, even still W) stickers on cars than I do here in MI. There's a huge discrepancy in polling between MI and OH, and we have very similar economic issues as well. Obama is up by about 10-12 points here - similar to PA.

Perhaps the voter suppression efforts aren't as institutionalized and organized in PA as OH.  

[ Parent ]
Yes, McCain needs FL and OH (4.00 / 1)
There are no indications that he's pulling back in either of those Bush states.  The PA discussion is centered around the emerging idea that McCain is responding to Obama's offense in CO and VA (Bush states) by shifting to offense in PA (Kerry state).

[ Parent ]
I guess I was trying to respond to the comparison of PA and OH (0.00 / 0)
regarding fladem's surprise about the polling data. I think MI and PA are a bit closer of a comparison than PA and OH.

(Not that I'd encourage McCain to come back to MI! Fergawdsake, keep that man and his miniskirt-wearing running mate away!)

[ Parent ]
Diff between PA & OH (4.00 / 2)
Well, PA has been much more Democratic in the modern era.  That's because metro Philly, with about 4 million, and metro Pittsburgh, with about 1.5 million are almost half of the state's population.  Particularly in that the Philly suburbs have moving Dem in the past 2 to 3 election cycles.  Cleveland simply doesn't dominate Ohio's politics in the same way.  Columbus is not as Democratic as Philly, and metro Cincinnati is Republican.  PA has been Dem since BushI/Dukakis, also voted Dem in 1968.  

[ Parent ]
If the McCain campaign isn't doing this in part (4.00 / 1)
due to Appalachian/rural Pennsylvanian demographics (and all the nudge-nudge/wink-wink ideas therein implied), I'll eat my cyberhat.

Yeah (4.00 / 1)
And if they want to do some intense race-based targeting on a local level, hoping that it slips under the national radar a bit, PA is a better risk for them than VA, which has twice as high a percentage of black people.  Local targeting like that in VA might spark enough increased Af-Am turnout to cancel out or even overtake whatever shenanigans they have in mind.

[ Parent ]
I don't think the geographical advantage has been discussed (0.00 / 0)
there's also some logic to focusing McCain's limited resources to reduce travel costs. By not traveling much to CO (they may keep some ads running there), and focusing on states in the east, they might be able to conserve a little cash.

Oh, and let us not forget that they need to save money so they can continue to buy Caribou Barbie a new Saks Fifth Avenue wardrobe. She's one of us! She's a real Joe the Plumber (even if they spent $150,000 on new clothing for Palin and her family - which is almost 4 times what the mean salary of a plumber in America makes.)

BRILLIANT analysis! (0.00 / 0)
Thank you - this is one of the most insightful articles of the campaign.

There's one more piece to this (0.00 / 0)
And that's the fact that McCain can't pull out of Pennsylvania the way he can from smaller states -- the symbolic effect would be too devastating, compared with scaling back in CO or NH.

So, as long as he has to stay here at all, he might as well try to win it.

McCain's Belief/Strategy vs. Objective Truth (0.00 / 0)
Oh, and any commenters (such as Jack Murtha) who might be tempted to say that McCain's strategy is also based on Pennsylvanians somehow being more racist than the rest of the country, please just shut up right now.

Chris, respectfully, arguing (IMO correctly) the McCain's strategy is based on their belief that racism exists and can be exploited is not the same as agreeing to the proposition as objective truth.

...Adding, based on all empirical evidence to date, ruling out race as a factor in McCain's strategic thinking is frankly not reality based.  

Self-refuting Christine O'Donnell is proof monkeys are still evolving into humans


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