More concretely, simply put, Barack Obama has been polling much better than John McCain exactly where he needs to. If you've been following FiveThirtyEight.com like I have (and I believe the math behind it is pretty sound) then you know that Obama is pretty popular in states that John Kerry failed to carry like Ohio, Florida, Iowa and New Mexico. However not only that but he's popular in states Kerry never had a prayer to win. Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada all stand a good chance of going Obama's way. Virginia and North Carolina, in particular, are interesting because neither of them has gone to a Democrat in a very long time (North Carolina in '76 and Virginia in '74).
So here's the electoral map. Red states go to McCain, blue to Obama, yellow are more or less up in the air (some sites will tell you that Montana, North Dakota and Arizona are all up in the air too, but that's bullshit). Anyway this accounts for 234 votes for Obama, 171 for McCain and 133 up for grabs. 270 electoral votes are required to win, in case that fact has somehow escaped you.
So I first present you with a near repeat of Kerry's performance in '04. Pretty much no swing states (Pennsylvania being really the only state that could be considered one) netting Obama 255 and McCain squeaking by with 276. Kerry failed to get Iowa, which accounts for the small discrepancy there, and Obama likely will not fail to get that state. So now you see the issue John McCain has in front of him. He needs to pull down every state that Obama has been beating him in and will still only eek out a victory. So let's move on.
So here is a much more likely output. Obama winning Virginia (13 votes, and he is very likely to win that state) as well as New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. Colorado and New Mexico are highly likely to blue states this year and Nevada seems increasingly likely as well. This outcome gives McCain 244 votes and Obama a solid but narrow victory with 287 votes. An important thing to note about this map is that Obama loses both Ohio and Florida, two states that were critical for Kerry in '04, and still wins. The swing of New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Iowa are enough to compensate for losing two states once deemed necessary to win.
This scenario is not much different than the last except Nevada goes McCain and Ohio to Obama. The only really significant effect this has is it puts Obama above 300 electoral votes with 302 to McCain's 229 making his victory greater than either of George W. Bush's wins though not as high as Clinton's 370 and 379 in '92 and '96.
Now we get into a hefty day for the Democrats. Not only do they pull in both Virginia and North Carolina, but Ohio and Florida. This makes for what I think is Obama's highest possible number of votes with 349 to McCain's comparatively pathetic 182. I have my doubts this will occur because I'm hesitant to say North Carolina will go to Obama and Florida has only been polling weakly for him, though still slightly in his favor.
And finally, for kicks, we get the narrowest plausible Obama victory. McCain steals Florida and Ohio and and retains any unlikely wins for Obama, however losing Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico (worth 19 votes together) is enough to send Obama over the edge with 274 votes. McCain with 257.
Is there a point to all of this? I guess that the election appears to be Obama's to lose. He does need a few key states, but overall it's an uphill battle for McCain. Stay tuned tomorrow for awesome! First polls close at 6pm EST.