Paths to Victory Part IV: The ‘Final Five’

The “Final Five” states comprise Ohio (20), Virginia (13), Colorado (9), Nevada (5) and New Hampshire (4). The Final Five will determine the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Even if the election is won by a large margin, the Final Five will be important indicators as to the outcome and margin of victory.

New Hampshire is a particularly interesting state. McCain has strong ties to New Hampshire. It is the state that provided McCain with energy in the 2000 Republican primaries and reestablished his campaign in the 2008 Republican primaries with important victories. New Hampshire voted for George W. Bush in 2000, but voted for John Kerry in 2004. Currently, Obama holds a negligible lead of less than an average of 1% point in the state.

Colorado and Nevada are Western states that will play important roles in this election. Currently McCain leads Nevada by an average of 1% point and Obama leads Colorado by the same amount. The Democrats have been very focused on Colorado, as indicated by the fact that they held their convention in Denver.

Virginia is a state that has become more Democratic over time due to the exurbs of Washington, D.C. It is a large state that is crucial to both Democrats and Republicans. A Democratic victory in Virginia would push Obama over 270, but the state has voted Republican in the last two elections by 8% points. McCain holds a highly negligible lead in the polls of less than 1% point.

Ohio is also a very important state for both Republicans and Democrats. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio since Abraham Lincoln. McCain currently leads Ohio by a negligible average of 1.3% points. Assuming the Obama campaign secures the states previously mentioned, victory in Ohio would win the election for them. Due to the reasons listed above, Ohio will be the main focus of the campaign.

The McCain campaign has two routes to victory that deal with the Final Five: (1) winning Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada, or (2) winning Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire. McCain is limited in his options to attain victory, but every state other than New Hampshire voted Republican in the last two elections.

The Obama campaign has four routes to victory that deal with the Final Five: (1) winning Ohio, (2) winning Virginia, (3) winning Colorado and Nevada, or (4) winning Colorado and New Hampshire. Although it seems as though the Obama campaign has an advantage here, challenges do remain. The Obama team would have to pick up at least one Final Five state that voted Republican in the last two elections. Polls are also likely to change, especially after the debates.

One possible scenario is that Sen. Obama wins Nevada and New Hampshire and Sen. McCain wins Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado. In this case, both candidates would finish with an electoral vote of 269. In the case of a tie, the vote would go to the House of Representatives and would cause what Chuck Todd of MSNBC News calls “full employment” for journalists.