All aboard the Overconfidence Express! While the rest of the blogosphere focuses on polls and punditry, I know what’s really on the mind of the American people: When will it be safe to pop those bottles?
Sure, you could always wait until the networks call the election, but who wants to spend those extra four or five hours (or more) writhing in agony, while all the champagne gets warm? Yesterday, I wrote this handy little shorthand guide:
If Obama wins just two of the following four states, it’s over: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, or Florida. If Obama wins just one, he can still be saved by holding serve in the west, winning Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada, or by winning just one of those states plus North Carolina. If Obama somehow loses all four– Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida– hold onto your hat. He would then need the three Western states– Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada– plus North Carolina (which could easily happen), or the Western states plus Indiana and Missouri (a scenario that is unlikely if he’s already lost Midwestern voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio).
But Nate Silver at 538 is the man with the cold hard numbers. He adds this:
[T]here are some states that truly do appear to be “must-wins” for McCain. In each and every one of the 624 victory scenarios that the simulation found for him this afternoon, McCain won Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Indiana and Montana. He also picked up Ohio in 621 out of the 624 simulations, and North Carolina in 622 out of 624. If McCain drops any of those states, it’s pretty much over.
As far as exact times go, Silver lays out what to watch for– and when– in a must-read article for Newsweek. Indiana and Virginia appear to be the early bellwethers:
If for some reason [Indiana] is called before 7 PM for John McCain, that probably means we’re in for a long night. If, on the other hand, the state is called for Obama in the first hour after the polls close, that could indicate that the force of Obama’s field operation has been underestimated, and that McCain is in for a catastrophically poor evening.
Virginia, for my money, is the most important state in this election. … As Obama remains about five points ahead in most polls of Virginia, what we’re really looking for is a quick call on anything before 8 PM that would indicate that the map has indeed changed from 2004, and not in McCain’s favor.
I’m predicting an electoral college landslide for Obama, so I think we get a surprise call on Florida a mere two hours after the polls close there– 9:00 p.m EST. Obviously, Obama won’t have 270 at that point, and no one will officially call the election until some of the Western states start coming in. But every path McCain has to 270 will be closed at that point. To quote the great Tim Russert, the state to watch tomorrow night: “Florida, Florida, Florida.”