Karl Rove's election predictions

Bush's former top strategist sees most of the action this fall coming in Virginia, Colorado, Michigan and, just for old time's sake, Ohio.

Published August 14, 2008 5:42PM (EDT)

Maybe this election really is 2004 all over again. Karl Rove seems to think so.

In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, the "architect" of George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns writes that the chief battlegrounds between Barack Obama and John McCain this fall will be Colorado, Virginia, Michigan and ... Ohio. Rove says:

To win, Mr. Obama needs to pick up 18 electoral votes more than John Kerry received, meaning Mr. Obama must carry Colorado or Virginia and add another small state to his column. If Mr. McCain carries Michigan as well as Ohio, it would make Mr. Obama's Electoral College math very difficult. And if Mr. McCain can limit GOP losses to one or two small states from those won by the GOP in 2004, he'll be America's 44th president.

If there's one state Rove knows well, it's Ohio, which clinched Bush's reelection four years ago; if Kerry had managed 120,000 more votes there, he would be president now. Rove sees friendly territory in the Buckeye State for McCain, especially in the Appalachian regions where Hillary Clinton blew Obama out in the Democratic primary. "Obama was wiped out in the primary among the blue-collar Reagan Democrats of southeastern Ohio," Rove writes.

Other states he thinks will be important are Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Hampshire, Missouri and Wisconsin. That more or less jibes with the states where McCain is spending most of his time -- not surprisingly, since Rove is close with some of McCain's top advisors (most notably, Steve Schmidt, the campaign's head strategist).

Obama's campaign, meanwhile, defines "battleground" a little more loosely. Based on where one of his new ads is running, the brain trust in Chicago would add Alaska, Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina and North Dakota to the list.

Which brings me to the question Mark Halperin asked Wednesday (in between posting pictures of himself as a wizard): Is Obama making a mistake by focusing on so many states? Would he be better off putting more resources into just a handful of them? In Texas, for instance, even campaign manager David Plouffe said the main benefit of having Obama's field staff on the ground there would be to help Democrats down the ballot; the campaign has no expectation of winning the state's electoral votes. In other states, though, there's no question that going on offense could help Obama -- look at North Carolina, where McCain recently bought ads that most Republican candidates in previous elections would have never had to buy. Even Rove's own consulting firm projected Obama might cruise to a landslide victory, thanks in part to how the campaign is expanding the map.

When you're planning to raise more than $250 million, maybe you can afford to burn a few grand on a long shot or two. And if Obama's strategists proved anything while beating Hillary Clinton for the nomination, it's that they know how to read a map and find advantages that don't look obvious to others. But if McCain manages to eke out a narrow Electoral College win -- no matter if Obama wins the popular vote -- will Democrats would abandon the Obama/Howard Dean philosophy of playing in every state?

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz. Karl Rove