I wanted to throw my two cents in on the state of the race before the conventions begin. I have said here many times before that I don't think Obama can win in November, but that doesn't mean that I can't analyze what he and his campaign team are trying to do. Obama's strategy heading into the election was to run in all 50 states, which sounds nice, but is impractical at best. Obama's 50 state strategy essentially involves trying to flip 12 states. He is counting on maintaining the Kerry states (equal 252 electoral votes) and trying to pick up the needed 18 from this list (EVs in ()):
New Mexico (5)
North Carolina (15)
North Dakota (3)
South Dakota (3)
Obama is currently tied or leading in states with 34 EV's which would be more than enough to put him over the top if he were to win them all, however that is extremely unlikely to happen. Here are the states he currently has the best chance of flipping:
New Mexico (5)
New Mexico (5)
North Carolina (15)
Iowa and New Mexico seem like they are solidly in his column. However they only have 12 EV's between them and cannot put him over the top. I really can't predict what will happen in Colorado. The state has voted for Bush by fairly healthy margins in the past two elections but they do have Senate race that is currently being led by the Democrat. I have no idea whether the coat tails will extend up the ballot in this case. North Carolina is an interesting case. NC went for Bush by double digits in both elections, but Obama is currently polling within a couple of points of McCain and Elizabeth Dole is in a dead heat for her Senate seat. The Obama campaign has focused heavily on voter registration in this state and perhaps that is starting to show dividends (although newly registered voters are not likely to be polled). I can't say for sure what's going on there, but I have little faith in a state that sent Jesse Helms to the Senate for decades. That leaves Virginia, which has voted Republican in every election since 1980. Does Obama have a chance there? Well they have a Democratic Governor, and two Democratic Senators, Obama did extremely well in the primaries there and he is tied with McCain in the current polls. This probably represents Obama's best chance to get over the 270 threshold (assuming he holds on to the Kerry states and picks up Iowa and New Mexico). I've always said that no one votes for Vice President, but given the numbers, the Obama camp may believe that they have no other choice but to pick someone from VA. as the number two on ticket and hope that he can deliver the state. It hasn't worked in the past (see Kerry/Edwards, although I do believe that Cheney was able to deliver the Hell vote in both '00 and '04), but the Obama team may think that it provides them with their best chance to win. Like the 2000 election when it was all about Florida, Florida, Florida, the 2008 election may be all about Virginia, Virginia, Virginia.
The Nevada race is also up for grabs (although I believe if McCain picks Mitt Romney as VP this race will probably swing in his direction) and if Obama were to be able to win it along with New Mexico and Iowa and hold all the Kerry states then we would end up with a 269-269 split. Obama would probably then win the Presidency based on the Democratic majority of the House of Representatives. This has never happened, but there's a first time for everything. Of course adding Hillary Clinton to the ticket may (may) also put Ohio and Florida into the up for grabs column and either of those two states would be more than enough to put Obama over the top (but Clinton is a very long shot at this point, however slipping poll numbers could force the campaign to strongly reconsider her).
McCain has a different strategy. He starts with a winning hand (Bush's 286 EV's from '04). His goal is to hold on to as many of those as possible and strike at the few toss up states from the Kerry stash. The most vulnerable states are:
New Hampshire (4)
New Hampshire has always been very kind to John McCain. In 2000, the state launched his campaign and in 2008, it saved his campaign. The state has a very independent streak and a recent history of close presidential elections (Kerry won by a single point in '04, as did Bush in '00). If we assume that Obama can flip Iowa, New Mexico and one other state (VA or NC) then McCain must take some out of the Kerry '04 column. New Hampshire probably provides him with his best chance, but he will still need one more state to win. Where does he get that? Wisconsin might be a good bet. Gore and Kerry each won this state by literally a few thousand votes each. They both won by less than one percent. If I were McCain, I would spend a lot of money in this state. I think McCain should and probably will focus a lot of his efforts on Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. If he were to win any of the three, he would practically guarantee himself the election. However, as stated above, Hillary Clinton may be able to put Ohio and Florida in play, which would require McCain to spend more of his time and resources trying to protect those states.
McCain is definitely in the better position. While Obama will be trying to pick up 12 states, McCain can concentrate his efforts in a very few. Also if he can defend both Virginia and North Carolina, the odds grow exponentially against an Obama victory. Obama would have to then rely on the likes of Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota (Bush won these states by an average of more than 20 points) to pull off a victory. If this were a hand of Texas Hold 'em, McCain would be the one holding the Aces while Obama would be a couple of cards short of a straight.
Here are my thoughts about Obama's VP pick. If his strategy is to go after the bigger states (Ohio & Florida), then Clinton will be his choice. If his strategy is to go after the smaller states (Colorado, Virginia, Indiana, Nevada), then his choice will be one of the Virginia guys (Kaine, Warner or Webb. I think Webb makes the most sense although he supposedly took himself out of consideration a while back). You will be able to tell exactly which one of those scenarios his campaign thinks is most likely by their choice. Anyway, those are really the only choices that make sense to me. Of course, I reserve the right to change this prediction once he actually announces his running mate on Saturday.