The Electoral Map's Precarious Borders

Our final state-by-state assessment of the candidates' chances finds five too-close-to-call states in a race that's closer than ever

By Richard S. Dunham

What surge? Both Presidential campaigns were hoping for a closing-week push that would allow their candidate to break away in the most bitterly contested White House contest since 1912. But three daily tracking polls show that Democrat John Kerry got no lasting benefit from the media focus on missing Iraqi explosives, and President Bush didn't get the political boost his allies had hoped for from Osama bin Laden's new videotape.

The result: The candidate with the most highly motivated supporters in a dozen battleground states will be sworn in as President on Jan. 20. That is, unless the Supreme Court is once again forced to pick the winner.

This is BusinessWeek Online's sixth and final look at how the Electoral College map is shaping up in the 2004 Presidential race. Bush's commanding post-convention lead in our first review was eroded by Kerry's strong performance in the Presidential debates, which was reflected in our second electoral map as well as in our third examination of the state-by-state contest. The fourth map showed Bush making small gains in the aftermath of the debates, a trend that continued into our fifth map, which showed the Republican incumbent taking a narrow lead in Iowa.

VANISHING LEADS.

  In , the playing field has expanded to include historically Democratic Hawaii, and Iowa has returned to the toss-up category. Several states are even tighter than before -- if that's possible.

Bush's tiny lead in Iowa and Wisconsin has vanished amid heavy Kerry advertising and repeated personal visits. Likewise, Kerry can't count on winning New Mexico, carried four years ago by Al Gore. Indeed, it'll take a heavy turnout by Mexican-American voters to keep those five electoral votes in the Democratic column. Narrowly Kerry-leaning states such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Michigan also remain up for grabs, as Bush took advantage of Democratic overconfidence to close in.

As Americans head to the polls, Kerry leads in 18 states and the District of Columbia, which account for 242 electoral votes -- 28 short of the 270 needed for victory. That hasn't changed in the past two weeks. Bush is now ahead in 27 states with 227 electoral votes -- 43 short of the magic number. Five states are now toss-ups -- Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Mexico -- and their 67 electoral votes will determine the winner.

THE VOTERS' TURN.

  To win, Kerry absolutely must win at least two of "the big three" states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Bush has to take one of them -- and cobble together at least 16 electoral votes from Gore states, if he wins only Florida, or 23 if he captures only Ohio.

Both candidates have equally strong bases of Electoral College support, each having wrapped up states with 178 votes. The President has an edge in 8 of the 20 original battleground states, compared to 7 for the Massachusetts Democrat. Five are dead even.

The spin is done. The final poll has been taken. One in six voters already has cast an early ballot. It's time for everyone else to make their voices heard.

Alabama 9
Alaska 3
Arizona 10
Arkansas 6
California 55
Colorado 9
Connecticut 7
Delaware 3
D.C. 3
Florida 27
Georgia 15
Hawaii 4
Idaho 4
Illinois 21
Indiana 11
Iowa 7
Kansas 6
Kentucky 8
Louisiana 9
Maine 4
Maryland 10
Massachusetts 12
Michigan 17
Minnesota 10
Mississippi 6
Missouri 11
Montana 3
Nebraska 5
Nevada 5
New Hampshire 4
New Jersey 15
New Mexico 5
New York 31
North Carolina 15
North Dakota 3
Ohio 20
Oklahoma 7
Oregon 7
Pennsylvania 21
Rhode Island 4
South Carolina 8
South Dakota 3
Tennessee 11
Texas 34
Utah 5
Vermont 3
Virginia 13
Washington 11
West Virginia 5
Wisconsin 10
Wyoming 3

Dunham is Washington Outlook editor for BusinessWeek

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