Before we begin, here'92s the set-up. I project Obama with 231 solid electoral votes: California (55), Washington (11), Oregon (7), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Michigan (17), Illinois (21), Maine (4), New Hampshire (4), Vermont (3), New York (31), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Connecticut (7), New Jersey (15), Delaware (3), Maryland (10), Hawaii (4) and Washington, D.C. (3). That leaves nine battleground states, each in varying degree of lean or toss-up: Pennsylvania (21), Ohio (20), Virginia (13), Florida (27), North Carolina (15), New Mexico (5), Nevada (5), Colorado (9) and Iowa (7). Obama must secure 39 of those electoral votes to reach the 270 needed to win the presidency.
Each of these battleground states will be judged in the light of their 2004 turnout and results. You'92ll remember that George W. Bush defeated John Kerry, 286-251, in 2004, precisely because he won eight of these nine states.
Today'92s state: North Carolina, 15 electoral votes.
Bush won 56-44, a difference of 435,317 votes. Turnout was around 55 percent.
What to watch for on election night:
The Triangle: Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Harnett, Johnston, Orange, Person and Wake counties make up this highly educated area of the state. The (Research) Triangle has been famous for high-tech research and development for nearly 60 years, and boasts a business directory that reads like a Who'92s Who index: American Airlines, BASF, Cisco, DuPont and GlaxoSmithKline, just to name a few. Some of the most revered colleges and universities in the nation are located here: Duke, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University and Wake Forest. It'92s also home to the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill.
John Kerry managed to win only three of the eight counties within the Triangle (Chatham, Orange and Durham). Few of the rest were very close. If Obama can pick up the three Kerry counties, as well as Wake and Franklin counties, he has a shot.
The Triad: To the west of the Triangle is the lesser-known '93Triad'94: which encompasses the cities of Greensboro (Guilford County), Winston-Salem (Forsyth County) and High Point (Guilford, Forsyth, Davidson and Randolph counties). Kerry managed to only pick off Guilford County (the biggest get of the three, but not nearly big enough). Obama in the primary ran up huge margins in Guilford and Forsyth counties, and he'92ll need a repeat performance to pull off an upset on Nov. 4.
The Northeast: Interestingly enough, it'92s the N.C. counties that border conservative Southern Virginia that ran up decent margins for John Kerry in 2004. They were also key in giving Obama a big victory in the primaries. Obama will have to do the same this time around.
The fact that this state is in play for the Democrats is largely representative of the current anti-GOP mindset sweeping the nation. It is also due in part to the extended Democratic primary campaign. Again, turnout is key. Those newly registered Democrats from the primaries must make their way to the polls. Essentially, Obama won the primary because he won where the people are, just like John Kerry did in Pennsylvania. If he sees returns in the east-central areas of the state looking strong, as well as strong margins in Charlotte (Mecklenburg County), Raleigh (Wake County), Durham (Durham County) and Greensboro (Guilford County), then he might just win the general here as well.
*NOTE - Yes, that is a "They Might Be Giants" reference in the title. No I'm not ashamed of it. In fact, I defy Chuck Todd or John King to work TMBG into to their daily map readings. The gauntlet has been thrown down.
For the greatest TMBG pop-culture mash-up of all time, consult the YouTube clip below. It would now appear that the Tiny Toons gauntlet has been thrown down as well.
UPDATE: Now we'92ve condensed all that info into a handy take-along JPEG (click for full-size):