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: Florida, with 27 electoral votes.
Bush won 52-47, a difference of 380,978 votes. Turnout was near 60 percent.
What to watch for on election night:
The Panhandle: With the exception of counties like Leon (Tallahassee), Jefferson and Gadsden, the Panhandle is strong GOP country. Bush pulled in nearly 80 percent of the vote in the ultraconservative region around Pensacola. Obama would do well to simply pull in 40 percent in these areas.
The I-4 Corridor: Interstate 4 connects Orlando and Tampa Bay, two usually conservative areas that will be key in determining the state'92s electoral votes in 2008.
Frankly, if Obama doesn'92t win Hillsborough and Pinellas counties (Tampa and St. Petersburg) and/or Orange and Osceola counties (Orlando, Kissimmee), he doesn'92t stand a reasonable chance of winning the state. Bush won all but one of those four counties, and only lost Orange by two-tenths of a percentage point.
Miami/South Beach: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties (all Kerry wins in 2004), must run up big Obama margins. The Hispanic vote is critical to those margins, particularly Cuban voters. Seniors in Palm Beach will, unfortunately again, also be critical to determining the final outcome. This time, Pat Buchannan is not on the ballot'85as far as we know.
Florida is a pure tossup, with some recent polls having Obama ahead, others with McCain in the lead. As in Virginia and the western states, Hispanic voters could be the difference in a close race.
If Obama can narrow McCain'92s margins in the north and find a way to win the battle for I-4, he just might win outright a state that has given Democrats fits for eight years.
UPDATE: Now we'92ve condensed all that info into a handy take-along JPEG (click for full-size):