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Politics

Obama's Electoral Vote Lead Edges Higher

With less than two weeks to go, Barack Obama now has a statistically significant lead in 23 states, representing 286 electoral votes, 18 more than needed to win the presidency.

With less than two weeks to go, Barack Obama now has a statistically significant lead in 23 states, representing 286 electoral votes, 18 more than needed to win the presidency. McCain leads in 21 states with 163 electoral votes, with the remaining six states (89 votes) rated as toss-ups.

The most recent changes in the Kiplinger electoral map are in Virginia, where an average of polls by the nonpartisan RealClearPolitics gives Obama a 7-point edge. We've also noted new weaknesses in McCain's support in North Dakota and Georgia, and we've moved those states from "strong McCain" status to "leaning McCain" status. 

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Our estimates are based on a combination of polls over an extended period of time and reports from the field, including interviews with political scientists.

Obama's support nationally is also growing. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published today gave Obama a 52-42 edge among registered voters. Recent polls by The New York Times/CBS, The Washington Post/ABCand Reuters also show Obama with leads of 10 to 14 points. There is one AP poll showing a dead heat, but that clearly is an exception to the general trend. The RealClearPolitics average of all national polls gives Obama a 7-point lead.

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The Wall Street Journal poll was especially troublesome for McCain because it showed independents going for Obama 49-37 and suburban voters, who traditionally break for Republicans, supporting Obama 53-41. Like other polls, it suggests that Sarah Palin has become a big drag on McCain, with 55% saying she's not qualified to be vice president.

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Obama's lead in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire and other battleground states that we've colored blue suggest time and options are running out for McCain. He's pushing hard in Pennsylvania, despite being down by double digits in most polls, but it's hard to see him winning that state's prize of 21 electoral votes. Still, he has to try. He needs to win all the toss-up states -- a tall order -- and take at least 20 other electoral votes away in states where Obama now has a lead.

No candidate has come back to win from this large a deficit so late in the campaign, but this is not like any other year. The difficulty in judging turnout among thousands of new minority and young voters is immense, and the race factor could produce a surprise in the privacy of the voting booth. As a result, neither candidate is letting up in his efforts. 

Republicans running for Congress aren't doing much better than McCain across the country -- in some ways, they're further behind. We are now classifying North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole's re-election bid as a toss-up. It's hard to see Democrats picking up fewer than six seats and they could reach the nine they need to reach 60, giving them the ability to stop filibusters and control the agenda. And in the House, a Democratic gain of about 25 seats seems the most likely outcome, though a leaked GOP memo worries about a loss of up to 34 seats.

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