The Downside to Obama’s Trip

According to a new Quinnipiac poll out today, Barack Obama leads in Minnesota by just two points (down from 17 in June), John McCain has retaken the lead in Colorado by two and (according to a Rasmussen poll from earlier this week) Ohio by six points. (It should be noted that another poll from Public Policy Polling showed Obama leading in Ohio by eight points – an explanation of the difference can be found here.) At the same time, Obama has gained ground in Virginia (a two-point lead) and Florida (where a Rasmussen poll showed him leading for the first time). The result of these new numbers is that six states – Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, a total of 79 electoral votes – are listed as “toss-up” contests on FiveThirtyEight. This is going to be a close one. But how can Barack Obama be rising in some states while he falls in others? The answer has to do with the Senator’s trip overseas.

While he’s been in Europe and the Middle East, Senator Obama has been devoting almost all of his time to foreign policy issues, and not economic ones. For Midwestern voters in Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan, economic concerns like job loss and health care are weighed more heavily than what’s going on half a world away, while Florida and Virginia voters consider foreign policy is a more important issue. Floridians may focus on relations with Cuba and Israel, and in Virginia, he would rely on heavy support from the DC-suburbs. There, residents are more likely to have professional jobs than the more blue-collar voters in Ohio.

The Obama campaign is showing what happens when you campaign exclusively on one issue (in this case, foreign policy experience). Sure, a few weeks of economic campaigning would probably bring Midwestern voters back to Obama, and his trip has certainly not been a disaster (like I said, he was shown leading in Florida for the first time this election). But if the McCain campaign can take the opening they’ve had all week and start winning some more Ohio or Minnesota votes, this election is going to get very close, very fast.

UPDATED: Since yesterday, FiveThirtyEight has changed its map, giving John McCain the edge in Virginia and Florida, and Obama the lead in Colorado, New Mexico, and Ohio. Nevada is still shown as a toss-up.

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