Robert Novak (and his tail-gunner Tim Carney) is up with his first electoral college map. The takeaway: If the election were held today, McCain would beat Obama by two electoral votes.
The electoral map looks nearly identical to 2004, with Iowa and Colorado swinging into the Democratic camp. Beneath the surface, however, we see Michigan and Pennsylvania becoming more competitive for Republicans.
The election will hinge on two regions: Lake Erie and the Mountain West. An Obama win in New Mexico or Nevada would be enough to tip the scales, but a McCain win in Pennsylvania could put the race out of reach. In the end, as always, it comes down to Ohio, where Obama's weakness among rural whites could send McCain to the White House. McCain 270, Obama 268.
Novak has been doing this a lot longer than those penny-ante bloggers, and longer even than Karl Rove, whose maps Hillary Clinton is promoting in a last-ditch gambit to convince superdelegates to overthrow Obama. The rationales for Novak's flips to the Democrats:
Colorado: Bush won here in 2004 by 100,000 votes out of 2.1 million, but Colorado has shown a tack to towards Democrats since then. In 2006, Democrats took over a Senate seat, the governorship, and a U.S. House seat. This year, Democrats are poised to pick up the second Senate seat. With the Democratic National Convention in Denver stirring liberal excitement, Colorado looks like one of Obama's best chances to win a Bush state.
Iowa: While Iowa is certainly its own creature politically, Obama's strong showing in early head-to-head polls ought to give Republicans reason to worry about the Heartland. Democrats picked up two House seats here in 2006, and Republicans have no chance to win them back. Senator Tom Harkin (D), a hardcore liberal, also has no serious challenger this year.
Michigan, according to Novak, could be tougher for McCain with Bob Barr stealing "gun-rights single-issue voters." More evidence, for me, that Barr will ruin McCain's life in "safe" states like Alaska and Montana, where the Ron Paul rEVOLutionaries are in the saddle, voters have an affinity for third parties (the Constitution Party controls the balance of power in Montana's state house), and conservative voters will assume they've got a safe throwaway vote. If the room for error is this narrow, a big Barr vote in one of those states would elect Obama.
UPDATE: Well, one reason to doubt early polls: A poll of Michigan that shows McCain leading has him winning 26 percent of the black vote. And it rises to 40 percent if Obama picks Joe Biden as his running mate. McCain won't break 10 percent of the black vote against Obama. He might not even break 5 percent.