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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

When we stopped into Barack Obama’s field office in Nebraska ten days ago, Obama’s State Director John Berge sat down with us for a fascinating conversation about the innards of Democratic efforts in the state, the most overt goal being the attempt to win one single, solitary Electoral Vote in the second congressional district.

Only Nebraska and Maine divide their state electoral votes on a district-by-district basis rather than winner take all. For those who remember the proportional allocation of the Democratic delegate race during the nomination battle, Nebraska is significant because a wider statewide loss can be mitigated by strength in a particular area. Rather than lose 5-0, Obama could lose 4-1 and gain a 2 EV swing. Omaha is a compact congressional district, one of three in Nebraska, and clearly the most Democratic district.

Were Obama to win Kerry states and add Iowa and New Mexico (very strong probabilities, with New Hampshire at Obama +4.5% as the closest current projection and Iowa and New Mexico outside the margin of error), he would have 264 electoral votes. Adding Omaha would pretty much end any thought of a 269-269 tie. In addition, Obama projects leads in Colorado (6.1%), Virginia (4.5%), Florida (2.2%), Ohio (2.1%), Nevada (1.9%), and North Carolina (0.1%).

Berge told us that we’d know if the Nebraska 2d congressional district internals had the McCain camp worried if we started seeing Republican surrogates in the area. With every day’s time so precious for each candidate — an issue of resource allocation — campaigns have to prioritize where the smartest expenditure of time will be. The nominee or VP nominee going to an area is a big deal.

Tomorrow night, a mere month before the election, not a surrogate but Sarah Palin herself is visiting Omaha, while Barack Obama just opened a second field office. Early voting is already underway.

“Oh c’mon, do we have to?” aside, if the McCain campaign is defending Omaha rather than spending time in Michigan, there is no bluffing going on — McCain is holding on for dear life at this stage.

Consider Omaha in play.

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