Doing the math
Was having a chat in the pub last night with a friend of mine, who seems pretty upbeat about Kerry's chances come November. He's been 'doing the electoral college math' and finds the good senator from Massachusetts coming in with 276 of the electoral college - 270 being the magic number assuring the presidency.
So what is the electoral college? Like the British first past the post system, the nationwide tally of votes (the popular vote) is not the factor that decides elections (as any Democrat will tell you, Al Gore received around 500,000 more votes nationally than George Bush). If a party secures the majority vote in a state, it then secures that state's number of electoral college votes. These are weighted according to population, so North Dakota (for example) carries only 3 electoral votes as opposed to 34 for Texas. On election night, as the states' results come in, the totals are added up and first man to 270 wins.
Things get interesting when it comes to the weighting and to the swing states. an old article from thecarpetbaggerreport points out that the GOP enjoy a natural constituency of some 199 electoral votes from 21 states with solid Republican voting records. The Democrats have only one 'firm' state - Minnesota (. However, they also have strong support in New York, California and Illinois - three key states, with California wielding a whopping 55 votes.
Then come the swing states. As this handy NYtimes interactive map shows this is where the balance of power lies. National polls show Bush with a strong lead after his New York convention, but in these key states opinion is more evenly split.
EDIT: Moves in Colorado to change the state constitution could have far-reaching implications. Colorado would then become the third state (with Maine and Nebraska) to award only the first two electoral votes to the overall winner, with the other votes being allocated on the basis of the results from the state's congressional district. A major headache for pollsters perhaps, but also a way to get closer to a democratic resolution.