In 92 days, we will either re-elect President Obama or replace him with his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. On paper, at least, voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will make that decision.

But if you look at the travel schedules and campaign budgets of Obama and Romney, it's clear that the 2012 election will be decided in only ten or fewer states.

I'm not arguing for eliminating the electoral college and calling for the president to be elected by popular vote. But until that happens, and as long as states are considered solidly Democratic (such as California and New York) or solidly Republican (such as Texas), the presidential election is going to be decided by a small number of battleground states where the votes are truly up for grabs.

Obama's 2008 victory was made possible by his picking up a bunch of states that hadn't gone Democratic in years (and in some cases, decades) or states that narrowly went to George W. Bush in 2000 and/or 2004: Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa and New Mexico. All nine went for Bush in 2004. Virginia and Indiana hadn't voted for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. For North Carolina, it was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Most of these are considered "swing states" this year, with some exceptions. Indiana and, to a lesser extent, North Carolina seem inclined to go back to their Republican ways. At this point, Nevada and New Mexico appear likely to stay with the Democrats. Add New Hampshire to the list; the Live Free or Die State seems to still be making up its mind (as should all of us, but that's another story). Polls show Obama with a comfortable lead in Pennsylvania, but both sides are still looking at the Keystone State as a battleground, so I'll keep it there for now. Should we add Michigan or Wisconsin? I don't think so, at least not at this point.

For Romney to win the election, he is going to have to pick off some big states from Obama's 2008 tally.

My list of states to watch on Election Night is down to ten: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. (See July 9 Political Junkie column for my latest Electoral College predictions.) And in those ten, the chart below shows the current polls, how they voted in the past six elections (starting with 1988), and whether or not they will also be holding key Senate races this fall.


Latest polls: Obama +12008 results: Obama +9 (54-45)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-R-R-R-DKey 2012 Senate race?: No


Latest polls: Obama +62008 results: Obama +3 (51-48)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-R-D-R-R-DKey 2012 Senate race?: Yes


Latest polls: Obama +5 (D)2008 results: Obama +9 (54-45)Prez vote, 1988-2008: D-D-D-D-R-DKey 2012 Senate race?: No


Latest polls: Obama +52008 results: Obama +12 (55-43)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-D-R-R-DKey 2012 Senate race?: Yes

New Hampshire

Latest polls: Obama +42008 results: Obama +9 (54-45)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-D-R-D-DKey 2012 Senate race?: No

New Mexico

Latest polls: Obama +52008 results: Obama +15 (57-42)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-D-D-R-DKey 2012 Senate race?: Yes

North Carolina

Latest polls: Romney +52008 results: Obama +1 (50-49)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-R-R-R-R-DKey 2012 Senate race?: No


Latest polls: Obama +62008 results: Obama +5 (52-47)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-D-R-R-DKey 2012 Senate race?: Not presently


Latest polls: Obama +112008 results: Obama +11 (55-44)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-D-D-D-D-DKey 2012 Senate race?: No


Latest polls: Even2008 results: Obama +7 (53-46)Prez vote, 1988-2008: R-R-R-R-R-DKey 2012 Senate race?: Yes

Note: Latest polls courtesy of Real Clear Politics.

This week. Primaries on Tuesday in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington. The big one is the GOP contest in Missouri to find an opponent to Sen. Claire McCaskill.

All three leading Republicans are conservative and all are trying to win the "Tea Party vote." And according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll conducted for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, all three — businessman John Brunner, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and Rep. Todd Akin — would beat McCaskill if the election were held today, with Brunner faring the best against the one-term Democrat (up by 11) and Akin the worst (up by five).

Brunner has spent, um, liberally from his own personal fortune and is thought to be slightly ahead. But others say Steelman — backed by the Tea Party Express and brandishing an endorsement from Sarah Palin — may be the candidate to watch. She has run statewide twice before: in 2004, getting elected treasurer, and in 2008, when she gave up her job to run for governor; she finished second in the GOP primary. Her gov. bid put her on the outs with many Republicans as she challenged the party's choice, then-Rep. Kenny Hulshof, and may have softened him up for his drubbing in the general election. She has far less money than Brunner or Akin. But the Palin endorsement has taken on a life of its own, and local sources say that if Steelman pulls it out a good deal of the credit will go to the former Alaska governor. Palin's entrance into the Show Me State's primary follows the backing she's given to other successful Senate candidates this year, such as Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Deb Fischer in Nebraska, Orrin Hatch in Utah and, most recently, Ted Cruz in Texas.

Also: Tuesday's Republican primary in Michigan to take on Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) features ex-Rep. Pete Hoekstra and former Reagan administration official Clark Durant. Unlike Missouri's McCaskill, Stabenow seems to be in good shape for November. Another Democratic incumbent likely to win another term is Maria Cantwell of Washington. Her GOP opponent, who first has to win Tuesday's primary, is likely to be state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. But most Republican money is expected to be focused on the gubernatorial contest, which is open due to Christine Gregoire's (D) retirement. The GOP nominee will be state Attorney General Rob McKenna; the Democrats are putting up Rep. Jay Inslee. Republicans last won the governorship here in 1980.

The return of Steve Stockman. The headlines following last week's Texas primary runoff were deservedly about Ted Cruz and his rout of establishment favorite David Dewhurst in the GOP Senate contest for the seat of retiring incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison. But there was one House runoff that didn't get much notice but is clearly worth mentioning. In the newly-created 36th CD, Steve Stockman won a nasty Republican contest against wealthy political newcomer Stephen Takach. Stockman, as you may remember, won one of the biggest upsets in 1994, defeating House Judiciary Committee chair Jack Brooks (D), who had been in Congress some 42 years. Here's what Houston Chronicle's Joe Holley had to say about Stockman's one term in the House:

"He quickly became well known in Texas and beyond after he suggested President Bill Clinton had orchestrated the 1993 Branch Davidian siege to build support for gun control and claimed to have received a fax from a militia supporter that foretold the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The fax actually was mailed after the bombing."

John Gizzi of the conservative Human Events described his term quite differently, calling Stockman "one of the genuine 'stars' of the Gingrich revolution:

"During his single stint in the House, Stockman embraced social issues with vigor. Staunchly pro-life, he also championed the right to keep and bear arms and early in his term, called for repeal of the Brady Bill. Much like the young Republican Jesse Helms (N.C.) and William L. Armstrong (Colo.) in the Senate in the 1970s, Stockman became a vigorous supporter of national conservative organizations outside Congress."

Stockman was defeated after one term to Democrat Nick Lampson in 1996. But it looks like he'll be back in Congress come next January.

Also: State Rep. Randy Weber won the GOP runoff in the 14th CD and is favored to replace the retiring Ron Paul (R) in Congress. But his Democratic opponent is the same Nick Lampson, who has had an uneven tenure since defeating Stockman; he lost his seat in 2004, came back to win Tom DeLay's former seat in 2006, but then was defeated by Pete Olson (R) in 2008. Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams (R) is the almost-certain next congressman in the new 25th CD. For the Democrats, state Rep. Pete Gallego defeated ex-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in the 23rd CD runoff and will challenge freshman GOP Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco in November; Canseco ousted Rodriguez two years ago. And in the new 33rd and 34th CDs, the respective Democratic runoff winners were state Rep. Mark Veasey and attorney Filmon Vela, and both are likely to win in November.

Gore Vidal. He was best known for his novels "Myra Breckinridge" and "Lincoln," and his screenplay, "The Best Man." But Gore Vidal, who died last week at age 86, deserves mention here for his two bids for elective office.

In 1960, at the age of 35, he ran as a liberal Democrat in what was then New York's 29th District, around Poughkeepsie, taking on five-term GOP Rep. J. Ernest Wharton. It was an energetic campaign, pushing Wharton more than most observers expected. But some of Vidal's positions — such as recognition of Red China (as it was called back then) — didn't go over quite well. Vidal lost, getting 43 percent of the vote. For the record, John F. Kennedy took just 38 percent in that district.

Twenty-two years later, Vidal, by then a Californian, ran for an open Senate seat in California, taking on Gov. Jerry Brown in the Democratic primary. Brown was at a low point in popularity, but Vidal ran less a serious campaign against him and more of a sarcastic one, hitting Brown from the left. Vidal only received about 15 percent of the vote, but Brown, the clear Democratic favorite, only finished with 51 percent in a field of mostly nuisance rivals.

Vidal also often appeared on television talk shows. One memorable controversy came in the summer of 1968. During its coverage of the Democratic convention that year, ABC News had Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. on board as analysts. As the Chicago police were battling protesters out in the streets, Buckley defended the cops, which led Vidal to call him a "pro-crypto Nazi." Buckley responded, "Now listen, you queer! Stop calling me a pro-crypto Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

You can see it all here, thanks to the miracle of YouTube.

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.

Palintology. In my July 23 Junkie column rating the best as worst VP picks, I ended up giving Sarah Palin a negative rating. I wrote that yes, she brought down the house with her speech at the convention in St. Paul, and yes, the initial excitement of her selection gave the GOP ticket a polling bump against the Obama-Biden ticket. And no, I don't blame Palin for the McCain defeat that year; between the unpopularity of President Bush and his war and economic policies, the sudden near-collapse of the nation's financial stability, and McCain's failure to explain what he would do to stabilize the markets, it's hard to make the case that any Republican could have won in 2008. But the focus on Palin's own embarrassments, especially regarding but hardly limited to the Katie Couric interview, made the choice, in my mind, a poor one. Even other leftwingers, such as Dick Cheney, has called the Palin pick a "mistake." Not everyone agreed, of course. Here are three dissenting views:

Frank Donatelli, Washington, D.C.: Post election voter surveys indicated that for that small subsection of voters that thought the VP was "very important," a small majority favored McCain. Add to that the money and enthusiasm that Sarah Palin generated for the ticket and you would conclude that she was a plus in the election. Debbie Cohen, Anaheim, Calif.: I'm a Democrat, but I loved Sarah Palin's take-no-prisoners attitude. She was the only interesting thing in the entire election. Calvin Dodge (via Twitter): McCain's polling was better than Obama's until he rushed back to DC. It's silly to say Palin was a minus.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's segment focused on great, or not so great, VP picks of the past. Click here to listen.

Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me.

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN T-shirt! (Truth be told: We actually held a Political Junkie t-shirt meeting at NPR last week. Progress!)

Most recent winner: Kurt Metzmeier of Louisville, Ky.


Aug. 7 -- Primaries in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington.

Aug. 11 -- Hawaii primary.

Aug. 14 -- Primaries in Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Aug. 21 -- Wyoming primary; Georgia runoff.

Aug. 27-30 — Republican National Convention, Tampa, Fla.

Aug. 28 — Primaries in Alaska, Arizona and Vermont.

Sept. 4-6 — Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, N.C.

Sept. 6 — Massachusetts primary.

Sept. 11 — Primaries in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Oct. 3 — First presidential debate, University of Denver. Also: TOTN's Political Junkie segment from St. Louis.

Oct. 10 — TOTN's Political Junkie segment from Columbus, Ohio.

Oct. 11 -- Vice Presidential debate, Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Oct. 16 — Second presidential debate, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Oct. 17 -- TOTN's Political Junkie segment from Las Vegas.

Oct. 22 — Third presidential debate, Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Nov. 6 — ELECTION DAY. Also: Louisiana primary.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana announces his switch to the Republican Party, becoming the fifth congressional Democrat to do so since the GOP sweep in the 1994 midterm elections. In the House since winning a 1980 special election, Tauzin says he switched because "there is no real role for conservatives within the Democratic Party;" another reason is thought to be his growing rift with President Clinton (Aug. 6, 1995). The other Dems who switched: Reps. Nathan Deal of Ga. and Greg Laughlin of Texas, and Sens. Richard Shelby of Ala. and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colo.

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