by Tim Byrnes
The United States of America does not hold one presidential election every four years; it holds fifty-one. Each state holds its own election, with the winner receiving a number of electoral votes equal to that state's numerical representation in the House and Senate. The candidate who receives 270 electoral votes in this state-by-state competition is elected president.
This system of choosing our chief executive has profound effects on the politics of presidential campaigns. Given the powerful Republican advantage in the southern and mountain states, President Clinton has to win in California (a whopping 54 electoral votes) and most of the contested states of the midwest and northeast to be reelected. It is still early, of course, but at the moment reelection appears likely because of the president's huge lead in California, as well as comfortable leads in places such as New York (33 votes) and Pennsylvania (23 votes).
Clinton is even within striking distance of victory in some states (North Carolina, for instance, with 14 votes) that Republican candidates have been able to take for granted in the last few elections. If all these states fall to Clinton, then an electoral college landslide is possible.
On the other hand, Bob Dole is hoping to win back some of the states that Bill Clinton won in 1992 but that George Bush had carried in 1988. California is probably a lost cause, but Dole is counting on states such as Georgia (13 votes), Louisiana (9 votes), Colorado (8 votes), Illinois (22 votes), Michigan (18 votes) and New Jersey (15 votes) to return to the GOP column. It's a tall order.
The key, then, in handicapping the presidential race is in assessing the candidates' chances on a state-by-state basis. National polls, and even nationwide votes, are important indicators of political strength. But they don't get you moved into the White House. Keep your eye on the map.