Now, fortunately, Barack Obama is currently performing well in all three of these states. But early polls are obviously unreliable and the situation can change quickly. Many Democratic advisors and political consultants (I have less polite words for them, but then I'm just jealous because no one pays me millions of dollars to lose elections expensively) are fond of intoning about the need to focus carefully and overwhelmingly on these three states to guarantee a victory there, in what they consider a safe strategy.
But personally, I think this "safe and careful" strategy is about as safe as juggling chainsaws. About as careful as blindfolded shooting practice.
Winning Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida would guarantee Barack a victory - but there's NOTHING we can do to guarantee that he will win these states. Don't get me wrong, the campaign is going to compete fiercely there, with an unprecedented grassroots, GOTV and advertising presence just for starters. But if the Republicans know that your whole strategy relies on these states, all they need to do is knock us out there. A well placed (metaphorical) stilletto in the final weeks of the campaign and they can spend the next four years counting up their tax cuts for millionaires.
No, what we need is planned redundancy. We're going to compete to win in the three states I named, but also to agressively pursue any one of several very plausible alternative Electoral Vote strategies that would work just as well - either as a failsafe in case something goes wrong or, in a best case scenario, to shore up a landslide.
Let's go to the maps!
This is the current status of the Electoral College, if you believe the existing polling on a state by state basis. Which, of course - we shouldn't. But, right now we can see that Barack is winning both Pennsylvania and Ohio, while losing the state of Florida. He also picks up some good states in the West, including Colorado and New Mexico (which have been shifting our way anyway).
But let's see what happens if things go badly for us in the critical but difficult state of Ohio and the likely Democratic but swinging state of Pennsylvania:
Oops - all of a sudden it's game over, insert coin.
Now, do I think this is going to happen? No. Barack is running a smart campaign and is performing well in both of these important states. But do I want to take that risk? Heck no.
Let's assume that events conspire and for one reason or another he doesn't win PA, FL or OH - is there a plausible route to victory anyway? Absolutely! There are several. Here's my favorite, which starts with winning the large and traditionally Republican state of Virginia - where Barack performs extremely well, and adding the state of Indiana, which looks within reach:
There are dozens of routes to victory that don't require the "big 3" states, and any of them could serve as an effective safety valve to keep McCain on the run and lock in our victory.
Why not play around yourself - the Real Clear Politics create your own map page is very addictive once you get into it...