Part 3 - South
Solid McCain - 103 votes
Lean McCain - 39 votes
Tossup - 40 votes
The three best areas for the GOP have typically been the South, Plains (Midwest and South), and Mountain West. That probably won't change much outside of a couple of outliers that are competitive.
I'll get some heat for this, but I included Texas in the South. I know Texas thinks itself as its own region and not the South or West.
Oklahoma (7 votes) - Democrats are locally competitive in Oklahoma, but not in the presidential race. Bush won every county in 2004, even the American Indian counties. In 2000, he lost those areas but still won big. He won 65-34% in 2004 and 60-38% in 2000. Bob Dole even won here easily. A July poll had McCain up by 29. This is as solid as it gets.
Texas (34 votes) - Bush's home state. He won 61-38 in 2004 and 59-38 in 2008. The latest poll in August (Rasmussen) had it a 10 point McCain lead. That's a significant drop from Bush's numbers, but I expect that with the homer vote gone. The best recent democrat run there was Dallas mayor Ron Kirk for Senate in 02, and he got 43%. I think 45% is the ceiling there for Obama, and that's if he runs an ace campaign there. There's not enough of a black vote statewide to win there (11%), and Austin's too small to carry the day.
Alabama (9 votes) - Alabama will vote for a southern democrat at times, but even then did not vote for Clinton in 92 or 96. Bush also won here twice going 62-37% in 2004 and 56-42% in 2000. Two July polls had McCain up by 13 (AEA) and 20 (Rasmussen), which is in between the 00 and 04 numbers. The black vote is significant, but more so in state elections. Alabama is 26% black, enough to make a dent, but not to win the election on their own.
Mississippi (6 votes) - Bush won here 59-40 in 2004 and 58-41 in 2000. It is 36% black, so more winnable than Alabama for the democrats, but the whites here are slightly more Republican than in Alabama (Alabama stayed democrat longer than much of the South). 48% of the white vote here is Evangelical, and the cultural issues, particulary on abortion, are a major factor in the vote. An August Rasmussen poll had McCain up 13 points.
Tennessee (13 votes) - I thought about putting Tennessee in the lean GOP column, but it really is solid now at the federal level. Gore lost here in 2000 despite being a homer. Clinton won twice here narrowly, but Bush won 51-47% in 2000 and 57-43% in 2004. The two latest polls in August expand the 2004 lead. Rasmussen has McCain up by 25 and Ayres McHenry has McCain up by 15. In simplistic terms, East Tennessee is very Republican (Knoxville area, Johnson City), West Tennessee Democrat (Memphis), and Middle Tennessee deciding the election (Nashville democrat, others mixed). Democrats are strong locally, but not as much federally. Harold Ford Jr gave it a good shot in 2006, but was stuck with 48%. Obama won't come close to Ford who was a homer (and who did get 40% of the white vote - far more than Obama will get there).
Kentucky (8 votes) - After the 06 disaster of Ernie Fletcher, I thought about putting this in the leaner category, but need to see more before doing so. Bush won 57-41% in 2000 and 60-40% in 2004. Kentucky has, like much of the South a Federal Democrat v State Democrat attitude. Louisville is slightly democrat, and Lexington is competitive (and likely democrat this year with University of Kentucky). Some of the eastern hills are still yellow dog democrat today, but they are balanced by other hills counties which are as Republican as the others are democrat. Example is Elliot County which went 70% for Kerry and 64% for Gore. Johnson County next door was 63% and 58% for Bush. Right next door and similar demographics. That is the history of the state that gave us both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. The biggest reason though I think for its Republican shift is Cincy. There's been a lot of growth in Northern Kentucky, and most of it is Republicans from the Cincy, Ohio area. Those counties there are all 65%+ Republican. The latest poll in August (Survey USA) has McCain up by 18. I'm not expecting that based on Fletcher and 2006, but I think this will be at least a 12 pt win for McCain.
West Virginia (5 votes) - Once among the most democrat states in the union voting even for Dukakis. I would have had this as a tossup if Hillary was the nominee. The Western Pennsylvania results, along with the rejection of Gore and John Kerry by a wide margin stopped me from putting this as a lean GOP. Bush won 56-43% in 2004 and 52-46% in 2000. Rasmussen in June gave McCain an 8 point lead. I'd like to see another poll here, but I don't see Obama selling here. He's the wrong type of Democrat, just like John Kerry.
South Carolina (8 votes) - Generally, the most Republican state in the South overall. It's a competitive state downticket, but more Republican downticket than much of the South which still has a lot of local democrats. Unlike most of the South, it didn't vote for George Wallace, but Nixon. Only Carter won here recently. Bush won 57-41% in 2000 and 58-41% in 2004. Two polls in July had McCain a lead. Research 2000 gave him a 13 point lead, and a democrat polling firm, Public policy polling, gave him a 6 point lead. South Carolina is 29% black, but the only democrat to win there statewide recently was Fritz Holling who was there for 30+ years. I see Obama doing better than Kerry, but not much.
Arkansas (6 votes) - Arkansas is somewhat similar to West Virginia with its strong downticket democrat roots still alive. Bush won twice, 51-46% in 2000 and 54-45% in 2004. If Hillary was on the ticket, this would be a lot more competitive. Obama's too culturally liberal to win here, like John Kerry. A 16% black population isn't enough to put him over the top either. Fast growing and economically conservative Northwest Arkansas is strongly Republican, and Little Rock, East Arkansas (even Kerry won) and South Arkansas is strongly democrat. I expect a lot of ticket splitting here once again.
Louisiana (9 votes) - I think democrats had a shot here, but blew it with an incompentent New Orelans mayor and incompetent governor who didn't run again. Blanco. Bobby Jindal, who should have won in 2003, won in 2007 and is by all accounts, proving himself to be one of the most capable governors there in a long time. Bush won 53-45% in 2000 and 57-42% in 2004, but throw those numbers out after Hurricane Katrina. The polls so far are going heavily McCain. Rasmussen in August shows an 18 pt lead, larger than even 2004. I'm not sure it will be that high, but I don't think it will be a contest.
Georgia (15 votes) - Georgia is in most years probably the 2nd most Republican state in the south behind South Carolina. It also went 55-43% for Bush in 2000 and 58-41% Bush in 2004, so why am I showing this as leaning and not solid GOP? Two reasons. The latest poll (August, Rasmussen) has McCain up by 9, but earlier polls had it by 2 and 8, with the 8 pointer being a GOP poll. The other reason, more concerning to me as a Republican is the demographics. 35% minority, much of it metro Atlanta, and it is fast growing. This state should stay ours, but Obama has been working the area hard enough to where it needs to be watched. I think the formerly competitive South Georgia will go to McCain, along with the mountain areas outside of liberal Athens. I think whether the GOP wins depends on getting the normal exurbs vote, along with holding the line in Cobb and Gwinnett Counties.
North Carolina (15 votes) - This one scares me more. Obama has a very strong base here. Bush won it 56-43% in 2000 and 56-44% in 2004. It's 21% black, and also has a lot of college towns and Northeastern transplants (although many of the transplants vote Republican - making the Northeast more democrat). The Triangle portion is the strong base for the democrats. Orange County (Chapel Hill) which is like Ann Arbor, Durham, the home of Mike Nifong, and Wake County (Raleigh) which is the state capital. The Charlotte area is a swing area and important in 2008. Bush won it in 2000 and lost it in 2004. The Mountain areas are strongly republican outside of Asheville (College town). The eastern rural areas are competitive and will matter here. Polls show NC close. Five polls in August (pre-convention) show McCain leading from 2-6 points. The democrat poll has him at 3% and the republican poll has him at 6%.
Virginia (13 votes) - One of the most regional states in the South. It has shifted towards the democrats because of DC government workers to go along with a 20% black base. Signs were on the horizon as Bush only won 52-44% in 2000, although he improved to 54-45% in 2004. While Bush improved in 2004, Northern Virginia shifted more and more to Kerry. The bad news, and Obama know it - The rich areas there shifted more democrat. Alexandria and Arlington are 66% democrat now, and Fairfax strongly leans Democrat. Two exurban counties there, Loudoun and Prince William, are no longer gimmees. Outside of DC, the democrat areas are heavily minority like Richmond, Norfolk, and Hampton. Where Bush made up for a lot of his losses were in the Republican interior and the formerly democrat leaning Southwest area. He ran good enough for a slight edge in Tidewater, winning big in military friendly Virginia Beach and Chesapeake which are not gimme areas either. I think the biggest advantage for the GOP here is McCain and his military background. Northern Virginia will be a major challenge however, and that's why I have this as a tossup. Two September polls have McCain up 2. Rasmussen and Survey USA. A democrat poll in August had Obama up 2. It's even here for now.
Florida (27 votes) - Along with Ohio, this is THE must win for Republicans. Florida is a microcasm of the entire country. There is the "South" in the panhandle. There are military areas. There is New York South. There is the Midwest. There are black areas. There is Cuba, Haiti, Columbia, and every ethnic group you can think of here. It usually runs 1-2% to the right of the popular vote. Bush won it by 537 votes in 2000, and by a "landslide" of 52-47% in 2004 thanks to getting a million more votes than in 2000. In 06, there was some backlash against DC, but Charlie Crist won 52-45% for Jeb Bush's open gubenatorial seat. Florida can be divided into these sections
1. North Florida. This is the Republican base of Florida. It's heavily Southern and military. 75%+ of the vote on the panhandle is common. The democrats do well in Tallahassee (Florida State) and Gainesville (University of Florida), but the Republican take the rest of the area, including Duval County - Jacksonville.
2. I-4 Corridor/Central Florida - From Tampa/St Pete to Orlando to Daytona Beach down to the Space Coast. This is the area that decides most elections. Orlando leans Democrat. Tampa and St Pete itself leans democrat, but the burbs go Republican. The area itself there is close to 50/50. Daytona Beach leans Democrat, but the Space Coast leans Republican (Melbourne area). Lakeland leans Republican. The most Republican areas are north of Orlando.
3. Southwest Florida - The gulf coast south of Tampa was a strongly republican leaning area in 2004, but the vote there isn't a gimmee. They almost sent a democrat to congress in 2006. I'd keep an eye out there.
4. Gold Coast - The Democrat base. Palm Beach where people don't know how to read ballots (Buchanan and Gore look nothing alike), Broward County, and Miami-Dade County. Palm Beach and Broward are over 60% democrat each. Miami-Dade is closer because of the Cuban population, but the blacks, Jews, liberal whites, and others outvote the Cubans. It went 53% in 2004. Palm Beach and Broward areas are mostly black or "New York South" and usually vote that way. The democrats have a 350,000 vote margin from those three counties. Luckily, there are almost 8 million voters.
The latest polls for Florida are close. The only September poll (Rasmussen) shows a tie. The four August polls are as follows. Mason-Dixon - Obama by 1, Strategic Vision (R) - McCain by 7, Quinnipac - McCain by 4, Kitchen Group (D) - McCain by 3.
Translation - Florida will be close once again.