Election 2008: Are there any Southern presidential 'swing states'?

Facing South has written extensively about the South's growing clout in national politics -- for example, the fact that the South will gain up to nine Congressional seats and Electoral College votes after the 2010 Census.

But will Southern states be a factor in deciding the presidency in 2008?

There's plenty of analysis, speculation and wishful thinking that argues "nay" or "yay," but one of the most interesting is the "swing state analysis" put forward by the amateur-but-revered poll analyst Poblano at his 538 blog (named for the number of Electoral College votes).

Running thousands of election simulations based on current poll numbers, Poblano has calculated the number of times that any given state would "swing" the election in a tight race.

Poblano's method is intriguing because it combines two important factors: first, an exhaustive composite of polling data to see who's ahead in each state; and second, the number of electoral votes in each state -- in other words, the actual clout a state wields in deciding the winner.

In an Obama-McCain matchup, Poblano ranks the top 15 states that could swing the election to Obama. Ohio tops the list; in 16% of his simulations, the Buckeye State was the pivotal state in delivering the presidency to Obama.

What of the Southern states? Virginia comes in at a respectable 4th place on the list, being the decisive state for Obama over McCain in nearly 8% of the simulations. Two other Southern states make the list, although don't appear to be as much in play: Florida (4.8%) and North Carolina (2.8%).

What if Clinton were somehow to secure the Democratic nomination? Her candidacy would make at least one state a major battleground: Florida, which emerges as the #1 swing state in a Clinton-McCain matchup, sending Clinton to the White House in 15% of the simulations. Kentucky also makes Clinton's list, although the mountain state only swung 3% of the simulations.

The elections are still more than five months away; it will be interesting to see how Southern states move up and down the swing-state list as the campaign unfolds.