McCain and Obama are tied in North Dakota?

This isn't news if you've been reading this website for any length of time. Way back in February, before there was even any polling in these states, the beta versions of our regression models were showing Obama competitive in Montana and the Dakotas. That's pretty much how the polling has come in all cycle long.

His reasons for competing in those regions are slightly different between the two different states -- as we learned on the final day of the Democratic primary, there are tangible differences between Montana and the Dakotas electorally. North Dakota is classically moderate; its relatively high education levels and relatively low incidence of evangelical conservatives also play well for Obama. Montana is more libertarian, a group that appears to inclined to like Obama. These are not, by any means, the most important states in this election -- ranked according to our new swing state rantings, Montana and North Dakota rank 16th and 19th, respectively, in terms of their likelihood of alerting the outcome of the election (Alaska is 20th and South Dakota 27th). But on a dollar-for-dollar basis, they are about as good as it gets.

One caution: this poll was taken in the immediate aftermath of an Obama visit to North Dakota, which garnered him some very favorable local press coverage. We still have each of these states tipping to McCain at the end -- but not by such a margin that he can blow them off without risking their electoral votes.

There is further good news for Obama in Wisconsin, where Rasmussen now has Obama with a 10-point lead. Four other recent Wisconsin polls had all shown the state at roughly this margin; Rasmussen had been the holdout, as Obama led by just 2 in their June edition. Wisconsin is a state that McCain probably just has to cut loose; there's also a school of thought that Obama has an extra point or two of give in these numbers once the students get back to UW-Madison in the fall.

By the way, there is a Democrat who displayed this particular strength in the farm states before: Michael Dukakis, who won Wisconsin by 3, Minnesota by 7 and Iowa by 10 in an election that he lost by 8 points overall. Dukakis also outperformed his national numbers in South Dakota (the only other Democrat to have done so in recent times was native son George McGovern). So there does seem to be some particular node on the matrix where Democrats to well in this region -- fortunately for Obama, he appears to accompany it with a lot more strengths elsewhere than Dukakis had.

Ironically, this is coupled with some not-so-great numbers for Obama in Illinois, where Rasmussen has him ahead by only 11. On the one hand, this result would not be completely shocking: I've generally shown the home-state advantage to be worth something like 6-7 points, and if you took Obama's roughly 4 point margin in Ohio and Michigan and added that cushion to it, you'd get right at this number. But Illinois has polled substantially better than Ohio and Michigan in the last couple of cycles for the Democrat. I think, certainly, we can take the over on that 11-point number; on the ground here in Chicago, I haven't detected any kind of organic, anti-Obama sentiment. But there may be something to the notion that a candidate gets an extra bit of scrutiny from his home state at different stages of the process, particularly at the point where he ceases to become their senator and instead instead the nation's candidate.

--Nate Silver