The day in the United States a white Southern senator endorses a black Northern (of sorts) peer as the Democratic nominee for President is an auspicious one. But in itself it probably does little to affect the Electoral College (EC) arithmetic facing Mr Obama.

There are decent odds Mr Edward’s will be Mr Obama’s vice presidential candidate. This would be more than a quid pro quo: it is acknowledgement of the importance to the Democrats of winning their two traditionally core regions. The first of these is the south - especially the key state of Texas.

Unfortunately, the reality is that democratic deputies have not brought home the geographic bacon in recent times: Mr Edwards, for example, failed in 2004 as the VP candidate to influence the result in even his own state of North Carolina. Mr Obama might usefully consider a candidate who offers other strengths*.

The other traditionally democratic geography is the urban northeast. With his senatorial seat in Illinois Mr Obama is at least operating from a key base in EC terms: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan represent over 25% of the 537 EC votes. But Mr Obama won only the primary in his home state against Mrs Clinton. The reasons are not difficult to identify.

40% of US electorate are white males. Many within that are blue collar voters earning under $60k annually. They have little to identify with in Mr Obama and are perceived as hard for him to win over. Whilst overwhelmingly Democrat they are vulnerable to Republican appeals, noble or otherwise. Many may turn out for him anyway come the general election but they are very clearly the swing factor if the contest is close.

And will it be? A year ago with Iraq as the number one issue it was, on my model, a narrow but definite Republican victory. But recent polls show domestic issues, and the weakening economy in particular, as the dominant themes (despite losing some ground to Iraq since the autumn).

Should that remain the case the election will be fought on classic Democratic ground; and a white male candidate plus a poorly US economy would comfortably win them the White House in November. A black male candidate, plus the aforementioned swing constituents, and the result falls within the margin of error.

Mr Obama needs a recession with some bite to hedge against prejudice in sections of the electorate. If history shows anything it is that money trumps bias.

*Several websites suggest one potentially superior running mate able to counter many of Mr McCain’s attractions: fellow Vietnam veteran Jim Webb of Virginia. This excellent New York Times article gives some insight as to why.

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