Whether it is as largely expected on Tuesday with the Messiah descending upon 1600 or if McCain pulls out a miracle, the electoral map is likely to change in subtle but significant ways that set up 2012 and 2016 and dictate our opportunity states in the years to come.
This is a post about relative change, not absolutes. Obama is likely to do better than John Kerry in every single state, even Kentucky and West Virginia that shellacked him so in the primaries. This is simply the national atmospherics and the political environment. "The map" does not dictate his ability to win or lose. It only dictates what order he wins those states in. We sometimes focus on "the map" to the detriment of everything else. But in reality, any topline outcome is possible given the right environment. And if you doubt it, just remember that a guy with the middle name of Hussein could pick off one or two Deep South states on his way to the White House.
What "the map" does dictate is the shape of our coalition and what states we target moving forward. The 2004 result gave Democrats reason to hope about Virginia and Colorado, hopes that will possibly by realized on Tuesday. Win or lose, Tuesday will be an opportunity to gauge which states are moving in and out of our orbit. And thanks to the plethora of state polling, we have a better idea in advance of which states are becoming more or less Republican relative to the rest of the country.
Here is the map, with bluer being the stronger pro-Obama swing:
Not surprisingly, this correlates very well to the Clinton-Obama primary map, with Obama's strong performances in the mountain West and the Southeastern seabord translating to stronger swings in his direction in the general. Likewise, look at him struggling (this is a relative term) in the same Appalachian states he got killed in in the primary -- from Tennessee to Ohio to Kentucky to West Virginia.
Going region by region:
The Northeast: In New England, Obama's biggest standout state is New Hampshire, a haven for the highly educated. He struggled in this region overall in the primaries, though I don't probably buy that he has backslid in MA and RI despite the past nominee being from MA. These are such Democratic states that just allocating undecideds puts him a stronger position. Obama's gains in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are pretty strong, and probably the result of abnormally high votes for President Bush after 9/11.
The Mid-Atlantic: The weak swing to Obama in Pennsylvania could be Appalachia / Hillary voters (fwiw, I really want to see what Obama gets in Northeast and South Philly) or it could just be the psychological effect of being targeted -- I think Florida (2000) and Ohio (2004) voted differently because they were so intensely targeted. Obama was up a lot more here a few weeks ago. Delaware will obviously swing heavily because of Biden. I think the MD numbers are bogus because of a lack of polling. West Virginia will see possibly the country's most tepid swing to Obama given its primary vote.
The Coastal South: Virginia and North Carolina are the big stories here: rising urban centers in Northern Virginia, Richmond, Raleigh and Charlotte bringing in Northern transplants plus good-sized black populations. NC will look like VA looked the last election in its partisan orientation. This isn't bad long-term if we are distributing Republican votes more efficiently. We shouldn't mind a VA and NC that are a few points to the right of the country if they're sucking in Democrats from places like PA, OH, and NJ and making these states more competitive. In VA especially, we just need to make sure our local candidates adjust to this new reality.
I'm surprised the Obama wave seems to be bypassing heavily black South Carolina -- probably the state that set him on the path to victory, but a lack of a major urban magnet probably explains it. Georgia, which has Atlanta, is swinging more heavily towards Obama -- watch what Cobb and Gwinnett do.
Florida really doesn't belong in this category, but is swinging a bit less than the national average for Obama -- which combined with 2004's stronger Republican tilt is making it a Lean R state on the Presidential level -- though that's probably not enough this time. Still, who would have thought in 2000 that we'd be talking about FL being with a point or two of NC?
The Interior South: I expect the Alabama numbers to swing more for Obama as they do in Mississippi but both states are seriously out of reach. Tennessee and Kentucky are safe for McCain. Louisiana has seen some favorable trends overall, and seems to be at the center of a new arc of Republican strength that stretches from Texas through West Virginia. Looking at this map, it's clear that there's a pocket of Republican strength in the central South that wasn't there in the '90s when Arkansan Bill Clinton was winning all these states.
The Big Ten States: Ohio is one of the few true tossup states from 2004 where McCain still sports a lead in some polls. This is another state, like Florida in 2000, whose permanent descent into tossup status may have been a blip, and it now belongs where it was in the '90s, a measure or two to the right of the country. I expect Obama to perform very poorly in southern Ohio and this will drag down his numbers statewide, but I still expect him to win it. Michigan, without Appalachian influences, is sporting an about-average swing to Obama -- I wonder what this would have been had McCain not pulled out. Indiana still seems implausible to me -- it is one of the two or three strongest pro-Obama swings in the country, and the only one with more than 3 or 4 EVs. Perhaps this is it being a neighbor of Illinois, but Obama didn't do that well in the primary, so I expect McCain to outperform the polls by 3 or 4 points here and win the state by that number. The Land of Lincoln we will probably lose by 25-30 points. Wisconsin was always off the table because of Obama's strong support there in the primaries and same-day voter registration, and probably the same goes for Minnesota. The strong pro-Obama swing in Iowa is a bit more easily explained than Indiana, given that it was the launching pad for his nomination and its closeness to Illinois. Finally, Missouri -- a much more rural state than people give it credit for -- is proving to be the toughest nut to crack for Obama of all the swing states.
The Prairie States. Obama's strength here -- virtually neutralizing MT, ND and possibly the Omaha CD in NE is an extension of his strength in the primaries, when he built a coalition of multiracial Southern states and all-white caucus states without the racial strife that defined much of the industrial North and Midwest. Kansas and Oklahoma have a bit more conventionally Christian and Southern influences to be wholly part of this tradition. But the area is so sparsely populated that though the shift is interesting, its magnitude pales in comparison to shifts elsewhere.
The Mountain West: For all the hoopla about Colorado, its swing to Obama barely outshines the national average at 10.2%, but we will await the results for further clarity. Obama turns in some of his strongest gains relative to 2004 in the strongly Republican states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. It will be interesting to see if Obama can crack into well-educated Utah Mormons at all, but it is hard to see where this electorally actionable for the Democrats. Still, it is interesting to see the extent to which the GOP has been un-defined as a Western party despite the presence of a Western Senator on the ticket. I do think the "Texas Cowboy" image is what kept us so strong here for so long, and a Phoenix transplant is not quite tapping into it the same way.
The Southwest: This is McCain's home region, but it isn't doing him a whole lot of good. He is being forced to defend Arizona, with a swing that's only 3 points less than the national average. And he's only doing about a point better than he should be in Nevada and New Mexico. It's ironic because immigration was supposed to be a huge strength for McCain. Instead, his weakness on it with the base has forced him to largely shut up on the issue, dampening his ability to use it as a wedge issue with Hispanics and keep the Southwest in play.
The West: For a long time, it looked like California wasn't going to swing much at all for Obama, but now he appears headed to a 20-24 point win here. Nor is there much to see in Oregon or Washington. Alaska was probably going as strongly in the direction of Obama as the mountain West before Palin was picked. And yes, I was a little stunned too to see Hawaii -- which was actually in play in '04, had two polls with a 35%+ Obama lead. To understand this, you probably have to appreciate the extent to which he was a celebrity here before running for President. I was on vacation there when Obama had his 2006 dustup with McCain over ethics reform -- and because it was Obama it led the evening news.
I'll probably do a post for each of these regions breaking down what actually happened county by county after the election. But in the meantime, what do you think?