11 September 2012

So Who's Next?

It's election and campaign season (though season isn't really accurate, anymore, is it, for a Bataan Death March-like two years of campaigning) and I've said nothing about the race.  I've been thinking about it, though, and I read something today that got me thinking even more: "Clinton's 1992 victory in Illinois [was] the first time that a Democratic Presidential nominee had won the state since 1964."

Wait, was that possible?  Could it really be that reliably blue Illinois was once reliably (or at least regularly) red?  I read it in the New Yorker, one of the most rigorously fact-checked publications going today, so I knew it was true, and my own curiosity was sated at www.270towin.com.

Bush (père) - '88; Reagan - '80 and '84; Ford - '76; Nixon - '68 and '72. 

Since President Clinton won the Land of Lincoln in 1992, no Democratic nominee has failed to carry it: Clinton again in 1996; Gore - 2000; Kerry - 2004; President Obama in 2008.  I remember as a kid that "Big Jim" Thompson was the unassailably popular Republican governor of Illinois for four terms and Illinois still occasionally sends GOPers to the Senate (though, really, Mark Kirk should thank Rod Blagojevich for so badly bungling the appointment to President Obama's seat that he was able to win it in 2010.  My money is on him either retiring or being defeated in 2016), but Illinois is a reliably Democratic haul of 20 Electoral Votes.

Which all got me thinking.  Who's next?  Which state, if any, went Republican in six or more consecutive presidential elections that is likely to become reliably Democratic? 

After the devastating Supreme Court election of 2000, when Vice President Gore "lost" to President Bush (fils), I stared at the electoral results and realized that Democrats had to change the map. They could not rely on the west coast, upper midwest, and northeast and hope to get one other state to cobble together 270 - if they tried that, they would be outspent by the GOP in their base states as the Republicans would need to peel off only one - Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Mexico - to win.  If the Democrats had to spend money to defend Minnesota's 10 Electoral Votes, for example, there would be no way for them to win a general election.  They had to put other states in play so that the Republicans had to play defense somewhere else - anywhere else! - so the Republicans did not bank on winning all but 15 or so states.  Republicans looked at the Traitor States - really they looked at everything between DC and California, including all of the Great Plains and Mountain states, and they knew they didn't have to spend money in ANY of it except Florida. 

How do you change that?

It reminds me of Peyton Manning talking about coming to the Colts, and saying that "players look at the schedule at the start of the season, and players on other teams would see Indy on there and think 'Well, that's a win.'  We had to change that culture and be competitive."  That's what the Dems had to do, and what Howard Dean recognized that when he implemented his "50 State Strategy" - the much maligned but foresighted plan to make the Democrats competitive again.

My argument for voting for then Senator Obama over then Senator Clinton was that Obama could change the map - he could bring states into play that Senator Clinton was, in my estimation, too polarizing to win. I thought Obama was a transformative candidate; at the time I was thinking particularly of Missouri (which President Obama lost by 0.4%), Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia and if things went right, Georgia. 

I was dead wrong about Georgia - even with the growth of the Hispanic vote there, it's difficult to see it flipping to a Democratic candidate in the near future. 

I have since argued in this space that Arizona was a likely candidate even though it has only gone Democratic once since 1948 - when Clinton carried it in 1996 (thank you H Ross Perot) - but that is probably one election away from being really competitive and Governor Romney can count on those 11 Electoral Votes. (I still think in 2016 it will be interesting, especially if the GOP continues its immigrant bashing.)

For a state that could make the kind of permanent flip from the GOP to the Democrats similar to Illinois, I think the best candidate is Virginia. Before President Obama carried it in 2008, Virginia had voted Republican in the previous ten elections, even resisting the charms of Democratic fellow southerners President Clinton and President Carter. Virginia had last voted for a Democrat in President Johnson's landslide in 1964 until they chose the black guy in 2008. 

So what's changed?  Take a look at the Census Data: the counties that have population loss are in the most Republican in the state, and those experiencing growth are the most Democratic.  What's intersting is who is moving to those growing counties, and it's not old, high school educated white folks, the GOPs most reliable demographic.  It's college educated white folks, who together with a more diverse electorate that includes 630,000 Hispanics and a million and half blacks who are reliably Democratic (even more so for President Obama, of course - in this election, Governor Romney is polling at 0% among African American likely voters.  Really.), well, Virginia is looking like it could be in play for a while, and perhaps even premanently break the GOPs hold on the former Traitor States that Nixon created with his racist Southern Strategy - at last.

If that happens, that could be a huge legacy that Obama leaves to his party (not the only one, of course, but we're talking electoral politics here).  If the GOP can no longer assume that they have those 13 electoral votes then, worst case scenario, they have to spend some of the Koch brothers' money there; best case, Democrats are far more likely to be able to build a combination that gets them to 270.

Virginia isn't the only one.  I'm keeping an eye on Colorado and Montana, too. 


No comments: