There's a debate going on in some Republican circles over which groups of the electorate the party should target.
This debate starts off with some uncomfortable realizations. One is that while John McCain's 46 percent share of the vote is not as dismal as some losing candidates of the past, it is still far short of a majority and does not look to be easily expanded. Yes, McCain showed strength in Jacksonian America, along the Appalachian chain and west to Arkansas and Oklahoma. And he ran well with whites in the Deep South. But these are not growing demographics.
A second uncomfortable realization is that McCain ran dismally among blacks (losing 95 percent to 4 percent, according to the Edison-Mitofsky exit poll) and voters under 30 (losing 66 percent to 32 percent). The good news for Republicans is that there's not much room for Democrats to grow among black voters. The bad news is that voters who were under 30 in 2008 are going to be a larger and larger share of the electorate. To get a glimpse of the future, consider that McCain carried young voters in only nine states with 57 electoral votes. And in only five of those states, with 22 electoral votes, did he win more than 55 percent of the young.
A final uncomfortable realization is that the affluent suburbs have, outside the South and even in parts of the South -- North Carolina's Research Triangle, metro Orlando -- become Democratic. Nationally, McCain ran even with Barack Obama among voters with incomes over $50,000 and over $100,000. He actually ran behind among voters with incomes over $200,000. Obama carried narrowly those with college degrees and ran far ahead among those with graduate degrees.
The debate among Republicans is whether to go after downscale or upscale voters. Those who argue for going downscale usually have a 2012 candidate in mind: Sarah Palin. She has an undoubted appeal to such voters and revved up part of the Republican base -- cultural conservatives, and rural and small-town voters -- throughout the campaign. Despite the scorn the media heaped on her, she has excellent political instincts and seems capable of developing the knowledge base that would make her a credible presidential candidate in the future.
But my examination of the exit poll results and county-by-county election returns has led me to conclude tentatively that going upscale is the right move. As David Frum has pointed out, we're going to have more well-educated and millennial-generation voters in the future and fewer less-educated and Baby Boomers (among whom McCain ran even).