Remapping the Red and Blue

Posted: May 18, 2008 12:01 AM
Remapping the Red and Blue

If you wonder why Barack Obama did not try to compete in West Virginia, his dismissal of the Mountain State had nothing to do with giving Hillary Clinton one last hurrah.

The fact is, come November, West Virginia will not be on Obama's list of states to visit before Election Day.

Why ignore an all-time swing state, one no Democrat since 1916 has lost and gone on to win the presidency?

Because, as former Democratic National Committee chairman Mark Siegel explains, “West Virginia is not central to the new electoral map that will guide Obama's win in November.”

Forget the Republican red-Democrat blue map the American electorate has followed since the 2000 presidential race between George Bush and Al Gore – all that has changed. Thanks to President Bush’s disapproval ratings and a “change” election year, a whole new electoral map will be drawn this fall.

Siegel says that not only do Democrats think they have a shot at traditional red-state Virginia, they will win it. “We will be highly competitive in Colorado as well as Nevada and New Mexico,” he explains, adding that Iowa is probable as well.

Democrats also have a real shot at Missouri, he predicts, “and for reasons I do not yet fully understand, Georgia is on our radar.”

Georgia? Shades of Zell Miller! Has the whole electoral map gone crazy?

Republican strategist John Weaver, who concedes the GOP is in trouble in Georgia, says the only thing that changes an electoral map is a blow-out. “And that is what worries me.”

Weaver warns that what happened in Mississippi last week – a special-election House seat going Democrat – will not stay in Mississippi. In fact, he is pretty blunt: “This does not take rocket science. We have a malaise in our party, we have disillusion in our base, so our base turn-out efforts are going to be lower. All this affects the red-blue map.”

Electoral maps are rooted in culture and tradition, so for a dramatic color change to happen takes something like a Ronald Reagan-style 1980 victory.

Democrats had an opportunity in 1964 to achieve a sweeping change but, as Lyndon Johnson prophesized the day he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not so much. Richard Nixon changed the map in 1972 with his “Southern strategy,” but Watergate neutralized that for Gerald Ford in 1976.

Siegel says demographics are rapidly moving away from Republicans “and they know it. That's one of the reasons they are so concerned about the new registration figures pouring in.”

The GOP has good reason for grave concern: A few years ago, young people registered 50-50 as Democrats or Republicans; now, it's 2-to-1 Democrat. Hispanics, the fasting-growing voting bloc, are blue and becoming bluer.

Political scientist Larry Sabato has said consistently that the vast majority of blue states will stay blue and the vast majority of red states will stay red in November. “This is the silly season, when McCain claims he’ll be competitive in California and Obama swears he’ll take Georgia and Mississippi,” Sabato says. “Well, no.”

While Obama may change the map by picking up New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia, Sabato explains, McCain has a better-than-average shot at taking Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Oregon, Wisconsin and maybe Ohio and Michigan.

“Let’s remember that the veep choices may turn a state for each candidate,” he adds, “a state not on either list.”

Still, Weaver thinks that, “without a doubt,” Obama has the ability to win in November.

“I hope and pray that he doesn’t,” he says, “but it is damned near impossible to elect the party in office to a third term in good times, much less when you have a president that is at Richard Nixon numbers.”

If Republicans squander any opportunity to make headway among independents, conservative Democrats and disillusioned Republicans, look for a really blue map to unroll on election night in November.