Candidates Hope to Redraw the Electoral Map

Which candidate can expand the electoral map: Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?  Which one can win the red states that failed Al Gore and John Kerry and pull together a winning geographic coalition? 

These are some of the key questions that Democratic voters are asking as the two presidential hopefuls battle in out in primary states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana and in the living rooms of superdelegates,.

Both candidates can make a strong case, but their two equations are starkly different.  Clinton looks strong in the Midwest and Appalachia and would likely try to execute and expand on the Democrats’ traditional electoral strategy.  Obama is more likely to attempt to scramble the map and looks well-suited to pick off independents in the mid-Atlantic and Mountain West. 

Obama and Independents in the mid-Atlantic and Mountain West

Obama would likely target independents in the fast-growing counties like Loudoun in Virginia, Wake in North Carolina, Clark in Nevada and Douglas in Colorado.  These are among the fastest-growing areas in the nation and are packed with young professionals who don’t have an allegiance to either party, let alone time to watch “Hardball.” 

 The model for winning these voters comes from Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), who was the first governor outside of Illinois to endorse Obama. In his 2005 campaign, Kaine targeted and won these independents focusing on issues like roads and schools.  If Obama pushed a similar post-partisan message in these fast-growing exurbs, he could likely win big in these areas.

A series of SurveyUSA polls released last week suggested that Obama would be a strong candidate against John McCain in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Independents, upscale liberals and African-American in Virginia and North Carolina would also makes those states key targets, although the Tarheel State would be more of a reach.

Hillary and Blue-Collar Voters in the Midwest and Appalachia

The Clinton camp would probably consider the prospect of Obama winning these states “The biggest fairytale I’ve ever seen,” to borrow Bill’s famous phrase from New Hampshire.  Hillary would probably have more success targeting blue-collar Reagan Democrats in the Midwest, down the Appalachian spine and in traditionally blue Arkansas.

The model for winning these voters is best exemplified in Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), who was Hillary’s strongest surrogate in the Buckeye State and whose former congressional district in the Ohio River Valley went decidedly to Clinton. Strickland has won over blue-collar Democrats by focusing on traditional economic and bread-and-butter issues.

Hillary’s success in Ohio and rural Missouri (not to mention her perceived strength in Michigan) has demonstrated that she would start from a strong position in those states.  She has also dominated in Appalachian counties from Ohio to Virginia to Tennessee, suggesting that she might be able to bring hardscrabble states like West Virginia back into the Democratic column.

McCain and the Blue Coasts

Of course, both Hillary and Obama’s scenarios for expanding the electoral map assume that all other things are equal. Both equations fail to account that the Republican on the ticket has made a career out of challenging the conventional wisdom and defying political expectations. McCain, for this part, has already promised to run a national campaign. 

He has said on more than one occasion that he is going to target Ronald Reagan’s California, and McCain is a popular brand among independent voters in New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut.  He’d also likely be strong with Main Street Republicans in the Midwest, Hispanics in the Mountain West and military personnel in the mid-Atlantic – all scenarios that could thwart either Democrat’s vision of redrawing the map.

But one thing is for sure: The electoral map is going to be scrambled this year. Democrats will target states in Dixie, whether it’s Clinton in Arkansas or Obama in Virginia, and McCain will pour money into California, where he’ll be joined at the hip with the Governator.  It’s only been four years since the trench warfare of 2004, but the electoral map is as fluid as it’s ever been.





9 responses to “Candidates Hope to Redraw the Electoral Map

  1. Your analysis makes sense. The only problem is its sometimes tough to predict what independent voters care about.

    Economy? McCain makes a 30 second spot about Obama’s plan to raise taxes (let the Bush tax cuts expire).

    The War? Even though McCain is at the wrong side of the issue he has Obama trumped in foreign policy and military experience.

    Going after independents can be a risky route to go. Obama may be wiser to energize his base with a strong anti-war and universal health care message.

  2. Letting some of these recent state polling numbers wash over me, it seems likely Obama would lose Pennsylvania to McCain, but pick up Virginia. There’s also a strong possibility that he might lose New Hampshire, but pick up Colorado. The only realistic state that could put him over the top would be North Carolina, but it seems unlikely he could win it in the general election.

    Clinton, on the other hand, would likely take back Arkansas, New Mexico and Ohio. This would give her a comfortable win, but there are some unlikely states that could be potential trouble for the Democrats, including Oregon and Wisconsin. Still, even if those two swing for McCain, Hillary would still be at 270, and praying that no other tiny state (New Hampshire, for example) goes to McCain.

  3. I would also look at Washington state. I think McCain would take that over Hillary as well as New Hampshire.

  4. Watching Obama’s poll numbers move the past couple weeks makes me think this kind of analysis is way premature. Nine more months of McCain surrogates spending a half billion in advertising attacking Obama and I think the conversation will revert to keeping traditional Democrats on board and a fight over pretty much the same states as 2004 (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, etc.)

  5. If Obama is the nominee, I see McCain winning PA and OH as well as NH. I think Obama pickes up CO but has no shot at FL. McCain should also hold NM and NV with his western roots. I think he lost his shot at WA with the whole Boeing contract thing – that will only help him in AL and he didn’t need help there. I don’t see Obama picking up VA, either, but even if he does, McCain still wins.

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