Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama’s Shrinking Map

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By Bud White

No Quarter published two fascinating posts on Tuesday about the current state of the race between McCain and Obama. Taken together, these two pieces of analysis convey ominous news for Obama.

The first post, Obama’s Flawed Race Strategy: Why the Black Vote Won’t Be Enough by iam0nly1, argues convincingly that Obama’s weakness in the Rust Belt cannot be offset by African American voters in the South:

Obama’s entire claim to redrawing the political map is based on his perceived ability to win in Southern states precisely because of African American voters. After all, this is why Hillary’s claim that she alone was capable of winning large swing states that Democrats must win, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, went unnoticed and unheeded by Dean, Pelosi and others. However, this is a severe and dangerous gamble.

Obama is in serious trouble in Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and, particularly, Florida. Consequently, he’s trying to expand into traditional red states, especially Virginia and Georgia in the South, and the Rocky Mountain West region.

The second post, by Charles Lemos, is a video and PowerPoint presentation by renowned pollster Douglas Schoen. On the surface, it seems to be good news for Obama. He now leads McCain, the country wants change, and a generic Democrat beats a generic Republican:

Lemos is correct that Schoen’s analysis is a snapshot of the current situation:

I think the presentation is accurate as of right now. In politics, nothing is static. Events happen but of as right now, Obama is leading and Schoen’s presentation, I think, offers reasons why.

Many commentators have referenced Michael Dukaksis’ infamous 17 point lead over George H. W. Bush in 1988 as a cautionary warning to Obama. Beware, the argument goes, summer’s highs can evaporate in the fall after the withering attacks by the Republicans.

All of this has me thinking about a more recent election. In 2004, my preferred candidate did win the Democratic nomination — and there was real unity in our Party. Iraq was spinning out of control, Americans felt shame about the horrific pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib prison, and the Democrats were about to nominate a genuine war hero. Looking up Democracy Corps’ polling analysis from July 22, 2004, I found that Obama’s situation is strikingly similar (if slightly weaker) compared to where John Kerry was at the same time. Karl Agne, writing for Democracy Corps, sounded even more optimistic about Democratic chances than does Schoen today:

The Kerry-Edwards ticket heads to the Democratic Convention in Boston with a great deal of momentum behind them. In a race that has been surprisingly stable and evenly divided since Kerry truly emerged as the nominee in March – characterized by small swings in either direction usually predicated by events in Iraq and in the nation’s economy – Kerry and Edwards are enjoying an undeniable shift in voter attitudes. Kerry leads Bush in every national poll released this month, reaching 50 percent in the last two surveys of likely voters.


Virtually every poll released in the last couple weeks shows Kerry making tremendous gains in these individual states. In fact, Kerry now leads in the most recent poll in every state won by Gore in 2000 and is either winning or within the margin of error in all 11 battleground states won by Bush. In making such strong gains at this stage, Kerry has put himself in an enviable position and can now use the unparalleled exposure of the Democratic Convention to solidify these gains, reinforcing his already strong support in the Democratic base and reaching out to even more Independents and newly engaged voters.

Besides the fluctuations of polls, what’s interesting about the above statement is the reference to the battleground states. Because of our Electoral College system, national polls (as cited by Schoen) can only tell you so much, and this is where the news becomes ominous for Obama. Unless he has a huge national lead in the fall, Obama will likely be fighting for the same swing states for which Kerry fought. iam0nly1 argues that African Americans are unlikely to increase their numbers sufficiently to carry Obama in Southern states. With the South off the table, Obama will also be disadvantaged in the Rust Belt and Florida, and he will be fighting for the Rocky Mountain West:

[Obama’s team] discuss the Rocky Mountain states of Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, but frankly, even if he wins those three, and Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire (all three of which will be highly competitive), if he loses Ohio and Florida, he will lose the election 267-271 (this count includes all the states Kerry won). In short, if Obama loses Ohio and Florida, the three Rocky Mountain states and Georgia and Virginia become must win states.

In short, Obama’s minuscule national lead today — prior to the expected Republican assault — will show Obama to be a map-changer, but not in the direction he hopes.

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