Painting America Purple
After a decade of red and blue politics, the electoral map for 2008 may be turning purple.
The latest evidence comes from a Washington Post poll of Virginia, which shows Democrats in very strong shape heading into an election with an open Senate seat and one of the most important presidential campaigns in memory.
But that is simply one more data point in a growing body of evidence suggesting that, depending on the Republican and Democratic nominees, more states could be genuinely contested in 2008 than in any recent campaign.
They includes southern states like Virginia or Arkansas, mountain states like Colorado, Nevada and Arizona, all of which Republicans have dominated in recent presidential campaigns but which Democrats will target in 2008. It also could include states that have been solidly Democratic of late, like California or New Jersey, which could be up for grabs if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican nominee.
Since the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, Democrats have been blanked in the South. But the new Post poll underscores the degree to which Virginia at least is rapidly become a real presidential swing state.
The Post poll asked Virginians whether they prefer the next president to be a Republican or a Democrat. By 52 percent to 41 percent, they said they preferred a Democrat or were leaning to the Democrat.
That begs the question of how voters there will respond to the actual nominees, but the preliminary evidence suggests that the leading Democratic candidates are at least acceptable to the Virginia electorate today as are the leading Republicans -- perhaps more so. As many Virginians say they have ruled out voting for Giuliani as have ruled out Clinton.
The poll also highlighted the advantage Democrats now enjoy in the race for Republican Sen. John Warner's seat. At this point, former Democratic governor Mark Warner has a 30-point lead over both his prospective rivals, former Republican governor Jim Gilmore and Republican Rep. Tom Davis.
Democrats, of course, have not carried Virginia in a presidential race since the Johnson landslide of 1964. Bill Clinton came close in his 1996 reelection campaign, but neither Nobel-laureate-to-be Al Gore nor John Kerry came close. But since Gore's defeat, Democrats have twice won the governorship and picked off a Senate seat.
With President Bush's approval rating in the state now at 35 percent -- about where he is nationally -- there seems to be little cushion for the Republican nominee -- and with Warner on the ballot, a potential boost for whoever is the Democratic nominee.
Democrats see potential opportunities where they have struggled in recent elections. Colorado has been undergoing a shift toward the Democrats at the state level and looks potentially purple presidentially. Nevada and Arizona, with burgeoning Hispanic populations, have become Democratic targets.
New Mexico, which flipped from Democratic to Republican in 2004, will be a major battleground in 2008, with Democrats aiming at the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and at reclaiming its five electoral votes.
The other shift toward the Democrats that has taken place since 2004 is in Ohio, where Republicans surrendered the governorship and a Senate seat in 2006. At this point, Ohio tilts slightly toward the Democrats and that alone makes the 2008 electoral math decidedly different.
Democratic optimism about the Mountain West is tempered by the nervousness among some Democrats in the region, who worry about whether Hillary Clinton as the party's nominee would appeal to western voters.
John Edwards has been explicit that he believes he has greater capacity to run and win in more parts of the country than Clinton -- and to help other politicians on the ballots in those states. Obama, too, has raised questions about whether she could appeal as broadly as he might.
Not all the potential movement in the electoral map is in the direction of Democrats. Giuliani's campaign has been making the case that he has more ability than any of the other Republican candidates to force Democrats to defend states they have been able to take largely for granted in the past. Thanks to Jonathan Martin of the Politico, the electoral map, as envisioned by Giuliani's advisers, is available for all to see.
What his advisers imagine is a sea of purple and red, with very little blue. Theirs is an overly optimistic assessment, but there's no doubt that the former mayor could put some traditionally Democrat states into play.
If he were the nominee, California could become at least moderately competitive and that alone would force a recalculation of the electoral math [and the allocation of millions of dollars in television advertising] for both sides. Giuliani would run in the mold of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Whether he would be as environmentally friendly as Schwarzenegger is not clear -- but would be important to his prospects there.
Because of Giuliani's New York base, New Jersey also could be competitive. His prospects of winning New York against Hillary Clinton are more questionable, and the Democrats also dispute his advisers' assumption that he would have a lock against Clinton in Florida.
Once the major party nominees are known, it will be easier to assess the shape of the electoral map. But at this stage, the confluence of political changes in the states and the potential makeup of the Democratic and Republican tickets suggest a 2008 campaign that could be fought out on far wider terrain than the past two elections.
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