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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/22/2011

Swing states on the rise heading into 2012

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

Screen shot 2011-02-21 at 11.10.46 AM.png

Heading into the 2012 presidential election, the number of solidly Democratic states has been cut in half as compared to 2008, numbers that suggest that the next national election could well be considerably closer than the last one.

According to Gallup polling data from all 50 states, the number of solidly Democratic states has declined from 30 in 2008 to just 14 in 2010. (Any state where one side has a double-digit edge in party affiliation is defined by Gallup as "solid" for that party.)

Of the 16 states that moved out of the "solidly Democratic" column over the past two years, 12 of them are now defined as "competitive" -- where the two sides are separated by less than five points on the party affiliation question -- while three are rated by Gallup as "lean Democratic" (a Democratic party affiliation advantage of between five and ten points).

New Hampshire is the lone state that swung from solidly Democratic to lean Republican over the past two years; during that time Democratic affiliation dropped by 11.3 percentage points in the Granite State.

While election results in New Hampshire mirrored that swing -- Republicans won both U.S. House seats and an open U.S. Senate seat in 2010 -- party affiliation numbers are not always indicative of what happens at the ballot box.

For example, the dozen states that moved from solidly Democratic to competitive over the past few years include states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee -- all of which went for Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008.

(The explanation? Many people in the South long identified themselves as Democrats even though at the federal level they voted only for Republicans; the last two years has seen an exodus of these so-called "Yellow Dog Democrats" to the GOP.)

The other reason to take the data cum grano salis is that Gallup polls all adults on the party affiliation question not just registered or likely voters -- meaning that many of the people who are included in the surveys are not people who can or will show up at the ballot box next November.

"Usually Democratic affiliation is higher in the general population than the smaller voting electorate in each state, given generally higher rates of voter participation by Republicans," explained Gallup's Jeffrey Jones.

Still, a broad look at Gallup's state-by-state party affiliation numbers suggest that the 2012 electoral landscape is more likely to resemble the more closely-contested 2000 or 2004 elections rather than the 2008 blowout.

As we have written before, Obama has a considerable electoral cushion coming off of his 28-state, 365-electoral-vote victory in 2008. Gallup's data suggests he may need it.

GOP picks Corwin in NY-26 special: Republicans have picked their candidate for the special election to replace former Rep. Chris Lee in New York's 26th district: state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin.

Local county chairs interviewed eight candidates over the weekend, but Corwin -- a popular and wealthy conservative -- who was seen as the favorite early on -- got the nod.

"I am humbled to receive the support of Western New York's Republican leadership, and I thank them for conducting this process in an open, fair and comprehensive manner considering the time constraints," Corwin said in a statement.

Some tea party activists are upset that they did not get more input. "This is a secretive process that we really are against," said Rus Thompson, a local tea party leader who spearheaded tea partier Carl Paladino's gubernatorial bid. "It's like selling out to the highest bidder."

Democrats are still debating whether to devote resources to this race. The district has been a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee target, and
local country chairs say that with the right candidate, they could win. But money and redistricting make it a complicated decision.

Lee resigned earlier this month, hours after gossip blog Gawker reported that the married congressman had sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met on Craig's List.

Will Rahm avoid a runoff?: The Chicago mayor's race is Rahm Emanuel's to lose; the question on Tuesday will be whether he can end the race early and avoid a runoff, as voters go to the polls in Windy City.

Recent polling has shown the former White House chief of staff flirting with the 50 percent threshold for avoiding a runoff. His closest competitors, former senator Carol Moseley Braun and former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, both predicted that they would bring Emanuel to a runoff.

A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released earlier this month showed Emanuel at 49 percent, and Chico at 19 percent. Another recent poll showed Emanuel at 58 percent and Chico at 24 percent. Moseley Braun has faded in recent polling.

Should there be a runoff, it will be held April 5.

Huckabee says other candidates' decisions don't affect him: Mike Huckabee is launching a 41-city book tour, which he says will help him decide whether to run for president in 2012.

On a conference call with reporters, the former Arkansas governor said the book tour will have much more impact on his decision than the other candidates. He scoffed at the suggestion that his decision would hinge on whether certain other candidates run.

"If that's even a consideration, it would be an extraordinarily minor one," Huckabee said. "I'm not going to make a decision based on who else is in or not in."

Huckabee did say that he would bow out for at least one candidate -- former Florida governor Jeb Bush. But Bush has expressed no interest in running.

Huckabee also commented on a story that suggested he may be trying to thwart former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's presidential ambitions because of a personal vendetta.

"That's absurd," Huckabee said. "It's beyond absurd."

Fixbits:

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) sounds open to being someone's pick for vice president.

Huckabee said on ABC's Good Morning America that the birther issue is "nonsense."

A former aide to Sarah Palin is claiming that his memoir about the ex-governor was leaked to the media by a rival author. Frank Bailey (along with the writers who helped him out) argues that Joe McGinniss -- who famously settled in next door to the Palins -- is trying to sabotage the competition.

Must-reads:

"AP Interview: Barbour sees no baggage on race" -- Mike Glover, AP

"Rep. David Wu's staff confronted him over concerns about his mental health" -- Charles Pope and Janie Har

"After stinging loss, Sestak ponders next move" -- Alex Rose, Delaware County Times

"Billionaire brothers' money plays role in Wisconsin budget dispute" -- Eric Lipton, New York Times

"Ex-lawmakers find jobs at firms seeking to shape policy" -- Fredreka Schouten, USA Today

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | February 22, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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