I spent a lot of time last week looking at the county-level 2008 v. 2004 map that The New York Times was running online (see below). It really is a fascinating feature, but if you've been around here long enough, this doesn't really come as any surprise. I like maps. [Incidentally, you can now compare 2008 to the past presidential elections back to 1992. Just click on "Voting Shifts."]
Anyway, the more I looked at it, the more it looked like something I had remembered seeing somewhere before. In fact, it was right here at FHQ. One of the things that the early days of this election year allowed us was this wonderful three month period after John McCain had wrapped up the Republican nomination, but in which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still actively competing for the Democratic nomination. The polling that was released during that period produced what FHQ liked to call the McCain margin.* The formula was simple: Subtract Hillary Clinton's margin against John McCain in head-to-head trial heat polls in each state from the similar margin between Obama and McCain.
Above is the final McCain Margin map from June 3; the day of the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota. Now what you see isn't anything groundbreaking, but the areas in green (those where Clinton was doing better against McCain than Obama was) overlap to a large degree with the Times map above. It is that same swath of land from Oklahoma eastward and north into Appalachia. Now, Massachusetts and New York would have given their votes to either Democrat, and neither ever seemed terribly viable in those Appalachian states, but at the time Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania lent some validity to that Clinton campaign argument that the New York senator would fare better in the electoral college against John McCain than would her senate colleague from Illinois. As it turned out, Obama won two of those three anyway.
While things changed for Barack Obama after the economic crisis hit (and even before that, for that matter), the same areas that vexed him during the primaries, ended up going against him on November 4. But they would have gone against either Democrat, right? Well, I'm not so sure Hillary Clinton (and by extension Bill Clinton) wouldn't have made things interesting in Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia. I could see a scenario where she exchanged the 16 electoral votes from North Carolina and Nebraska's 2nd district for the 22 from the three states above. That could have drastically recolored that Times map (...with North Carolina being much lighter blue and Arkansas, Tennessee and West Virginia turning blue in the process.).
That would have given Clinton 371 electoral votes (to McCain's 167). Where else would Clinton have potentially been more successful? More vulnerable?
*In 2012 the McCain Margin will be redubbed the Obama Margin because, unless Obama fails over the course of the next four years, the president-elect will run unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Translation: we get to compare the various Republican candidates against how they are doing versus President Obama in each of the states. And we probably won't have to wait until 2012. There will likely be some state level polling done in some of the more competitive states in 2011. [And I'm sure we'll start seeing national level trial heats as soon as the 2010 midterm elections are complete.]
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