|Table 1: The Electoral College Spectrum1|
|1 Follow the link for a detailed explanation on how to read the Electoral College Spectrum.|
2 The numbers in the parentheses refer to the number of electoral votes a candidate would have if he won all the states ranked prior to that state. If, for example, McCain won all the states up to and including Colorado (all Obama's toss up states plus Colorado), he would have 275 electoral votes. McCain's numbers are only totaled through the states he would have needed in order to get to 270. In those cases, Obama's number is on the left and McCain's is on the right in italics.
3 Colorado is the state where Obama crossed the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election. That line is referred to as the victory line.
4 Nebraska allocates electoral votes based on statewide results and the results within each of its congressional districts. Nebraska's 2nd district voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
That the RNC is going on offense in traditionally close states and states that flipped to Obama and the Democrats in 2008 is no real surprise. Nor is it a stretch to consider that Obama is staring down the reality of playing more defense in 2012 as a known quantity -- as an incumbent. The only target for offense mentioned in the Obama administration official's thoughts was Arizona. But let's have a look at the states listed in the RNC strategic memo:
|Table 2: 2012 RNC/DNC Targets -- Presidential Battleground States|
|State||EVs||Red to Blue in '08?||Traditionally Blue?||Traditionally Red?||2004 Margin1||2008 Margin2|
|1 Source: Leip's Atlas|
2 Source: Leip's Atlas
Note that, as is the custom in this time of the cycle, the RNC has cast its net widely. That is not to suggest that the DNC is not also considering states Obama may or more appropriately may not win next November, but it is usually the party on offense that can be and actually is a bit more aggressive in terms of the states it is considering. There were times in 2008, for instance, when the polling looked not necessarily good but promising in states like the Dakotas, Montana, Georgia and even Alaska before Palin was added to the Republican ticket in the late summer. Did that mean that Obama would have won those states after all was said and done on election day? Probably not, but there comes a time in every general election campaign where the tough decisions have to be made about which states to focus on. North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado were much more realistic to Obama than, say, Georgia or Arizona. In the same way, the RNC is able to throw a few states on the board that the eventual nominee may not win, but are intriguing possibilities nonetheless.
[Note also that the fifteen states in the table immediately above are ordered roughly in terms of how close the margin was between Obama and McCain in 2008. Another way of thinking about this is that the closer a state was in 2008, the hypothetically easier it will be for the Republican candidate to flip it in 2012. Those states moved largely in line with the national average shift in the vote from 2004 to 2008.]
Some states, however, are more or less intriguing than others. The "Red in 2004, Blue in 2008" states at the top of the table are more realistic targets for the GOP than some of the "lean blue" states that may be close in a more competitive presidential election year but crested above a 10% margin in Obama's favor in 2008. Are they pie in the sky states for Republicans? Perhaps, but they are steeper climbs for the Party of Lincoln than they are for Obama and Democrats to maintain. If the average shift in the vote is large enough they may shift too, but that would require a larger shift.
History is not always the best predictor -- Obama did win longstanding red states like North Carolina, Indiana and Virginia in 2008 -- but the states at the bottom of Table 2 are states a Republican candidate has not won in most cases in over 20 years. New Hampshire flipped to George W. Bush in 2000, but has been reliably Democratic since Clinton carried the Granite state in 1992. Michigan and Pennsylvania have been fairly close in some election cycles over the last generation but both been in the Democratic column in the time since George H.W. Bush won the Keystone and Wolverine states in 1988. For Wisconsin and Washington, one has to go back to Reagan's 1984 landslide to find the last time a Republican carried either state. And on the other side of this, Arizona voted for Bill Clinton in 1996, but for the last time the Grand Canyon state went blue, one has to go all the way back to 1948.
That said, those are all macro views that may fail to capture trends on a more micro level: that for instance Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (not to mention New Hampshire) saw large Republican gains in offices across the states in the 2010 midterm elections. [Is that a function of something growing at the grassroots for Republicans or was it attributable to Obama not being on the ticket?] All this is to say that this is a big list of swing states (185 total electoral college votes). There will be additions and subtractions over the course of the next year, but the list will contract more than it will expand. The contraction is more likely to include Arizona and Pennsylvania on one end of the list and Indiana and North Carolina on the other than it will for more traditionally volatile states like Ohio and Florida.
Note: Shockingly -- or not so shockingly -- enough, no one seems to be saying much of anything about former bellwether, Missouri.