These are the eight states that were the most contentious in this election. Some have been battlegrounds for the last several elections, such as Florida, Missouri, and Ohio. Others were battleground states for the first time this year, such as Indiana, Colorado, North Carolina, and Virginia. In 2008, the candidates focused a great deal on these states. Some were very close, Missouri and North Carolina in particular, while others such as Iowa had a wider margin than in the past. But each and every one of these states was a contest and probably should be keyed on as folks put together their battleground state lists for 2012.
Can Democrats Continue Their Recent Sweeps?
9 Electoral Votes
Colorado has voted Republican in all but three elections since World War II. But today Colorado is considered a battleground state due in large measure to changes in population. And in 2008 Obama won the battle by a significant margin. The polls showed a consistent Obama lead after the conventions that widened in October. The polls slightly underestimated the final Obama margin.
Turnout was up 2.7 percentage points, to 69.4%, from 2004. Obama won 28 of the 64 counties, flipping six from the GOP slate in 2004. McCain won 38 counties.
The biggest Obama wins were in Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, Denver suburbs that the campaign targeted and where they did well. The two counties are mostly part of the state's 6th Congressional District, the one once held by former conservative Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo. And Coors Brewing Company and the conservative Coors family have long been associated with Golden in Jefferson County.
McCain needed big majorities out of Douglas, El Paso (Colorado Springs), and Mesa. He got them, but the majorities shrank substantially from 2004.
One minor item of note: the nation's newest county, Broomfield, carved out of Boulder County in 2001, flipped from Republican in its first ever presidential election in 2004 to Democratic in 2008. In the caucus of February 5, 2008, Obama received 66.6% of the vote and Clinton received 32.3%.
Obama's performance with white college graduates put him over the top in Colorado. More than half, 58%, of voters in Colorado were college graduates and 49% were white college graduates. Obama did even better with them in Colorado than he did nationally. Obama won college-educated white voters, beating McCain 56% to 42%. Four years ago, white voters with a college education just barely favored Kerry over Bush, 51% to 47%, while whites with no college education went for Bush 62% to 36%.
Obama also had significant support among the one-third of voters whose families earn more than $100,000. Fifty-six percent of those voters were for Obama compared to 43% for McCain. In 2004 these upper-income individuals only represented one in five voters, and they went for Bush over Kerry 55% to 44%.
Colorado is home to dozens of conservative megaministries (including James Dobson's Focus on the Family) that employ tens of thousands of people. Evangelical voters made up a quarter of the vote in 2004 and voted overwhelmingly for Bush. In addition to the 2008 presidential race, Evangelicals also rallied to vote on a ballot measure that would define "the term 'person' to include any human being from the moment of fertilization." McCain continued to receive support among these conservative voters. White Evangelicals were 24% of the electorate and went 75% for McCain. However, Obama improved his standing over Kerry among white Evangelicals in Colorado by 10 points.
In most of the swing states where Obama campaigned heavily, such as Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, he posted substantial gains among white Evangelicals.
In the last four presidential elections, about one-third of Colorado voters were unaffiliated with either party. Independents backed Bush in 2000, but swung to Kerry in 2004. In 2008, the share of Independents increased six points; they went with Obama at about the same rate as they had for Kerry in 2004, 54% for Obama to 44% for McCain. The increased Independent share of the electorate was yet another reason for the uptick in the overall Democratic vote.
White voters in Colorado, who made up 81% of the electorate, evenly split their votes between Obama and McCain.
If there was a minor surprise in Colorado, it was the weaker than expected performance by Obama among Hispanics. The Hispanic share of the electorate has shifted within the exit polls' margin of error: in 2000 Hispanics were 14% of the vote; in 2004, they were 8%. In 2008, they were 13% of the electorate and they went for Obama, 61% to 38%. Latinos were one of the few groups in Colorado to become less Democratic this election. While they have been heavily Democratic in the presidential voting in Colorado, Republicans have been making steady inroads. In 1996, 12% of Hispanics voted Republican. In 2000, 25% did and in 2004, 30% did. In 2008, the number grew to 38% of Hispanics voting Republican.
Also surprising in Colorado, the proportion of the vote that was 18 to 29 was the lowest share of the vote since 1992 and was down five points from 2000. In 2008, they basically split their vote about evenly between Obama and McCain. Voters under 30 have been behind the Democratic candidate in each election since 1992. The largest Democratic advantage was in 1996 when Clinton won 49% to Dole's 39%.
Part of the reason for the change from red to blue was the impressive get-out-the-vote efforts by the Obama campaign. In Colorado, 51% of voters said they were reached by the Obama campaign, while only 34% of voters were reached by the McCain campaign.
The Four Year Spring From Red to Blue
The first hints of a Democratic resurgence in Colorado were in 2004 when, in the face of a strong Republican tide nationally, Democrats won a U.S. Senate seat, netted a new U.S. House seat, took control of both houses of the state legislature, and the Kerry-Edwards ticket (without truly targeting the state) cut the Bush-Cheney 2000 eight point victory nearly in half. The Democratic ticket lost Colorado by less than five points in 2004, signaling, frankly, that the Democratic ticket erred in pulling out of the state that year.
At the time, Republicans chalked up Ken Salazar's 2004 U.S. Senate win as nothing to be too concerned with. He was a pro-gun Democrat who did his best to distance himself from the national party. But as it turns out, Salazar's win (and that of his brother in a swing congressional seat in 2004) was a sign of things to come.
Democrats continued their successful push for political power in the state in 2006 when Democrat Bill Ritter won the governor's race. In addition, the party netted yet another U.S. House seat.
As if to telegraph their intent to make Colorado a seriously contested battleground state, the Democrats decided to hold their 2008 national convention in Denver.
From the trend that started in 2004 to the very sophisticated campaign the Obama team put together to win Colorado to yet another strong performance down the ballot, Democrats have not only turned Colorado into a serious battleground but, right now, an argument can be made that it is more blue than purple.
Consider this: the three top elected officials in the state are all Democrats, the state legislature is still controlled by the Democrats, and the party owns five of the state's seven U.S. House seats with only one that will be in serious jeopardy in 2010. And let's not forget Obama's nine point victory is a 14 point swing from 2004, one of the larger swings for the Democrats of any state, battleground or not.
The Obama organizational juggernaut started in Colorado with the state party's decision to move up its presidential nominating caucuses to Super Tuesday, February 5, 2008. As the Clinton campaign is painfully aware, the Obama team was very proficient at organizing these caucus states. It's not a coincidence that in some of the general election battleground states that featured the caucus process during the primary season, Obama not only won the states but put the states away fairly early in the fall. Besides Colorado, other battleground states that held caucuses during the primaries include: Iowa, Minnesota, and Nevada. In all four states, Obama won by a relatively comfortable margin.
The key to Obama's success in the general election is that his campaign rarely shut down a state campaign during the primary season. If anything, the primary campaigns were used as building blocks for the fall. Such was the case with Colorado. In addition, the Obama folks took full advantage of the fact the state was the host of the Democratic convention. The penultimate organizing moment for the campaign in the state came on the final night of the convention when the Obama folks moved from Denver's basketball and hockey arena to the Broncos' home stadium. Obama's acceptance speech, in front of 80,000 attendees (mostly Coloradoans) at the football stadium also served as a massive in-state organizing tool. Based on the Election Day results, it's hard to argue that this focus on organizing didn't give Obama a distinct advantage.
As for 2010, it's difficult to imagine the Republican comeback will be under way. The Republican bench in the state is a mess. The Republicans have tried a few methods to bail them out of their mess this century, including recruiting well-knowns (such as Pete Coors) running moderates (Bob Beauprez for governor in 2006), or running conservatives (Bob Schaffer for Senate in 2008). Nothing has worked. The party needs one of two things to happen: some sort of Democratic overreach in the state or a slow rebuilding of the party from the ground up, in which the party doesn't get caught up in nasty ideological fights. The pressure to move right for Republicans is high because of the social conservative powerhouses that reside in Colorado Springs. But as the state holds on to its very moderate and independent roots, that pressure hasn't been a help to the GOP.
The Country's Biggest Battleground
27 Electoral Votes
Florida, like the rest of the South, almost always voted Democratic from the Civil War until tilting Republican in 1952. Ever since the disputed vote count in 2000, Florida has been the ultimate battleground state. At the same time, Florida's population has changed with migration of Cubans, Central and South Americans, Caribbean Islanders, retirees, and other workers that have made the state much less Southern and more heterogeneous. Obama's victory here makes it virtually certain that Florida will continue as a battleground state. The polls showed a narrow McCain lead until October when Obama became the leader by a narrow margin. Obama kept the lead in the polls until the end, and the polls accurately predicted the final margin.
Turnout in Florida was up 2.7 percentage points to 69.1% from 2004, one of 13 states where turnout rose that much. Early voting was a big item on both campaigns' agendas in Florida and it showed as more than half of the votes were cast early or via absentee ballot. The total number of votes cast rose from 2004 in 65 of the state's 67 counties. This quick adoption of the early vote in Florida will forever change political strategies for winning in this state. During the contentious 2000 campaign, early voting wasn't much of a factor as absentee balloting was the early vote of choice.
In this classic battleground state, five counties turned Democratic after voting for Bush in 2004. The two largest make up the bulk of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area: Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The GOP won Hillsborough by 31,444 votes four years ago; the Democrats won it by 58,831 votes in 2008. In Pinellas, a 226 vote Republican victory turned into a 38,233 vote Democratic win in 2008.
In Orange County, home to Disney World, Democrats eked out an 815 vote victory in the 2004 presidential race. That was not much of a surprise in a county that has been decided by less than 6,000 votes every year since 1996. But not in 2008, turnout was up by nearly 75,000 votes . . . and Obama won by 86,177 votes. In the primary of January 29, 2008, Clinton received 49.8% of the vote and Obama received 32.9%.
Boom! That's about the best way to describe the surge for Obama in Florida. The baby boom generation gave Obama the edge in the Sunshine State. Not only did Obama swing the 45- to 64-year-old age group 20 points from John Kerry in 2004—one of the single biggest swings in 2008—the baby boomers also accounted for the largest uptick in turnout. In 2004, approximately one in four Florida voters were aged 45 to 64, 28%; in 2008, more than one in three Florida voters were baby boomers, 37%. Forget young voters or minority voters, it was baby boomers that delivered Florida for Obama.
Groups who supported Obama at exceptionally strong levels included 95% of blacks, 91% of liberals, and 64% of voters under the age of 30.
Hispanics, another highly courted group in Florida politics, made up 12% of the registered voters statewide. In the densely populated region of South Florida, Hispanics represent about 55% of registered voters. A key objective for John McCain was to retain the Hispanic vote gains that George W. Bush achieved in 2004. Not only did he not retain these votes, the loss of votes for the Republicans in the Hispanic community was significant.
In the highly contested 2000 vote, George W. Bush split the Hispanic vote with Al Gore and then went on in 2004 to beat John Kerry with 56% among Hispanics. But McCain lost the ground gained by Bush, getting only 45% of the Hispanic vote.
With home foreclosure and unemployment rates exceeding the national average, Florida voters entered the polls with strong concerns about the direction of the nation's economy. More than eight out of ten voters said they were personally worried about the nation's economy.
Florida voters held the key in the first election of George W. Bush, but they concluded his term with a vastly more negative assessment of his administration. Just four years ago, a 54% majority of Florida voters approved of the way George W. Bush handled his job as president, while on Election Day 2008, 70% disapproved.
Economy Deals Republicans Huge Blow
For much of the general election the conventional wisdom was that Obama was going to have an uphill battle putting Florida in play. There were two reasons this perception took hold in the political community: 1) Obama did not have to campaign here during the Democratic primary season. Florida was one of two states where the state party had a dispute with the national party about when they could hold their presidential primary. (The other state was Michigan.) The dispute never did get worked out in time for voters to have a say about who should get the Florida delegates. Eventually, a compromise was worked out. But the lack of a primary campaign was thought to put Obama behind the proverbial eight ball in the state. 2) There was a lot of ink wasted by members of the media convinced that older Jewish voters would never vote for a black candidate whose middle name was Hussein.