Has Historic Election Changed Voting Map?

President-elect Barack Obama says "the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime." In his victory speech in Chicago, Obama pledged to be president for everyone, even those who voted for John McCain. How has the election map changed?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Yesterday was a great day for Democrats. They won a convincing presidential victory, and they gained significant ground in Congress, as we'll be hearing throughout this morning. Joining us now is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, in his speech last night, Barack Obama said that Americans had sent a message to the world, not a collection of red states and blue states, but, quote, "We are and always will be the United States of America." But still this morning, it looks like a new map.

ROBERTS: It does. It's a map that he said all along that he was going to expand the electorate, not just play to the states the Democrats have been playing to. And he succeeded. We've been waking up this morning or staying up the days after elections and seeing just this relentless map where the entire country looks red except for the West Coast and the East Coast and the states around the Great Lakes.

And that's just different this morning. We're looking at Indiana, we're looking at Virginia, we're looking at Colorado, we're looking at New Mexico; big swathes of blue in the middle of the country and in the South and in Florida. And so you're really looking at something different. And I think that that is significant in terms of what happens next.

MONTAGNE: And what do you see these swathes of blue meaning, most importantly for the Republican Party?

ROBERTS: Well, there's going to be a whole lot of soul searching there because they're going to have figure out who they are and where they go from here. And you can already see the fight taking place, conservatives saying - the moderates saying the problem is that McCain left his moderate rhetoric and played to the base. But there are hardly any moderate Republicans left. A lot of them lost last night.

So conservatives would be much more likely to take over even more so in the party and say that we need to be even more conservative and be true to our principles by which they tend to mean social conservatism on issues like abortion and gay rights, but even more so on issues like immigration. And they're going to have a problem there because that's another place where if you look at the results of last night, the demographics just aren't working for them.

MONTAGNE: And Cokie, how did the makeup of the electorate, the people who came out to vote, how did that factor into the Democratic victory?

ROBERTS: Well, that's exactly what I'm talking about. The white vote - which is what the Republicans can count on, by and large - 74 percent of the voters yesterday were white. That's compared to 1976 where 90 percent of the voters were white. Of that group, only 36 percent were white men. That is the most reliable Republican vote, white men. Only 36 percent of the electorate were white men. So that tells you something. You know, those are the people who we're used to seeing, as Barack Obama said, on the dollar bills. But they're a very tiny part of the electorate these days. This is a new country.

MONTAGNE: And we wake up this morning with Barack Obama having won by a significant margin, both in the popular vote and the Electoral College. What sort of mandate does this give him?

ROBERTS: Well, I think it gives him quite a mandate, and I think it's also frankly good for the country, Renee, that we're not in another nail-biting election where some people think it's been stolen and other people are going to fight it for the next four years. We know who won, and he won big. And not only do we know, the Congress knows. And he can go now to the Congress and say, I won in many cases by more than you did in your district.

And I was puzzled about why he was spending so much money in places like New York City which was going to go Democratic anyway. But I think the answer is so he could drive up that popular vote, have a bigger mandate, be able to go to the Congress and to the people and say, all right, I have won this big. Now we need to do what I was elected to do. Now, the question is what exactly is that? And it's going to be interesting to see how he and the Congress work that out. But he certainly has received a mandate.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, pleasure talking to you. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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