States' Party Allegiances Shifty With Barack Obama as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, some states that have been voting Republican are now seen as Democratic prospects. Yet states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, which have long voted Democratic, could conceivably go the other way.
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States' Party Allegiances Shifty

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States' Party Allegiances Shifty

States' Party Allegiances Shifty

States' Party Allegiances Shifty

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With Barack Obama as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, some states that have been voting Republican are now seen as Democratic prospects. Yet states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, which have long voted Democratic, could conceivably go the other way.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

As they watch what Congress does, the presidential candidates are also watching the electoral map. Win the right number of states with the right number of electoral votes, and you get to the White House. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is going to help us draw what the electoral map looks like right now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Okay. So, in 2000, Florida was the decisive state; in 2004, it was Ohio. What about 2008?

LIASSON: Well, Ohio and Florida are still going to be important, but there's going to be a lot more going on. Just look what McCain and Obama are doing this week. Obama was just in Wisconsin, and over the next four days he's going to be doing events in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. And it's not just geography; the candidates are also looking to raid each other's demographic territory.

Obama is reaching out to seniors in Ohio today at an event. And tomorrow, John McCain will be holding a virtual town hall meeting with independents and former supporters of Hillary Clinton - meaning women.

INSKEEP: And I guess this gets back to this map because it's been very close in the last couple of elections. If you can grab a couple of the other guy's base states, you're in great shape. What are a couple of states where Democrats think they might be able to make a difference this year?

LIASSON: Well, take a look at the first two state Barack Obama visited after he clinched the nomination: Virginia, which hasn't voted for a Democratic president in, I think, more than 40 years, and North Carolina. Now, Virginia has been turning purple. It has a Democratic governor, it has a new Democratic senator, but it is extraordinary to think of North Carolina as a swing state, and maybe in the end it won't be one.

But the point is that Obama has the money to speculate in states like North Carolina. His campaign says he'll have staff in all 50 states, some of that symbolic, but even if he can't win a state, he can help make it competitive for Democrats down-ballot.

Take Georgia. The Obama campaign figures there are 600,000 unregistered, eligible, African-American voters there, and they're going to be trying to register them. The Democrats are also looking at the Mountain West, three states in particular: Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico. It's no accident that the Democrats decided to hold their convention in Denver this summer. And Obama is focusing on Iowa, where he put down deep organizational roots and where he had his first big victory.

INSKEEP: Does Obama have to win, when you do the math, have to win a few of those states in order to be assured of winning the presidency, Mara?

LIASSON: Probably, probably yes.

INSKEEP: And then what about John McCain? Are there places that he really can be competitive where some other Republican in past years wouldn't be?

LIASSON: Yes, first of all New Hampshire, a state that's been turning blue but where McCain spent so much time this winter he could probably qualify as a resident. He's also eyeing Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, all those upper Midwest states, big industrial states, where McCain would like to take advantage of Obama's weaknesses with white, working-class voters.

He's also going to fight hard in the Mountain West. That's his home region. He's very competitive with Hispanics, more than another Republican would be because of his stand on immigration reform.

I think McCain would like to make New Jersey and California competitive. Those are two states where a relatively moderate Republican like him could do well, but it's - both of them are probably way too expensive for a candidate who will be taking the $84 million in public financing this year. Obama, of course, expected to drop out of that system and have virtually unlimited funds.

INSKEEP: Way too expensive, you're talking about some of the biggest media markets in the country that he'd have to spend money…

LIASSON: Yes, yes, exactly - especially California.

INSKEEP: And he doesn't have the money to speculate in the way that you feel that Obama will have the money to speculate in those states.

LIASSON: That's right.

INSKEEP: Okay. Now when we look at this map, we think in terms of red and blue states. That's the way we've been encouraged to think in recent years. And if I were to simplify a little bit, you've got blue on the coasts, for the most part, and in the Northeast, and you've got red in the middle. Do you think that by November, the map is going to look that way again in 2008?

LIASSON: I think it's not going to be a radically new map, but there are going to be some changes. The biggest change is the Democrats have a larger playing field than they have in the past, more opportunities, but it's still true that a Republican, John McCain, has to probably win both Ohio and Florida to get to the White House. Obama has to win both Pennsylvania and Michigan to get to the White House.

But the most important thing to remember is we are now entering the period where electoral math matters. National polls are helpful, but the map is what matters. That's how we elect a president. So, go to your political Web sites that have interactive maps, including ours, and try to figure out how each of these candidates gets to the magic number of 270 votes. What combination of states adds up to that magic number?

INSKEEP: And we'll also be listening to the counting of NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks as always.

LIASSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you can see that map that she referred to by going to NPR.org.

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McCain, Obama Matchup Puts New States in Play

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (left) greets his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, on stage between televised debates at Saint Anselm College January 5, 2008, in Manchester, N.H. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (left) greets his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, on stage between televised debates at Saint Anselm College January 5, 2008, in Manchester, N.H.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

McCain speaks to the media during a visit to the Everglades Safari Park as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist stands in the background June 6, 2008, in Miami. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

McCain speaks to the media during a visit to the Everglades Safari Park as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist stands in the background June 6, 2008, in Miami.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Democratic Sens. Sen. Jim Webb (left) and Barack Obama greet supporters during a rally June 5, 2008, in Bristow, Va. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democratic Sens. Sen. Jim Webb (left) and Barack Obama greet supporters during a rally June 5, 2008, in Bristow, Va.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As House Majority Whip James Clyburn led the tide of Democratic superdelegates who endorsed Barack Obama last week, helping the Illinois senator clinch his party's presidential nomination, he noted that Obama is helping the party draw a new map.

"He will be able to dramatically change the electoral map for Democrats, which will in turn expand our majorities here in Congress and help elect more Democrats at the state and local levels," Clyburn said.

Democrats are hoping Obama will be able to win over traditionally red states that have been trending purple, if not blue, in recent elections — including several Western states such as Colorado and New Mexico. More people are moving out West, and many are Hispanic, a group that is voting Democratic in increasing numbers.

The West presents a challenging political calculus for John McCain. His views on immigration could alienate conservative Western Republicans, while at the same time help him build significant inroads to independents, moderate Democrats and Hispanics.

Republicans also foresee a potential redrawing of the electoral map — but with some states pivoting in their favor. With Obama as the Democratic nominee, the GOP hopes that blue-collar, culturally conservative states like Michigan and Pennsylvania will abandon their blue streak and turn red for McCain.

Here, an overview of factors at play in the new map:

WEST

Colorado: Colorado has voted for the Republican candidate in all but two presidential elections since 1952, and military culture prevails here. That's good news for McCain, a former Navy hero. The good news for Obama: The state has elected a Democratic governor and Democratic senator in two successive cycles, and it could elect another Democratic senator this year. Another ray of hope for the Democrats: the growth of liberal Denver suburbs in Arapahoe and Jefferson counties.

Montana: President George W. Bush squashed Sen. John Kerry here in 2004 with 59 percent of the vote. But Montana appears comfortable with homegrown Democrats who have moderate views on social issues. Like Colorado, it has elected a Democratic governor and Democratic senator in the last two election cycles. Montana continues to pop up as a state to watch, in part because Gov. Brian Schweitzer's name has been discussed as a possible VP choice for Obama.

New Mexico: New Mexico's Republican roots run deep, but the state is undergoing a noticeable shift toward the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton carried the state twice, as did Al Gore in 2000 — albeit by 366 votes. Conservative Democrats in the southern half of the state helped Hillary Clinton eke out a victory in New Mexico's Feb. 5 primary. "Neither Obama nor McCain quite fit what [these] voters are looking for," says Heath Haussamen, who writes a blog on New Mexico politics. That means Clinton's backers here could end up as a key swing vote in the general election. Forty-three percent of residents are Hispanic — more than any other state. A majority of New Mexico voters are Democrats, but many are socially conservative. They don't support the war, and they also tend to oppose abortion and gay rights.

Nevada: While historically a Republican stronghold, Nevada is open to Democratic presidential candidates: Bill Clinton won here in 1992 (with help from Ross Perot's third-party candidacy, which split the GOP vote). McCain's approach to immigration could hurt him with more conservative Republicans in the state, whose population of undocumented workers is 7.7 percent, second only to California. But both parties' presumptive nominees aren't that far apart on immigration, so it's unlikely that Nevadans displeased with McCain's views will find Obama's any more appealing.

January's Democratic caucuses energized the state's Hispanic voters and labor groups, creating the beginnings of an organization to help get out the vote in November, a good omen for Obama. Republicans, by contrast, are disorganized and haven't exactly flocked to McCain. He placed third in the GOP caucuses here, behind winner Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. As late as April, McCain was poised to lose to Paul again in the state GOP's nominating convention, before party leaders put a halt to proceedings.

MIDWEST

Michigan: It is hard to say how much the Democrats' awkward dance in Michigan will shape the general election. Whatever attention Michiganders failed to get in the primaries, they will undoubtedly receive in the lead up to November in this seriously contested Rust Belt state. In the last four presidential elections, Michigan has voted Democratic. Democrats are also boosted by strong union loyalty, even as higher-paying union jobs disappear. For his part, McCain has a sweet spot for Michigan. The open primary system helped McCain crush Bush in the 2000 GOP primary. But his "straight talk" was rebuffed in this year's primary: McCain's comment that "some of the jobs that have left the state of Michigan are not coming back" was partly responsible for his loss to Mitt Romney, whose father had served as governor in the 1960s.

EAST

New Hampshire: New Hampshire voters were once reliably Republican in presidential races. But in addition to Kerry's win in 2004, the state supported Bill Clinton twice, and Al Gore lost to Bush by less than 7,000 votes in 2000. New Hampshire Democrats had a huge year in 2006, re-electing their governor by a record margin and unseating both Republican congressmen.

The Granite State holds a special place in McCain's heart: It was the site of his biggest triumph in 2000, when he trounced Bush in the GOP primary. His repeat victory in this year's primary sent him on his way to the nomination.

Pennsylvania: Kerry and Gore carried 51 percent of the vote here in 2004 and 2000, respectively. The state hasn't voted for a Republican since 1988, but Obama lost the primary to Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 percentage points. The state will be a critical test of Obama's ability to win over Clinton's base of white, blue-collar voters. Union households made up about one-third of the Pennsylvania vote in 2004; Kerry carried this group with about 62 percent of the vote. McCain may find it hard to sway these voters. He's been a consistent supporter of free trade and NAFTA — a fact the Obama campaign is likely to play up. The Keystone State's large rural and veteran population is likely to help McCain.

SOUTH

Florida: Florida went from supporting Bush by .01 percent in 2000 to backing him by more than 5 percent in 2004. Exit polls suggest much of that increase came from minority communities. Kerry was out-organized in Florida, and Gov. Jeb Bush's response to the four hurricanes that hit the state in 2004 was well received and helped bolster the Bush family name.

McCain looks slightly stronger than Obama in the Sunshine State, whose large Jewish population seems wary of Obama's views on Israel. Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington that Jerusalem "must remain undivided," but later qualified his comments by indicating that the status of Jerusalem will be negotiated in future peace talks. In campaign stops here, though, McCain has found himself defending his votes against local interests — including his opposition to the creation of a national catastrophe fund, a popular proposal in Florida.

Virginia: Republicans have long counted on Virginia's votes, but Democrats are increasing their ranks here. Tim Kaine's election as governor and Jim Webb's as senator buoyed Democratic hopes for 2008. Still, history is on McCain's side: Lyndon Baines Johnson, in 1964, was the last Democrat to win Virginia's electoral votes. The Obama camp hopes support from younger voters and growth of the more liberal Washington, D.C., suburbs in Northern Virginia will aid his efforts. McCain, in turn, can look to support from the military community: Veterans make up 15 percent of the population.