No matter how you cut it, this year’s presidential race, from a national view, is one of the closest that we have seen a very long time. According to various tracking polls, such as at Talking Points Memo, the race is a coin-toss.
While this will be the feature of many commentators and pundits going into the conventions and the general campaign, the national picture isn’t where the focus necessarily should be — but rather on the states.
For Merle and Earle Black, twin brothers who happen to be political science professors, it’s more important to understand the divided America electoral landscape by states — due to the Electoral College system — and by region than nationally.
Regionally, they see the nation as divided into four relatively safe areas for both political parties: the states in the South and Mountains/Plains for the GOP, while the Northeast and the Pacific states for the Democrats. The battleground lies in the nation’s heartland of the Midwest.
The 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were unique in that this pattern resulted in only three states — Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico — that flipped from one election to another.
For each party, their “base regions” make up a substantial component of the necessary 270 electoral votes needed in this year’s contest. If the GOP was to sweep both the South (with 160 electorate votes) and Mountains/Plains (with 71 votes), the Republican candidate would be only 39 shy of the magic 270.
For the Democrats, combining a sweep of the Pacific (81 votes) and Northeast (112 votes) would garner 71 percent of the electoral votes needed.
Within the battleground Heartland, typical Democratic presidential states like Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan have more electoral votes than typical GOP presidential states of Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky. So, it comes down to Ohio, Missouri and Iowa as the true toss-up states.
In addition, some base region states are more elastic than others — witness Florida in an otherwise red solid South and New Hampshire in the blue Northeast.
For both parties and their presidential candidates, some elections make it necessary to break the lock on some regions and flip some base states into their column. Take North Carolina: from 1980 to 2004, the state was one of the red reliable Republican base states that played a part in the solid Republican South.
But in 2008, Obama was not only able to break North Carolina from the GOP’s hold, but also the newly classified toss-up state of Virginia — and moved 28 electoral votes out of McCain’s column. Combined with Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico in the Mountains, Republicans needed significant numbers elsewhere to make up for that lost electoral ground or recapture those renegade states.
Granted, as I’ve written here earlier, President Obama doesn’t need North Carolinato win re-election. Its 15 electoral votes are much more critical to any scenario that envisions a Romney election.
But it appears that the Black brothers’ pattern of base regions is forming again in the general campaign this fall. Can Romney hold those breakaway states like North Carolina,Virginia and the desert Southwest states to put together his electoral coalition? Or will Obama continue to hold those states from the GOP?
Beyond the horse-race focus at the national level, the real campaign strategy and action is in the states this fall — and the numbers will add up quickly.