Blue-State Math Is Boon to Obama, Target for GOP
Deep-blue: Voted Democratic is the last five presidential elections
Light-blue: Voted Democratic
Red: Voted Republican
A presidential election isn't a contest to win the popular vote nationwide; it is a contest to win in a combination of states that will produce 270 votes in the electoral college. Eighteen states plus the District of Columbia have voted Democratic in the last five presidential elections. Combined, they carry 242 electoral votes -- 90% of the votes needed for victory. See how states' electoral college votes were cast since 1992.
Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:
Amid those dark political clouds overhead right now, President Barack Obama can console himself with this silver lining: The electoral map remains stacked in favor of him and his Democrats.
In a close presidential election—and there is every reason to believe that 2012's will be—that is an important and often overlooked fundamental. It will affect the strategic decisions both parties make as the campaign unfolds. Indeed, the shape of the electoral map already appears to be driving some moves this year, and offers signposts indicating which states will be pivotal next year.
The important thing to remember about a presidential election is that it isn't a contest to win the popular vote nationwide. It is a contest to win in a combination of states that will produce the 270 votes in the electoral college that give a candidate the majority there.
Therein lies the Democrats' built-in advantage. They happen to start with a bloc of reliably blue states that is larger, and much richer in electoral votes, than the reliably red bloc Republicans have on their side. If a Democratic presidential candidate merely hangs on to this trove of deep-blue states, he or she is a long way down the road to victory.
Specifically, there are 18 states plus the District of Columbia that have voted Democratic in all five presidential elections since 1992. Combined, they carry 242 electoral votes—90% of the votes needed for victory.
Republicans have a much smaller bloc of highly reliable electoral college votes. There are just 13 states that have gone red in each of the last five elections, and they deliver 102 electoral votes, less than half of the number needed.
That means the key to victory for President Obama is holding this blue line. Doing so will be significantly harder this year, because he is running amid economic distress of a magnitude unseen in any of those five previous elections. But if he manages to hold his party's blue base, he would need to pick off only a few more less-friendly states.
The most likely additional states for the Democrats are the five—Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada and Ohio—that have gone Democratic in either three or four of the last five elections. If President Obama carries all of these light-blue states, while hanging on to all the deepest-blue states, he will have 281 electoral votes, 11 more than he needs.
And that, it should be noted, would be without having to win the giant swing state of Florida, or needing to hold on to the normally red states of Virginia and North Carolina that Mr. Obama won in 2008.
So the question for Republicans is pretty simple: Which of the deep-blue or blue-leaning states can they pick off? Know the answer to that question and you'll know where the 2012 action will be.
Indeed, the president faces problems in some of those deep-blue states, which suggests that the wall can be breached. "Recent history aside, Obama will have to work hard to keep the Democratic base intact in 2012," political analyst Rhodes Cook wrote in a recent newsletter examining the electoral map. "Not only does it include states on the two coasts, but also industrial battlegrounds such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin."
The president's job-approval rating was below 50% in both California and Pennsylvania in recent polls, for example.
Another state that jumps out as a particular trouble spot is Wisconsin. Republican Gov. Scott Walker won the governor's seat there in 2010, and his blunt confrontation with public-employee unions has energized conservatives—and aroused liberals. How that translates into presidential politics is crucial.
Among the light-blue states, Iowa and New Hampshire both offer GOP opportunities. But big Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, is the juiciest target for Republicans among the light-blue states. Notably, the president's job-approval rating in Ohio stood just below 50% in a summertime Quinnipiac University poll.
Even if the president keeps all of the dark-blue states and all of the other light-blue states, take Ohio out of his column and he comes up seven electoral votes short.
Where could he make up those votes? Here's a good guess: Colorado, a swing state Mr. Obama won in 2008 after it went Republican in three of the previous four elections. It just happens to have nine electoral votes. Take out Ohio and plug in Colorado, and the president just squeaks by.
It's easy to see how these electoral calculations already are playing out, by watching where Democrats are focusing their energies and where President Obama is spending his time. It's no coincidence that both Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were in light-blue Ohio in the past week. On Tuesday, the president arrives in Colorado, trying to shore up his standing in that potentially crucial swing state.