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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Larry Sabato

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Larry Sabato

Last Build Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2008 22:30:49 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Meet the New Map--Same as the Old Map (Almost)

Thu, 18 Sep 2008 22:30:49 -0600

Then the presidential contest got its real shake-up. McCain and his staff had not been fooled by the polls that suggested he was gaining on Obama. The underlying, fundamental factors of this election year are strongly Democratic: a highly unpopular Republican president, a deteriorating economy in significant ways, a foreign war most Americans believe should not have been fought, and an enthusiasm gap between the parties that was producing record Democratic donations and voter registrations. McCain was on track to score a respectable second-place finish, the usual fate of candidates of the incumbent party who try to win a third consecutive term. Always a gambler, McCain rolled the dice and selected a nearly unknown governor of Alaska. Despite scant experience in foreign affairs and on the national stage, Sarah Palin electrified the conservative base of the GOP. Never happy with the maverick McCain, the base recognized that Palin held their views on abortion, guns, creationism, and other social issues. Moreover, Palin shattered the stifling stereotype of the Republican party as the home of 'old white males'. She was young, attractive, dynamic, and plain spoken. The campaign called her a 'reform governor', reinforcing part of McCain's image, and instantly, the McCain-Palin ticket became another way for voters to cast a ballot for change. Palin's potential historic first neutralized somewhat Obama's; her age (44) was even younger than Obama's (47), projecting future-orientation. McCain gave up some of his advantage on experience over Obama---since Palin could hardly be termed more knowledgeable about government than Obama (except by predictable partisans who will always find their nominee's scant resume fuller than the other party's scant one)---but the experience theme wasn't working for McCain anyway. We won't know for sure whether Palin was fully vetted by the McCain campaign until the post-election books are published, though it certainly looks as though she was not, given the results of various press investigations over the past couple of weeks. Recent history underlines the dangers for the campaign in this. The last two 'surprise' VP nominees were disasters for their parties (Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Dan Quayle in 1988), in part because the campaign itself and party elders knew too little to defend the VP nominees from attack. But McCain's staff learned something from the earlier examples, especially Quayle's. Journalists can be counted upon to do their duty, as they see it, and ask a lot of uncomfortable questions about an obscure nominee who might be suddenly thrust into the most powerful office on earth. They will search relentlessly for negative information, and competitively publish and air it as soon as possible. Yet the campaign knew that Republicans hate the mainstream media. Nothing would set the grassroots on fire like a media firestorm about Palin. Presto! Both the media and the GOP base responded in predictable Pavlovian fashion, and for the first time ever, McCain became the hero of the Republican Right, alongside Palin. McCain is now actually free of the need to tend to the conservative base, enabling him to go hunting for the more moderate swing independents who will actually determine the election. Combined with McCain's convention bounce, Palin's strength among the base, and according to some (but not all) polls, her ability to attract a percentage of white women away from Obama, produced the first sustained, narrow McCain lead of the campaign. As this is written, tracking polls suggest that this bounce has flattened considerably, perhaps entirely. Whatever the short term picture, McCain is well aware that he has a mountain to climb. When the Palin effect dies down, as all such political phenomena eventually do, he will still have to contend with the albatrosses of Bush, the economy, and (to some degree) Iraq. The financial meltdown of the past week, shocking and appalling to virtually everyone regardless of political philosophy, has given Obama his first real general elect[...]

Vice President Tim Kaine?

Wed, 30 Jul 2008 08:30:22 -0600

1. Personal Chemistry There can be little doubt that this is the main reason why Obama is looking at Kaine. The first state governor outside Obama's Illinois to endorse Obama for President, Kaine was immediately drawn to the Illinois senator because they are two peas in a political pod. Both Harvard Law graduates with Kansas roots, both attorneys with a central focus on civil rights, and both relatively new to the big leagues, Obama and Kaine clearly like one another and enjoy each other's company. Obama has realized that a modern Vice President practically lives with the Chief Executive, especially in times of crisis, and he wants someone he can trust completely. One other similarity that some see is less flattering. Obama and Kaine are both supremely self-confident, and their adversaries (and even some of their friends) occasionally detect a hint of hubris and arrogance. On the other hand, we have never known a President or governor who was genuinely humble. That special quality possessed by the meek doesn't go hand in hand with high political office. 2. Emphasis on Domestic Policy The foremost issue in the minds of voters isn't Iraq or foreign affairs anymore; it's the sour economy and domestic policy. A governor focuses daily on the key components of domestic concern--jobs, education, transportation, health care, and the like. Kaine could speak with self assurance in these fields. Not only has he served as governor, but he was on the Richmond City Council from 1994 to 2001 (when he was elected lieutenant governor), and the Council-elected mayor of Richmond from 1998-2001. As an ambassador to the urban areas of America, Kaine would have credibility. 3. Out-of-Washington Change It has not escaped anyone's notice that the President is at 25 percent approval, the Congress is around 15 percent, and even the Supreme Court has fallen below 50 percent in some polls. Since Obama has been in Washington barely long enough to learn the street layout, he can avoid the awful, prevailing D.C. taint. Kaine adds emphasis to the 'change' theme since he has no Washington experience of any kind. 4. Virginia For decades, analysts prematurely proclaimed that the Old Dominion had become the New Dominion, and in the twenty-first century it's finally true. Among the most improbable of 2008's toss-up states, Virginia is on the knife's edge. It is not unreasonable to expect the sitting Governor to add a couple of points to Obama's total. Kaine is popular (mid-50s in most surveys), though not wildly so, as was his predecessor, Mark Warner, who is currently cruising to a big U.S. Senate victory in the state. Oh, it almost goes without saying that John McCain would have a very difficult time finding the 13 electoral votes he might lose in Virginia. Keep in mind that Virginia has voted Republican in thirteen of the last fourteen presidential contests (save only LBJ's in 1964), and the state is tied for the best GOP record in the nation. Even Georgian Jimmy Carter, who won all the other states of the South, couldn't take Virginia. Defeat in the New Dominion would be a major and perhaps decisive blow to McCain. Could Tim Kaine be the first VP nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1960 to deliver a critical, toss-up home state for his ticket? 5. Special Qualities Kaine is Roman Catholic, often described as "devout" even though he is pro-choice in effect while projecting a pro-life image and accepting of the death penalty despite personal opposition to it. Catholics are a swing vote in 2008, and Kaine's Christian religious orientation matches Obama's. This might help with the campaign's much publicized outreach to church-going Americans. Kaine is a former missionary to Honduras and he speaks fluent Spanish, which can only assist in the effort to woo Hispanics. Kaine is more national than real Virginian (as a native of Virginia, this author can snobbishly suggest this), having been born in Minnesota, having grown up in Kansas, and having attended colleges in Missouri and Massachusetts. Therefore, Kaine has ties to thre[...]

November's Electoral College Map

Thu, 10 Jul 2008 00:48:09 -0600

As the Democratic nominee in a year when conditions are truly awful for the incumbent Republican party, Barack Obama is considered the presidential frontrunner by a large majority of political observers (including many Republicans, privately), and the Crystal Ball is no different. If events intervene to reverse this, we'll revise the map, something we plan to do anyway throughout the fall campaign. The vice presidential nominees, if one or both are strong in their resident states or regions, may also trigger a map adjustment. History also suggests that the Electoral College system is only critical when the popular vote is reasonably close or disputed. That is, the College can potentially or actually upend the popular vote just in elections where the major-party candidates are within a point or two of one another (such as Kennedy/Nixon-1960, Nixon/Humphrey-1968, Carter/Ford-1976, Bush/Gore-2000, and Bush/Kerry-2004). For the purposes of this essay, we are making a similar assumption about a close election in November 2008, though it may prove to be untrue in the end. The forces at work in '08 may produce a comfortable margin that eliminates state-by-state plotting on the map. For now, we see the following states as Solid -- No Real Chance for Upset OBAMA - WA, CA, IL, MD, NY, VT, RI, MA, CT, NJ, DE, ME, DC, HI (183 electoral votes) Comments: The McCain camp has made public statements suggesting they have hopes of winning CA, CT, ME, NJ and WA. If they are serious, then they will end up wasting a lot of money because they are destined to lose all these states-yes, even their chance at a single electoral vote in Maine, where the capture of one of the two congressional districts would yield McCain a vote. McCAIN - ID, UT, AZ, WY, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, LA, AR, IN, KY, WV, TN, AL, SC (144 electoral votes) Comments: The Obama camp has made noises about trying to win in AR, AZ, IN, KS, LA, and ND. While the enormously superior Obama financial resources make their attempts at long-shot states more reasonable, and some early polls in Indiana have been close, we will be surprised if Obama secures any of these states. If Sen. Evan Bayh is added to the Democratic ticket, then an Obama upset in Indiana becomes a live possibility. Arizona, which has been abandoning its GOP ties in some elections, may well fall to the next Democratic candidate not running against an Arizonan. The odds are against Obama's capture of an electoral vote in Nebraska, which has a system similar to Maine's. Likely -- An Upset is Possible but Improbable OBAMA - OR, MN (17 electoral votes) Comments: The only West Coast state that McCain may sensibly target is Oregon. The results there in 2000 and 2004 were close but we believe that Obama is likely to duplicate Gore and Kerry's victories. The only way McCain could steal Minnesota is by picking Gov. Tim Pawlenty as his running mate. However, even a McCain-Pawlenty ticket would have a 50-50 chance, at best, of carrying Minnesota. Pawlenty did not secure a majority of the vote in either of his gubernatorial victories (in 2002 and 2006). McCAIN - AK, GA, MS, MT, ND (30 electoral votes) Comments: Some Alaska polls have had Obama behind McCain in single digits, but the Republican label is probably too strong here for an upset. Several Montana and North Dakota polls have had Obama slightly ahead or in a statistical dead heat with McCain, and Obama is undeniably spending time and money in both states; we are monitoring them closely, noting that both states have two Democratic U.S. senators and Montana also has a Democratic Governor, Brian Schweitzer, who will win another term by a wide margin this November. If Libertarian nominee and former Georgia GOP Congressman Bob Barr wins his projected 6 to 8 percent in the Peach State, or if Obama chooses former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, Obama could have a shot at a plurality victory--but for now we'll bet on McCain there, despite one poll that has the two tied. A giant African-American turnout might shift Mi[...]