Given recent events, John McCain is the likely Republican nominee. But looking ahead, the Electoral College situation looks difficult for the GOP in general and a McCain candidacy in particular. Most of the biggest states—California, New York, Illinois—are likely to go to the Democrats, and it is unlikely that the GOP’s wafer-thin 2004 victory can be repeated in 2008, given that the unpopular Iraq war is in its fifth year.
Before the 2004 presidential elections, political analyst Pat Buchanan wrote a mathematical analysis of how a Kerry-Gephardt ticket might beat George W. Bush. This article attempts to create a similar analysis of how, for better or for worse, the Democrats—using a hypothetical Clinton-Obama ticket (or Obama-Clinton ticket)—are favored to win the Oval Office.
Consider how a possible Democratic strategy might play out:
A hypothetical Clinton-Obama ticket would easily win in cosmopolitan New York (31). They are heavily favored to win in California (55), which no Republican has won since the 1980s. Likewise, blue states like Oregon (7) and Washington (11) have been Democratic for the past 5 elections and will likely remain so. In winning New York and the West Coast, Clinton-Obama would have already racked up 104 electoral votes.
Then, consider the Eastern states which are likely to be almost uncontested. Clinton and Obama will easily sweep Rhode Island (4), Massachusetts (12), D.C. (3), Connecticut (7), and Maryland (10). They are also favored to grab Vermont (3), which has trended blue since the Reagan days. Outside continental America, the Democrats must be conceded Hawaii (4). All these states will give them 43 extra votes, for a total of 147.
Then, consider the impact of the Democratic entourage. Obama must deliver his home state of Illinois (21)—which also happens to be Hillary’s birthplace. For his wife, ex-governor Bill Clinton will pull every string he can to get voters in Arkansas (6) to come out for their favorite son. Together, this would deliver 27 votes, and the Democrats will only need 96 more votes to win.
How the Democrats acquire the remaining votes is only a matter of mathematics. Should John McCain become the Republican nominee, he will be heavily attacked on the two fronts where he is most unpopular—free trade and the war—and these issues will likely win for the Democrats.
Consider free trade. If the Democrats hammer McCain on lost manufacturing and mining jobs, they will likely do well in the Rust Belt—Michigan (17), Pennsylvania (21), and possibly Ohio (20) and Indiana (11). These states have borne the brunt of the 3.7 million manufacturing jobs lost from 2001 to 2007, and McCain’s Ricardian stance on trade is unlikely to resonate well here. These states are worth 69 votes, leaving the Democrats just 27 votes to the Oval Office.
From this point, Clinton and Obama can sweep the election by playing the war card. There are several ways to gain the remaining 27 votes, and all of them look equally attractive—and likely.
First, the Democrats have fair chances of taking Florida (27), where Gore tied Bush in 2000.
Second, if the Democrats hammer home their anti-war message, they might take Wisconsin (10), Minnesota (10), and Iowa (7)—three anti-war states that have lost more soldiers in Iraq than to September 11th.
Third, there isn’t any reason why Clinton and Obama can’t win in New Hampshire (4), Maine (4), Delaware (3), and New Jersey (15), which are worth a total of 26 of the remaining 27 votes needed. Winning these states and one of the aforementioned states would do the trick.
All of a sudden, the prospect of America’s first female or black president doesn’t seem so distant after all.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, it’s difficult to win the White House without winning blue states. Even if they sweep the entire Old Confederacy, the Great Plains, and the Mountain States, they could still lose the election.
The Republicans cannot win by relying on what worked in the past. The 2004 election strategy of George W. Bush—win the Red States and try to grab a few populous swing states—was only sufficient for a tiny margin in 50-50 America. What the GOP desperately needs today is another man of Ronald Reagan’s stature. Otherwise, they are unlikely to prevail against an ascendant Democratic Party eager to make history.