Saturday, June 14, 2008

Another Voice Says 'No Change' in Electoral Map

Joe Klein has penned a nicely written tribute to his friend and professional colleague, NBC's Tim Russert, in Newsweek.

Russert died yesterday at the age of 58, and there were eulogies to him on every news channel out there last night. It's hard to imagine a broadcast journalist, active or retired, who wasn't asked to weigh in somewhere last night.

I think one of the nicest, most complete memorials to Russert's career appeared in his hometown newspaper, the Buffalo News.

There are other tributes to Russert this morning, of course.

The New York Daily News devoted an editorial to his memory today.

And Tom Shales writes, in the Washington Post, "[H]e couldn't have died. It seems impossible. Tim Russert can't be gone because he was having too good a time."

Russert, a consummate political junkie, was "loving this election" between Barack Obama and John McCain, Klein writes, "as much as any we'd covered" in several decades in the business. "I just can't believe he won't be around to find out how it ends."

Most observers, of course, simply assume they will be around to see how the final chapter is written.

Some people (myself included) are making some guesses as to what the final outcome will be, based on voting patterns from past elections. Stuart Rothenberg confirmed my opinion in his Rothenberg Political Report earlier this week.

Neither of us can see a profound shift coming in the United States' electoral breakdown -- on the presidential level.

Today, another voice is telling us that the electoral map is not going to be radically different this fall.

In National Journal, John Mercurio writes, "[A]fter months of predictions that a John McCain vs. Barack Obama race could produce a dramatically reconfigured electoral map, will we once again watch a classic red-blue divide take shape, essentially the same map we've seen in the past two presidential elections?

"If this week's debate over the economy and taxes offers any clues, the answer is yes."

Mercurio doesn't expect to see a "'red' California or 'blue' Virginia -- not even a 'purple' Mississippi" when the votes are being counted in November.

Mercurio anticipates "[j]ust another America with blue coastlines, a big swath of red in the Mountain West and Deep South and a fierce battle in key Northeastern and Midwestern states."

Pundits have been pushing the point for quite awhile that Obama and McCain are different from their parties' nominees in recent elections -- which means new choices and new directions for many states.

But the choices aren't looking so revolutionary now. It's taken on a "same song, second (or third or fourth or fifth) verse" kind of quality.

"While he initially opposed them as a giveaway to the rich, McCain now embraces his pivot (on tax cuts) and paints Obama as the tax-and-spend liberal that voters have rejected in seven of the past 10 presidential elections," says Mercurio.

For good measure, Mercurio observes, McCain accused Obama of "'running for Jimmy Carter's second' term" with his economic proposals.

Poor Jimmy Carter seems to be everybody's whipping boy, even though I don't believe he deserves it.

(Harry Truman once said that the Great Depression was not created by Herbert Hoover, it was created for him. I feel much the same way about the economic problems that afflicted the Carter administration.)

As for Obama, Mercurio writes, "There are ... plenty of unpopular presidents to go around these days. Speaking in St. Louis ... Obama threw his albatross of choice around his opponent's neck. 'I've said John McCain is running to serve out a third Bush term, but when it comes to taxes, that's not being fair to George Bush,' he said. 'Senator McCain wants to add $300 billion more in tax breaks and loopholes for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans.'"

If the candidates are reverting to form, why should we think the voters won't do likewise?

Mercurio seems to agree.

"[C]onsidering the stark choices offered by the two candidates on high-priority issues such as the economy, Iraq, health care and abortion rights," says Mercurio, "it's hard to see how we're bracing for a whole new world, or even a new map."

Charlie Cook wrote earlier this week in National Journal that, although both sides talk about campaigning in all 50 states, as if they actually had a chance of winning each state, "[d]on't bet on it."

And Cook (eerily) referred to Russert in his column (at the time the column was written, Russert's death was still a few days away). "Instead of 'Florida, Florida, Florida' or 'Ohio, Ohio, Ohio,' as NBC's Tim Russert said in 2000 and 2004, respectively, he could be saying 'Colorado, Colorado, Colorado.'"

Cook's most recent Electoral College assessment suggested that McCain could depend on 27 states worth 260 electoral votes, Obama could count on 18 states and D.C. worth 242 electoral votes, and the race would be decided by the outcomes in five states (Minnesota, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada) worth 36 electoral votes.

That analysis was published in April. Things may have changed since then.

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