In the modern US presidential system few states are really competitive, let alone fought over. Partisan realignment has assured that few states are in current elections. But in 2008 President Barack Obama expanded the map into the Democrats column. Now it looks like the economy will expand the map the other way for the GOP. The GOP can credibly claim to be competitive in 11 states that have been competitive in the past or voted Democrat. Democrats cannot claim to really have put any new GOP states from 2008 on the map. So without further ado, here are the early 12 battleground states for president of the US. organized by the region they are in.
Colorado: In recent years the partisan tilt of the state has shifted dramatically. Substantial growth in the left-leaning Denver suburbs and Hispanic growth has contributed to this red state swinging purple. In 2008 the state went for Barack Obama by 54%-45% after going for President Bush by 52%-47%. It is noticeable how much the center of political power has swung in this state. Since 04 Democrats have won the governorship twice, and held the state House and Senate, until losing the House in 2010. All this points to a competitive match-up in this Western state. The number of Republicans and Democrats in the state is virtually identical, making independents key for a victory or loss here. Depending who the GOP nominates, their candidate could have appeal in the better educated suburbs (Romney) or the rural regions of the state (Perry). Obama has seen his approval ratings in the state tank and is now underwater (thought not as bad as other states).
Nevada: In 2008 this state underwent a 15 point shift in favor of the Democrats at the presidential level. The state that had voted 51%-48% for Bush in 2004 moved to Obama 55%-43%. But that was then and this is now. Nevada has one of the worst unemployment ratings in the country of over 13% and the GOP won back a Congressional seat based in the hurting Las Vegas suburbs in 2010 and held the governorship. The growing Hispanic vote has buoyed Democrats chances of holding the state. But Democrats face growing problems with the state’s suburban and rural white voters. In 2008 Democrats won the Las Vegas suburbs against a GOP incumbent 48%-42%. But in 2010 a GOP challenger won a race which saw a 7 point swing from 08 to the GOP. In 2008 Obama almost won 50% of the vote in the GOP leaning NV-2 even as he was winning elsewhere in the state. But fast-forward to a 2011 special election to replace Rep. Dean Heller (became US Senator after John Ensign resigned) and the seat went Republican by over 20 points. All this points to a state hurting in this economy that has swung it to the right. How far it has swung is an open question. Democrats still hold both chambers of the state legislature and all state offices but the Governorship. There are a couple of factors that could help the GOP here. If Republicans nominate Mitt Romney his Mormon roots could bring those Republican voters to the polls in massive numbers in Northern Nevada. Likewise, Rick Perry could play well among the state’s growing Hispanic vote.
New Mexico: According to the 2010 Census this is the first state to declare whites as less than 50% of the population and that has consequences for 2012. Despite GOP gains in 2010 (won the Governorship and a Congressional seat) this state has become bluer since 2004 when it went for George Bush by less than 1% in 04. Like all the other state’s in the West that have become competitive or swung to the left it has been buoyed by the Hispanic growth in the state. Unemployment in the state has hung around the national average so its bearing on the race will likely be linked to national plans for jobs. Obama easily won the state in 2008 57%-42% which means the GOP will have to work overtime to win this state. New Mexico early on looks like a swing state despite its left tilt but unless Democratic leaning voters switch their allegiance in 2012 this state could quickly be written off by the GOP.
Pennsylvania: No GOP candidate for president has won this state since 1988. And since the beginning of 09 that trend looks less and less likely to continue. Obama won this state by 10% in 2008 but since then Democrats has lost 5 Congressional seats, a Senate Seat, and the legislature and Governorship. Even worse, consistently polls are now showing the president underwater in approval. The president’s problem, and perhaps the GOP’s gain, is his persistent weakness with white working class voters. These voters, also known as Jacksonian Democrats, went for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Primary and only grudgingly came back to Obama in the general. Now their votes look a lot less assured. Suburban voters around Philadelphia still approve of the president but they along with Metro Philadelphia are not enough to carry the president to victory. For the president and Republicans, the battle for this state will be fought among its swing working class voters. And fortunately for the GOP, these voters have swung right since 2008.
Ohio: Ohio is the quintessential Midwestern swing state. It has backed the winner of the presidential election over 10 times in a row and has a pretty good sampling of the demographics of the country. Since 2008 they state has swung right, electing 5 new GOP Congressman, a new GOP Governor, a GOP controlled state legislature as well as all other state offices. But the state’s electoral power was diminished by the 2010 census. Ohio lost two Congressional districts knocking down its electoral power. The state is still critical however, not just for its demographic representation of the country as a whole but also its remaining electoral votes. Republicans start with a built-in advantage among suburban voters and white working class voters but will have to expand their coalition to win. For the president, as in Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states he needs to win back independents and white working class voters. True to its nature, Ohio is likely to go down to the wire in 2010.
Michigan: Like Pennsylvania, Michigan has not gone Republican for president since 1988 and like Pennsylvania the state looks up for grabs in 2012. The reason is simple. The economy. Michigan has been devastated by the recession. In 2010 Republicans took the state legislature and all state offices, and won back 3 Congressional districts. And the president’s approval in the state is underwater. Even the president’s bailouts of Chrysler and GM have appeared to hurt and not help him in this state. The state is mostly white with a major black population in and around Detroit and once again working class whites who have leaned Democratic in recent elections look up for grabs. If Republicans nominate Mitt Romney he might have play with older voter due to his father being a former Governor in the state. But like other swing states nationwide this state looks likely to hang on the economy. If the economy does not improve the president will lose working and suburban whites. And even with strong union support (weakened as it is) in the state it is hard to see the president holding on here.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin has swung several ways since 2008. In 2010 voters put the GOP in control of a new US Senate seat, Congressional district, all state offices and the state legislature. In return the GOP promised to balance the budget and weaken union authority. And so they did. But in doing so they angered the base of the Democratic party, the unions. In the beginning of 2011 the state legislature passed laws limiting CBA powers. And in return Democrats and the unions successfully put six GOP state Senators up for recall in a special election over 4 weeks. Over the course of those elections Democrats successfully recalled two of the six GOP senators, one short to swing control of the state senate. But unions also promised to recall GOP Governor Scott Walker and continue to work towards this end. How this as well as a newly opened US Senate seat play into the presidential race is unknown. Both Republicans and Democrats are mobilized in the state and the partisan divide has grown. In the recall independents favored GOP incumbents by a narrow margin. This indicates a close election in 2012. Once again the economy, but also local and state issues, such as CBA rights, will play a major role.
Iowa: Iowa went narrowly for Al Gore in 2000 and then narrowly swung to George Bush in 2004. It swung back to Democrats in 2008. But in the midterms of 2010 the state swung GOP at every level. Three new GOP state Supreme Court justices were elected, as were all new GOP state officials. Democrats narrowly held the state Senate and did not lose a Congressional seat. But Iowa is now losing a Congressional seat to reapportionment lessening its power, if not swing nature, in the presidential race. The president’s approval in this purple state has hung around or below 50% and the state’s unemployment rate has hung around the national average. Bt most key to the president’s reelection is he has maintained the allegiance of suburban swing voters in the Des Moines suburbs. But like many other Midwestern states Iowa is likely to swing on the economy. And Hispanics according to the Census have shrunk and not grown in the state since 2000, perhaps aiding the GOP. Despite all this and its loss of an electoral vote, Iowa is likely to be fought over tooth and nail in 2012.
New Hampshire: As New England has become more Democratic, New Hampshire has succeeded in maintaining its swing status. To illustrate this look at the last three elections. In 2000 New Hampshire was the only state in the region to back George Bush. In 2004 it narrowly backed John Kerry and in 2008 it went to Barack Obama but only by 9% as he was winning every other state in the region by double-digit margins. And New Hampshire looks as swingy today as it did back in 2000. In 2010 the GOP won new majorities in the legislature and elected 2 new GOP Congressmen and a new US Senator. And things look bleak for Democrats in this state. The president is underwater in approval and if the Republicans nominate Mitt Romney he could have regional appeal in the state. The only plus for Democrats here is the state GOP Party is in disarray after a disastrous new GOP chairman was voted out in the last month. New Hampshire looks once again to be the only competitive state in New England, who wins it is anybody’s guess.
Florida: Florida is the quintessential Southern swing state. It has wide demographic representation and has backed the winner of the presidential election since 1992 when the state went for HW Bush. Florida has been hit hard by the recession and has an unemployment rate above the national average. In 2010 the state saw the GOP make huge inroads. The GOP held an open Senate seat, won three new Congressional districts, and held every state office, strengthening their hold on the legislature in the process. President Obama ran especially weak here among white voters in 2008, especially in Northern Florida, and struggled with the Cuban population (McCain won them). Traditionally this state has been decided by the voters who live along the I-4 Corridor but 2012 could be different. This state could all depend on turnout. Among the key supporters of the president here in 2008, blacks, non-Cuban Hispanics and the young chronic unemployment is persistent. It is estimated over 20% of blacks in the state are unemployed. If these voters do not turn out for the president he could lose the state even if he wins independents. However, the president may be buoyed by the fact the new GOP Governor, Rick Scott, is unpopular and his reforms have yet to show progress. Still, Florida currently looks like a tough nut for the president to crack, especially if his base’s turnout suffers (despite massive turnout he only won here 51%-48%).
Virginia: Virginia has emerged as a new swing state in presidential politics. The election of 2008 marked the first time since 1964 Virginia had gone for a Democrat for president (a 52%-47% R to 53%-47% D). This shift was buoyed by a bad economy, the growth of the left-leaning Norfolk suburbs and working class whites coming back to the Democratic fold. The elections of 2009 and 2010 saw the state return to its GOP roots however. The GOP won back all state offices in 2009 and in 2010 captured three new Congressional districts in the state. Most distressing for Democrats was that conservative Democrats in the state abandoned long-time Democratic incumbents for GOP challengers. Just as in the Midwest the president faces the daunting challenge of rebuilding his 2008 coalition. Meanwhile, the GOP has the built-in support of new working class whites and rural voters. If turnout is even among Democrats and Republicans, as both bases turn out, the race would be decided in Northern Virginia, an advantage to the president. But if, as some polls show, the president’s base does not turn out he would need to rack up huge margins among independents in Northern Virginia to win. And right now, he is not popular among these voters in the state.
North Carolina: Like Virginia, North Carolina is new to the national scene as a swing state. North Carolina’s swing mirrors Virginia’s. Voting for Republican George Bush in 04 56%-44% the state shifted to President Obama narrowly 50%-49%. North Carolina is a harder state for a Democrat to win than Virginia however for demographic reasons. Conservative Democrats in North Carolina appear more Republican at the federal level then Virginia conservative Democrats. And despite the growth of Hispanics in the state they have yet to emerge as a large voting bloc in presidential races. The new Democratic suburbs of Raleigh also have less voting power than Northern Virginia. The GOP, even in 2008, has been making inroads among the state’s white rural voters and in 2010 that trend accelerated significantly. And since the start of 2011 the president has not been able to turn his approval ratings positive. Once again, like Virginia, the president needs his base to turn out. Republicans need independents and rural whites to come out in force. North Carolina could easily swing either way in 2012.