Most of the swing states are an easy call. Iowa, for example, went narrowly for Al Gore in 2000 and narrowly for George W. Bush four years later. Obama carried it by 9.5 points, a little more than a couple of points over his national margin of 7.2 points. New Hampshire flipped from a narrow Bush state in 2000 to one narrowly carried by Sen. John Kerry, a New Englander, in 2004. Both times the outcome in the Granite State was close.
Florida was a tie in 2000 but went for Bush by 5 points — about twice that of his national margin — in 2004. Obama’s margin in the state, less than 3 points, shows the Sunshine State’s GOP tilt, making it likely to swing back to presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney in a close election. Still, Florida is competitive enough to fall into the swing state category.
Ohio usually has a Republican tinge but is always close when the national contest is tight. Nevada, where Bush’s 2.6-point victory in ’04 almost mirrored his 2.4-point national margin, is much like Ohio, though with a growing Hispanic population that should benefit Democrats.
That leaves Virginia, Colorado and Wisconsin, along with the battleground states.
Bush’s margins in Virginia in 2000 and 2004 were slightly more than 8 points, much better than his national showing each time. Four years ago, Obama carried the state by just more than 6 points, about a point less than his national margin.
It’s possible that we’ve all been exaggerating Virginia’s competitiveness and that it will perform 3 points to 5 points more Republican than the nation as a whole.
Still, the growth of the Washington, D.C., suburbs, which are less conservative and more politically competitive than “Old Virginia,” suggests that the Old Dominion belongs on any list of competitive states.
The story is about the same in Colorado. It mirrored Bush’s Virginia showing in 2000 but was more Democratic than Virginia in 2004 (though Bush carried it as well), and even more Democratic in 2008.
In fact, Obama’s margin in Colorado, 9 points, was greater than his national margin of just more than 7 points. The growing importance of Hispanics in the state also can’t be overlooked.
Wisconsin is perhaps the most misunderstood state in the nation.
Obama won it by almost 14 points last time, a huge margin considering the size of his national win. That result, and the fact that the Badger State hasn’t gone Republican since 1984, apparently has led many to ignore the closeness of the ’00 and ’04 contests. Gore’s two-tenths of 1 percent margin was a hair under his national showing (he beat Bush in the popular vote by about a half a percentage point) and Kerry’s four-tenths of 1 percent victory made it, in percentage terms, the single closest state in the country.
While exit polling during the recent gubernatorial recall election shows the president with a comfortable advantage, his lead is likely to evaporate if the economy continues to slow. That fact, plus the state’s fundamentals (including the importance of working-class white voters) suggests an extremely close presidential race if the national race is also very close.
When I am asked whether Wisconsin is on the road to becoming a swing state, I answer “no” because it already is one.