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Republican Problem #1: The Shrinking Map

Over the next few days, The 7-10 will feature a series of essays dissecting the election results. Most of the political world's attention will understandably be focused on Barack Obama and his transition to the White House. However, that the Republican Party is in serious trouble cannot be denied. These essays will address what these problems are and how to overcome them.

The first major problem Republicans have is their limited appeal in large states. Here are the five largest states that John McCain won:

Texas (34)
Georgia (15)
Tennessee (11)
Missouri (11)
Arizona (10)

These five states are worth a total of 81 electoral votes.

Now consider Barack Obama's five largest states:

California (55)
New York (31)
Florida (27)
Pennsylvania (21)
Illinois (21)

These five states are worth a total of 155 electoral votes. If you want to know why Obama had so many paths to 270 while McCain only had one or two, this is why. Republicans are automatically locked out of too many electorally rich states which increases their number of must-win states elsewhere. Democrats, on the other hand, have more electoral flexibility.

Keep in mind that John McCain appears to have won Missouri by only about 6000 votes, and Arizona almost certainly would have been a battleground if it had not been McCain's home state. The Republican Party cannot remain viable as a national party if it is only the party of small rural states. Do not be fooled by the geographical size of places like Idaho, Nebraska, Mississippi, and Kentucky when looking at the large swaths of red on the electoral map. "Tiny" New Jersey and Massachusetts have more electoral votes than these four states combined.

Democrats have been warned that only moderate or conservative Southern Democrats could be competitive nationally. And they have been warned that Democrats could never win a presidential election without the South. But the non-Southern Obama (and his non-Southern running mate Joe Biden) found a way to do so. Yes, he did win Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. But even if McCain had somehow won all three of these states, Obama still would have won the presidency with more than 300 electoral votes.

Barack Obama won states in every region of the country. In addition to picking the Republicans' pocket in the South and the Mountain West, he totally swept the Pacific Coast, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Midwest. Obama won every state from Minnesota to Maine. A future Democrat might not be able to replicate Obama's success in places like Indiana and North Carolina, but Obama's victory proves that Republicans can no longer take these states for granted.

And it's not just about presidential races. It's about congressional races as well. With the defeat of moderate Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut, Republicans are literally nonexistent in New England and increasingly marginalized in the West and the Midwest. If the Republican Party is restricted to the South, it will have a hard time expanding its appeal to areas of the country that are less culturally and politically conservative. Republicans mocked these parts of the country a lot during the campaign season, but they will need to be a bit more mature and make sincere overtures to voters in these blue states if they want to expand their political influence in the future. Democrats are not the party with the regional problem. It's the Republicans.

On top of this, demographic changes as a result of immigration and migration to booming centers of international commerce and technology are threatening to swipe the two largest McCain states off the table in the future. In Georgia, Atlanta is growing fast. This urban core may eventually offset the rural, conservative parts of the state. Even worse for Republicans, the booming Latino population and the growth of cities like Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio may very well turn Texas into a swing state in 2012 or 2016.

If California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois are safely in the Democrats' column while they have a realistic shot at Florida and Ohio and an outside shot at Texas, there just aren't enough votes elsewhere for Republicans to have a plausible path to the presidency.

Again, this means Republicans will have find a way to increase their appeal to voters in blue states. People of color, moderates, suburban voters, non-churchgoers, and voters living in urban areas cannot be ignored by the GOP any longer because the segment of America Republicans represent is shrinking.

Republicans' demographic problems will be addressed in more detail in the next part of this series.

And finally, some skeptics may say that the reason why Democrats won this election is not because of the Democrats' strength, but rather because of the bad economy. I would counter that this is self-defeating thinking because it means Republicans are automatically surrendering this issue to the Democrats. As a Democrat, Obama did not surrender the issue of taxes to the Republicans. He didn't surrender the issue of national security to the Republicans either. Republicans will have to learn how to fight on all issues so that they won't be caught flatfooted if external events intervene. Obama should get credit for fighting on Republican turf.

11 comment(s):

S.W. Anderson said...

"moderate Rep. Chris Shays"

You'll probably find him in the same undisclosed location the old John McCain disappeared to a few years back.

The Shays voters elected to the low office of private citizen yesterday was a safe vote for everything DeLay, Hastert and Boehner wanted. And what they wanted was what the White House told them they wanted.

I won't belabor how what the White House wanted was anything but moderate.

S.W. Anderson said...

Your analysis is excellent. So much so, I hope Republicans won't dwell on it.

I will add, though, that Obama got a boost not just from the trashed economy, but also because a laundry list of things disliked and gone wrong caught up with Republicans this year. Because of that, for once, Republicans' lies, demagoguery, smear-and-jeer tactics and their endless supply wedge issues didn't work. Those were like insects splatting on the front of a speeding locomotive, this time.

Next time might be different.

Matthew Nuckolls said...

Long and short of it is that the Republican party has become recursive, representing no particular ideology other than the continued dominance of the Republican party. Now they have nothing left.

In a just world, the GOP would go ahead and die gracefully, so that some other party could gain mindshare amongst the more conservative folk.

Schenck said...

Great post, Anthony. And right on the money (again).

I know you'll address this soon as Republican Problem #2, 3, or 37, but the party is SERIOUSLY ideologically conflicted. I propose a clean break: Christian Taliban/Anti-Intellectuals (AHEM...Palin, etc.), the Corporate/Money Party (secular bourgeoisie), and, of course, our beloved Libertarians and Constitutionalists.

While we're at it... Centrists (blue dogs, centers, center-rights... see: old school McCain), Dems ("socialists!" Obama, Hillary, etc.), and Progressives (Kucinich, Gravel).

Anthony Palmer said...


Shays' defeat should be a warning to the GOP because he's the only type of Republican that could win in the Northeast. The Wall Street/country club Republican that is moderate on cultural issues is being forced out of the GOP by the rural evangelical conservative. If the GOP wants to be competitive in New England and the Upper Midwest again, they're going to have to become a bit more tolerant of moderates, I believe.

I also agree that the overall electoral climate was so poor this time around that I'm not so sure any Republican could have won. I mean, an unpopular president is one thing, but that plus two wars and a bad economy might have been a little too much. I don't know. But McCain definitely had a chance until Palin came along. I think voters really wanted to punish Bush and believe he escaped 2000 and 2004 unscathed. I guess Rovian politics finally caught up with the GOP this time.



I think all parties go through this cycle, particularly after a tough defeat. You'll notice that in Obama's speeches, he said "John McCain spends a lot of time talking about me" which means they're not talking about their own agenda. It's a lot easier to vote FOR someone than to vote AGAINST someone. Republicans gave nobody a reason why they should be hired, and they lost. We'll see how long it takes for them to learn.



I think Blue Dogs have even more power now than they did before this election. There are enough of these Democrats to wield considerable influence, I think. They might agree with the Republicans on a lot of issues, but don't like the way Republicans ran Congress. So they get the Republican policies without the Republican label and have less aversion to supporting the Democrats because they are of the same party. I think Obama should pay special attention to these moderates.

S.W. Anderson said...

Matthew Nuckolls wrote: ". . .the Republican party has become recursive, representing no particular ideology other than the continued dominance of the Republican party."

Bush pursued classical GOP pro-corporate, pro-business, pro-wealthy ideological ends. Think Robinhood in reverse. He drew inspiration from his reported favorite predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, of all presidents.

And, in classical GOP fashion, Bush and his administration spawned — no, ensured — excesses of greed, selfishness and corruption. And with those, boom and bust. Only, Bush pursued his ends so incompetently the boom was as puny and anemic as the bust is big and strong.

The GOP certainly has ideology beyond getting and keeping power. Follow the money trail to find it.

S.W. Anderson said...

AP, I've harbored this thought since the beginning of the year.

The GOP's best ticket for 2008 would've been Chuck Hagel and Jack Kemp, or vice-versa.

Hagel is a principled, moderate Republican and honest. He's one of very few of that description not shoved so far to the sidelines you need a passport to go see him, or on display in a jar of formaldehyde in Karl Rove's lair.

Kemp is a pro-business Republican icon. As such, he could've attracted the big-money money Hagel couldn't.

If the two could've struck a deal to lead the party back toward the center, and made doing that a major theme of their campaign, they might've had a chance.

Also, Kemp and Hagel would've had to be willing to tell the Hagees and the Dobsons of the religious right to join the move toward the center or take a hike.

Dominic Gwinn said...

One thing I think will be particularly interesting is if/how the Republican party will react the rise in faux-Libertarians. With some very careful "Roveian-Atwater" style trickery, the GOP could easily rebuild it's base with the coveted 18-30 demographic.

Many of the newer, younger Libertarians are Ron Paul loyalists and won't be swayed, but some could be open to the general party if they accepted Ron Paul. It's just as likely, however, that those "Paulites" will lean towards Obama if Obama/Emanuel whips Congress enough to make some real progress in the next four years.

King Politics said...


As always, good stuff. On Texas. It is quite possible that by 2012 or 2016 will be competitive for the Blues. But, being realistic, in that scenario, we'd be looking at a Democratic rout either way. Meaning, if a Dem is competitive in Texas, he or she is probably winning 35 + states. Yet, you are correct. The largest counties in Texas all went blue: Dallas, Travis (Austin), Bexar (San Antonio), Harris (Houston) and El Paso. The trick for Dems is to start attracting national money in the same way Hagan in NC did and Musgrove in MS did. Force the GOP to defend its home turf and Dems have a shot.

Brett said...

One correction, Anthony - technically Shays was just the last House Republican in New England. There are still Republican Senators, such as Olympia Snowe (an interesting combination of social liberal and hawk), and now Susan Collins.

Anthony Palmer said...


Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are iconic senators. They are both centrist, bipartisan, and genuinely likeable and effective senators. Tom Allen didn't stand a chance in his senate race.

Judd Gregg seems to be the next GOP senator from New England to be in danger in 2010. If he were to fall, that would live the two Maine senators as the only Republicans left. (Not sure how you'd classify Lieberman though.)



You make an interesting point. I think Ron Paul has created a following among Republicans that is similar to what Hillary Clinton created (inadvertently?) with the PUMAs. I guess a little respect would go a long way. Seems to me that the Ron Paul fans are better at reaching out to new voters and taking advantage of new media opportunities than the GOP national party.

I think it boils down to Republicans taking ideological purity to an unhealthy extreme. They can keep kicking people out of their party and calling them phony conservatives and whatnot, but that will leave a smaller tent and a larger number of disaffected Republicans who won't turn out to vote.


Dr. King,

You'll notice that Florida, North Carolina, and Indiana didn't turn blue because the Democrats became more liberal. They went blue because Obama was able to make centrists more comfortable with his party platform. This is what the Republicans need to do. If Texas becomes a swing state, it's all over for the GOP.



Republicans would probably brand Hagel as a traitor because he (gasp) doesn't toe the party line. And Kemp doesn't have the pizazz to draw new voters to him. I do believe, however, that Hagel would have been a MUCH stronger nominee than McCain, however. An a Hagel presidential bid would have made the Palin selection meaningless because Hagel is a social conservative with a less threatening/off-putting temperament.

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