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How Obama won: A look way back at the Electoral map

I have written that, by historical standards, the Obama victory was not a landslide. And it wasn’t, by a reasonable definition of landslide — a historically big margin in the […]

I have written that, by historical standards, the Obama victory was not a landslide. And it wasn’t, by a reasonable definition of landslide — a historically big margin in the popular and/or electoral vote. But here’s another way to look at it, that I stumbled on when (don’t ask me why) I was forced to review the gazillion pieces I wrote last year, that demonstrates what a big, sweeping, crushing victory Obama won last year.

Way back in May, while Hillary Clinton was still competing (past the point of any reasonable hope of winning the nomination) in primaries, before either Obama or John McCain had chosen their running mates or had any debates, the New York Times top political reporters secured and reported a list of 14 states that the McCain and Obama campaigns agreed would be “clearly in play” in the fall — in other words a first draft of a list of battleground states. I’ll post the full list at bottom, but to spoil the ending, the point of this post is that Obama carried all 14 of them and most of them by nine percentage points or more.

Eight of them were states that had gone for John Kerry in 2004, so it’s no surprise that Obama carried them. But in every case, Obama carried them by a much bigger margin. Much MUCH bigger. In the case of New Mexico, Kerry carried it by less than one percentage point. Obama carried it by 14. In the case of Wisconsin, Kerry won by less than half a percentage point, Obama won by 14. (In that group of eight states that went light blue in 2004, the weakest improvement of Obama over Kerry’s showing was our own Minnesota, which Kerry carried by 3.5, compared with Obama by 10 — still a considerable step up in blueness (but it does raise the question of why Minnesota experienced less of an Obama surge than many similarly situated states).

The other six states that were on the list of 14 that, in May, were “clearly in play,” were states George W. Bush carried in 2004. Obama carried all of them, too. that (coupled with the fact that John McCain did not pick up a single state Kerry had carried), is exactly why Obama won a very decisive Electoral College majority in November. And, of the Obama pickups, none of them were even superclose. In only two of them — the biggest two, Florida and Ohio — did McCain manage to come within five percentage points of Obama. After that, the Obama margins go like this: Virginia, seven percentage points; Iowa and Colorado, nine points, Nevada, 12 points.

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The second-most impressive of the takeaways was Virginia, which went from a Bush margin of eight points in ’04, to an Obama plus seven — a 15 percentage point swing!

Well, perhaps more impressive than that are the two states that Obama won (barely) that were considered so solidly red in May that they weren’t on the “in play” list — namely, North Carolina (to disclose fully, this one was listed in the May Times piece as one in which Obama might be “competitive”) and Indiana, the most impressive takeaway of all, since Bush carried it by 21 percentage points in 2004.

So, if you’re not completely sick of post-election political analysis and like to look at the raw numbers, here’s the rundown on those 16 key states, in alphabetical order. One more impressive thing about the list is that the states come from every region of the country except maybe the deep South (depending on how you define North Carolina and Florida with reference to the deep South).

State:              2004 result                  2008 result

Colorado         Bush by 4                 Obama by 9

Florida            Bush by 5                 Obama by 3

Iowa              Bush by 0.6               Obama by 9

Indiana           Bush by 21!               Obama by 1

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Michigan         Kerry by 3                 Obama by 16

Minnesota       Kerry by 3.5               Obama by 10

Nevada           Bush by 3                  Obama by 12

New Hamp.      Kerry by 1                 Obama by 9

New Mex.        Bush by 1                  Obama by 15

N. Carolina       Bush by 12.5             Obama by 1

Ohio                Bush by 2                 Obama by 4

Oregon            Kerry by 4                 Obama by 16

Penn.              Kerry by 2.5               Obama by 11

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Virginia            Bush by 8                  Obama by 7

Washington      Kerry by 7                 Obama by 16

Wisconsin        Kerry by 0.3               Obama by 14.

What think?