Time For A New Map?

Michael Barone had an interesting column arguing that the old red state/blue state divide won’t be in play in 2008:

Voters have a clear generic preference for the Democratic Party, but recent polls show a McCain-Obama race to be close. And don’t be surprised if those numbers move around in the course of the campaign.

It’s not like we haven’t seen voters move around before. At the beginning of the 1990s, it was conventional wisdom that Republicans had a lock on the presidency and Democrats had a lock on Congress, or at least on the House of Representatives. After all, Republicans had won five of the last six presidential elections and Democrats had held control of the House for 36 years.

But in 1992, voters elected a Democratic president, and in 1994 they elected a Republican House (and Republican Senate, as well). In 1988, Florida and New Hampshire voted 61 percent and 62 percent for George H.W. Bush — solidly red states. But in 1992 and 1996, New Hampshire voted for Bill Clinton. And in 1996, Florida did, as well. In 1992, Montana, Colorado and Georgia voted for Bill Clinton. By 2000, these were solidly Republican states.

Barone is the dean of American politics these days, and for good reason. The 2008 map may not like much at all like the maps in 2000 and 2004. Take Pennsylvania, a state that was solidly Democratic in 2000 and 2004. Should Obama get the nomination, it could be up for grabs. Republican states like Nevada may also swing the other way. The traditional “swing” states from 2000 and 2004 are also up for grabs: New Hampshire, Ohio and Florida could all swing from one party to another (as New Hampshire did between 2000 and 2004). There’s a new crop of potential swing states: Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are all states that could become major battlegrounds in the coming months.

Barone’s right: trying to shoehorn this race into the 2000/2004 paradigm is not necessarily such a smart idea. The idea of a monolithic bloc of “red” or “blue” states is the exception rather than the rule. There will be new dynamics in play in this election, and new battle lines drawn. That will make this election much harder to predict, but also far more interesting…