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“We’re going to see red and blue out here, but we haven’t seen so much blue since LBJ,” said Mr. Ciruli, referring to Mr. Johnson’s 1964 landslide victory.

Historically, the association of red with Republicans and blue with Democrats came about by accident. In Europe, for example, the color red is almost always linked to the political left — think “Red China” — while blue refers to the right wing.

For years, U.S. television networks had used colored maps of the 50 states to designate electoral-vote victories, but there was no agreement on which color belonged to or represented which party, and in fact the red and blue were used interchangeably.

When Ronald Reagan won his decisive 1980 presidential victory, newsman David Brinkley referred to the map in the Republican’s 44-state victory as “a sea of blue.”

It wasn’t until the aftermath of the 2000 race that pitted Republican George W. Bush against Democrat Al Gore, and the 36-day recount that followed, that the colors red and blue became shorthand for Republican and Democratic states. While NBC-TV was credited with using the combination first, every network soon had adopted the color scheme.

As the recount dragged on that year, the networks showed the color-coded map for more than a month, and almost constantly, especially on cable-television news. By the time Mr. Bush was declared the winner, the concept of red and blue states was firmly established in the political vernacular.