DENVER | President-elect Barack Obama’s victories in previous Republican states Tuesday night transformed the red-blue electoral map that has helped define the nation’s regional political bent for the last few presidential elections.
The former community organizer from Illinois put together a national campaign that brought into the Democratic fold states that had been viewed by many analysts as Republican red, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia. All six states went for President Bush in 2004.
But the Obama campaign’s “50-state strategy” refused to concede states to Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, and instead established unprecedented numbers of campaign offices in states once seen as iffy at best.
The campaign also mobilized armies of volunteers who knocked on doors, handed out pamphlets and, perhaps most important, registered swarms of new voters.
In his acceptance speech at Chicago’s Grant Park, Mr. Obama credited his campaign team with “the best political campaign in the history of the United States,” an inflated-sounding claim that was nonetheless difficult to dispute.
In New Mexico, for example, the Obama camp set up 39 field offices — compared with just 10 for the McCain operation — and registered more than 35,000 new voters in a state with a population of less than 2 million. On Tuesday, the state flipped early for Mr. Obama, giving him 54 percent of the vote to Mr. McCain’s 45 percent, with57 percent of the vote tallied.
In Iowa, with 82 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Obama held 53 percent of the vote to Mr. McCain’s 45 percent. In Ohio, Mr. Obama captured 50 percent of the vote to Mr. McCain’s 48 percent with 63 percent of the vote counted.
Perhaps most astonishingly, Mr. Obama led by a margin of 51 percent to 48 percent in Virginia, with 96 percent of the vote tallied. Virginia had not backed a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Colorado, which supported Mr. Bush in 2000 and 2004, swung to the Obama camp by a margin of 54 percent to 44 percent after 59 percent of the vote was tallied. Nevada, another Rocky Mountain state, flipped for Mr. Obama by a margin of 59 percent to 39 percent with 9 percent of the vote tallied.
It was closer in Florida, where Mr. Obama was declared the winner by a slim 51 percent, with 49 percent going to Mr. McCain, with 91 percent of the vote counted.
Four other red states — Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Carolina — were too close to call at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.
For years, the red states, those that trend Republican, have dominated the map. The rule with Democrat-leaning blue states seemed to be that they could appear only beside bodies of water: the Pacific, the Atlantic (in the Northeast) and the Great Lakes.
But recent Democratic Party inroads in the nation’s center have turned the map into more of a patchwork, with bursts of blue appearing in previously solidly red areas such as the Midwest and Rocky Mountain West.
“It’s clear that the Democrats have penetrated the mountain area with their convention and their candidates,” said Denver-based pollster Floyd Ciruli. “We’ve seen a revived Democratic Party out here. Now that revival has moved up to the presidential level, and it appears to have rearranged the map.”
Analysts attributed Mr. Obama’s red-state success to a strong ground game, including the “50-state strategy.”
“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.
Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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