- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The red-blue electoral map that has helped define the nation’s regional political bent is expected to look quite different after Tuesday’s presidential vote.

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 (along the northeastern section of the U.S.) 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 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.”

During this year’s campaign, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama performed strongly in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada - three states that President Bush won in 2004. Mr. Obama, of Illinois, also made inroads in the deep-red South in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

Analysts attributed Mr. Obama’s red-state success to a strong ground game, an unprecedented number of field offices and the so-called “50-state strategy,” in which the campaign refused to concede blocks of states to Republicans.

“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 President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 landslide victory. That was the last time Virginia backed a Democrat for president.

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 President Bush was declared the winner, the concept of red and blue states was firmly established in the political vernacular.

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