Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The 2008 presidential election will likely be determined by five cluster superstates.Political strategists, consultants and candidates might want to take note because the conventional model of red and blues states is very old news.

I have been calling attention for some time now to one of these superstates, “Minnewisowa” (Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa) but there are, in fact, at least four more of these state clusters located in other sections of the country.

In order of their electoral vote size, they are: “West Pennsylhio” (West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania: 50 votes), “Florgia” (Florida and Georgia: 38 votes), “Washegonada (Washington, Oregon and Nevada: 22 votes) and “New Arizado” (New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado: 21 votes). “Minnewisowa” has 28 electoral votes. (I’m not trying to rewrite the political dictionary, but they need to have names.)

All of these cluster superstates have critically important similarities, that is, each of their component states share a border (overlapping media markets, similar demographics), and most important, all of the individual states are likely “swing” states or competitive in 2008.

Of course, there may also be other individual swing states, but from a campaign point of view, including media buys, candidate travel and other cost efficiencies, I think the great bulk of the 2008 presidential campaign will be fought out in these superstates.

One mitigating factor is that the 2008 campaign will also likely be a serious contest for control of both houses of Congress. The cluster superstate model only works clearly for the presidential contest. Competitive House and Senate races will take place in most states in 2008, and the political parties, eager to reap benefits from their presidential candidates’ coattails, will likely bring their standard-bearer into those districts and states, regardless of their impact on the presidential race.

The 2008 contest will, of course, depend on who the candidates are, the nation’s economic condition and the success (or lack of it) in American foreign policy. But using the template of the cluster model, we can speculate some of the impact of these superstates on the outcome.

If the race is between the current frontrunners, Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton, I suspect that the biggest beneficiary is the Republican Party. Mr. McCain would appear to have the advantage in “Florgia,” “Washegonada” and “New Arizado” (81 electoral votes). Mrs. Clinton would have the advantage in “West Pennsylhio,” (51 electoral votes), and “Minnewisowa” (28 electoral votes) would be a toss-up. Democrats seem ahead in states with 202 electoral votes, not counting the superstates, and the Republicans seem ahead for 176 electoral votes. (One caveat: Any of these states could shift for a variety of reasons over the next two years.)

If the race is between Mr. McCain and former Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, however, there is likely to be a shift toward the Democrats because “Florgia” (with its 38 electoral votes) would now be up for grabs, if not leaning to the Democrats, and “Minnewisowa” might lean Democratic.

This is all very speculative at this juncture, but the reality of the cluster superstates is, I suggest, a political fact. It is perhaps not too soon for candidates and campaigns to consider this in their demographic plans for the fall 2008 contest.

On the other hand, the calendar of the 2008 nominating process for each party is little affected by the emerging cluster superstates. Although some delegate selection changes are likely, as there were in 2004, Iowa and New Hampshire remain the prime targets for presidential aspirants, as are other states whose primaries and caucuses come early. Some regional primaries have been suggested, but as of now, the calendar appears haphazard for both parties.

One final observation: The midterm elections could alter the political chemistry of 2008 more than now imagined. If a wave against President Bush and Republicans actually develops, as some are now predicting it will, and it results in the loss of control of one or both houses of Congress, the political mood of the country could develop into a 2008 landslide election in which the swing status of individual states and superstates would be swept aside. On the other hand, if this Democratic tide fails to appear, the advantage would shift back to the Republicans, who appear to have the only presidential candidate (Mr. McCain) with electoral appeal across party lines. The cluster superstates would then determine the outcome.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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