Rove on Obama's Chances to Win a Red State
Sat July 5, 2008 10:42 am

The last item I posted about Rove [“D’s use the specter of Karl Rove to raise money”] drew one comment that asked, “What’s the point?” I shouldn’t have to explain, but:

1. Rove is the smartest political consultant in the business.
2. He is the most dominant figure in his line of work since Lee Atwater.
3. He also happens to be a Texan.

I’m not trying to make you like him. I’m not trying to whitewash whatever he did in the White House that he refuses to testify under oath about. I am not offering any warranties on his character. I’m just passing on his observations about politics that I think are pertinent. So I have signed up to receive his pronouncements by e-mail.

Here’s an example: The conventional wisdom about this election is that Obama has a huge lead on McCain in fundraising. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Rove provided some interesting numbers that suggest otherwise:

On the money front, how do Sens. Obama and McCain stack up? No contest, it seems. Since the campaign began, Mr. Obama has raised a staggering $295-plus million, versus Mr. McCain’s almost $122 million. But that’s misleading.

Mr. Obama spent a lot to win the nomination. So how much cash did he and his rival have when the general election effectively began in June? As of May 31, Mr. Obama had $43.1 million on hand while Mr. McCain had $31.6 million - a significant but not overwhelming advantage.

There is also the cash raised by the Republican and Democratic National Committees. Each candidate depends on the party committees for certain expenditures - registration, voter identification and get-out-the-vote drives, materials distributed by volunteers, even some advertising. Here, the Republicans had $53.5 million in hand on May 31, versus the Democrats’ paltry $4 million. Thus Mr. McCain and the RNC have $38 million more than Mr. Obama and the DNC.

Here is another interesting piece, unpublished but included in the e-mail. It is entitled “Obama’s Red State Gambit.”

Obama is up with his second general election ad. It’s running in 21 states at the cost of nearly $15 million. Among his targets: the traditionally Republican strongholds of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Montana, Indiana, Alaska, Nebraska, and North Dakota. What does history suggest Obama’s chances of swiping these states from the GOP are?

Rove compares the results from all 50 states and the District of Columbia for all elections from 1976 to 2004 to determine how often shifts have occurred in a state from one election to the next. His analysis produced 357 data points. For example, Carter won his native state of Georgia in 1980 by 15 points. Four years later, Reagan, running for reelection, won Georgia by 18 points.

Nebraska
Required shift from 04: 33 points
Frequency of shift: 1 in 357 (.03%)

North Dakota/Alaska
Required shift from 04: 27 points
Frequency: 4 of 357 (1.1%)

Indiana
Required shift from 04: 21 points
Frequency: 9 of 357 (2.5%)

Montana
Required shift from 04: 20 points
Frequency: 12 of 357 (3.4%)

South Carolina
Required shift from 04: 17 points
Frequency: 18 of 357 (5%)

Georgia
Required shift from 04: 16 points
Frequency: 20 of 357 (5.6%)

North Carolina
Required shift from 04: 12 points
Frequency: 41 of 357 (11.5%)

Virginia
Required shift from 04: 8 points
52 of 357 (14.6%)

Rove concludes:

Is spending money in these deep red states a smart strategic move? It’s not out of the question that Obama might flip one of these red states come November–the 8-point shift he needs in Virginia has happened 52 times (14.6% of possible outcomes)–but the historical record suggests his actions may be either unwise, an attempt to goad McCain into spending money unwisely, or a sign of the Obama campaign’s hubris about its ability to raise money.

Rove obviously thinks Obama’s summer media buy was a bad move. But was it? I don’t think so. 2008 is not 2004:
1. John Kerry was a weak candidate with little appeal to swing voters.
2. The scandals that would cost the Republicans control of Congress were still in the future.
3. The economy was in relatively good shape.
4. The Republican party was united behind their candidate.
5. Change was not in the air in 2004. It is today.

All of these factors suggest that big swings are far more likely to occur in 2008 than they were in 2004. Furthermore, several of the red states where Obama is spending money are small-market states with low population. He doesn’t have to turn a lot of votes to achieve a swing in places like Alaska, Nebraska, Montana, and North Dakota. Nor does he have to spend lot of money.

In fact, Rove’s own electoral map suggests that Obama is spending his money very wisely indeed. Of the nine red states that Obama is targeting, Rove shows Obama leading in Montana; Virginia and North Dakota as tossup states; and McCain leading by only 5 points in Nebraska, 4 in Alaska, and 4 in North Carolina. In the three remaining states, McCain’s lead is in single digits (South Carolina +9, Georgia +7, Indiana +5). As Bush proved in 2000 when he won West Virginia, it only takes one or two swing states to change an election–and Rove’s map is already showing Obama ahead in three key states that were won by Bush: Colorado, New Mexico, and (drumroll please) Ohio.

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