I am struck that in most of the 22 states that went for McCain-Palin, the margins were not even close. They won landslide margins (over 55%) in Appalachia and the Deep South -- West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas (which went for the Clintons), over to Oklahoma and Texas. Kansas gave McCain 57% of the vote, Idaho and Utah gave him more than 60% of the vote. I wonder if some of these states simply have not overcome racial biases. Clearly, in the four states where Obama did worse among white voters than John Kerry did in 2004 -- Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana -- race was a factor.
A New York Times map shows the "McCain Belt" -- places where McCain did better than Bush did in 2004, and it's highly doubtful these voters were concerned about tax cuts for people making $250,000 a year, as few people in this region make that much.
Overall, McCain won 46% of the popular vote -- not terrible considering that so many of the fundamentals were against him. Many of these states he won are rock-ribbed Republican even in the worst national environment for the GOP. But I was surprised that Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and West Virginia would give such huge margins to McCain, because they went for Clinton-Gore in the 1990s.
There were a few squeakers for McCain -- he won Missouri by just six thousand votes, and he won Montana by just 16,000 votes. If he hadn't been on the ticket, the Republicans would have had a much harder time taking Arizona, which is far more "pro-immigrant" than the GOP as a whole. Obama won North Carolina by about 12,000 votes, with an incredible 68% turnout. And Obama won Indiana -- a state I once considered one of the most conservative in the nation -- with 50% of the vote compared to 49% for McCain.
Certainly there are legitimate philosophical differences on the role of government and belief in "rugged individualism" that are prevalent in consistently Republican states like Texas, and other Western states, that have nothing to do with race. It would be totally unfair to suggest that racism fully explains the GOP presidential candidate's victories in 22 states.
But West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana tend to vote for white "Bubba" Democrats like Bill Clinton. And Hillary Clinton probably would have carried Arkansas if she had been the Democratic nominee this year.
One cannot help but wonder if Obama's race was a factor in these states, which are struggling economically. Why else would they give such huge margins to the Republican presidential candidate in a year when gale economic winds have caused them such hardship and so tarnished the incumbent party's image?
A friend writes: "Not sure that it's race, but I think we still live very much in a red states/blue states dichotomy in some ways. If J.C. Watts, the African-American who was a conservative Republican congressman from Oklahoma had been the Republican candidate against Hillary Clinton this year, the GOP total probably would have been the same. And race was probably still a factor in states Dems won. I'm a bit appalled, for example, that Caswell County, NC gave only 51% of its vote to Obama. Given that African-Americans are more than 40% of the Caswell County electorate, that means Obama did dismally among Caswell County whites."
Actually, if Hillary Clinton had been the nominee, I doubt the Democratic nominee would have taken Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, and maybe not Colorado. She probably would have taken Arkansas, West Virginia, and maybe Missouri, and probably still would have won. How close she came!
But Obama was the more popular Democratic nominee. The fresh energy he brought to the campaign and the presidency, without the "scandals" and vitriol of the Clinton years, is most definitely preferable. It's truly a fresh start, and CHANGE most Americans were so clearly desperate for.
But it will probably be a long time before a majority of voters in the 15 states that McCain-Palin won handily, with 55% of the vote or more, feel comfortable with Barack Obama as their president. Those 15 states -- Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Alaska -- represent the hardcore national Republican base.
Four of those states -- West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Kansas -- have Democratic senators or governors. It may be possible for Obama, if he's successful as President, to make further inroads. Plus:
"The Republican Party is facing a real problem in those four western states of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona. If John McCain hadn't been on the ballot in Arizona," observes Mark Shields of the PBS News Hour." The GOP in those states is estranged from the Latino community because of a perception that the party is anti-immigrant, he said.
Obama could build on his support in Arizona, Montana, Missouri, the Dakotas, Kansas, Georgia and maybe even South Carolina. Still, there's a core of 10 or 11 states that will probably never go Democratic, unless there is truly a Great Depression and revolutionary political realignment.