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How '06 Will Affect the '08 Electoral Map

By John McIntyre

Ron Brownstein had an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times yesterday about how the 2006 elections could lay the playing field for pivotal battleground states in 2008. Brownstein correctly points out that Democrats are looking to the West, in particular the Southwest, to put more states in play on the electoral map. Of course, any handicapping of potential '08 battlefields will be seriously impacted by who the candidates are, but as a general statement Democrats are going to be looking to put the Southwest states of Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico into play. These are all states that are modestly trending Democratic on the national level, even though President Bush was able to flip New Mexico in 2004, winning by 6,000 votes versus losing to Gore by 365 votes in 2000.

In Colorado, Kerry narrowed the Bush win to five points from nine points in 2000, and in Nevada he cut Gore's four point loss to only two points. The Kerry campaign gave up on Arizona in 2004 and he lost ground there compared to Gore. But ever since Clinton's 2-point win in 1996, Arizona is a state the Democrats definitely have on the radar - primarily because of the state's 25% (and growing) Hispanic population.

There is no question Democrats are looking at these four Southwestern states as legitimate opportunities to flip electoral votes in 2008. Brownstein correctly refers to Colorado's election of Ken Salazar and Democrats winning both state houses in 2004 as reasons to keep an eye on the race to succeed Republican Governor Bill Owens. However, the other two races Brownstein mentions (Kyl in Arizona and Burns in Montana) are stretches at best for the Democratic case.

Brownstein points to Conrad Burns' Senate race in Montana as a state the Democrats "seem likely to move onto the 2008 Democratic target list" if Burns loses. Quite simply, this is ridiculous. Conrad Burns is vulnerable because of his scandal-tinged relationship with Jack Abramoff and the fact that he is a hack politician who beat his 2000 opponent by four points at the same time Bush was carrying the state by 25 points. Burns can get killed this fall and Montana will not move onto the 2008 Democratic target list. The only way Democrats will move Montana's 3 electoral votes in play is if they put Governor Schweitzer or Senator Baucus on the national ticket.

The mention of Kyl is interesting as it again shows how unlikely it is for the Democrats to recapture the Senate - notwithstanding all of the doomsday talk about GOP chances this fall. Kyl didn't even have a Democratic opponent in 2000, capturing 79% of the vote. John McCain, who is running for President and who beat his Democratic opponent by 56% in 2004, is Senator Kyl's campaign chairman. Bottom line, Kyl is very unlikely to lose.

But the broader point is how can you write an article on how 2006 will impact states in play in 2008 and not talk about the Midwest? While the southwest four of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona may be trending Democratic, the Midwest trio of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are trending Republican. The Southwest four are worth 29 electoral votes and the Midwest three are worth 27 electoral votes.

Minnesota, which has voted Democratic for President in the last eight elections, is unmistakably trending toward the GOP. The state has gone from Bill Clinton's 14-point average victory in 1992 and 1996 to a scant 2½ point cushion for Democrats in 2000 and 2004. In 2002, Republican Tim Pawlenty won a tough three-way race for Governor at the same time Norm Coleman upset Minnesota's Democratic icon Walter Mondale.

Unlike Kyl's race in Arizona, Minnesota has a very competitive contest to fill the open seat being vacated by Democrat Senator Mark Dayton. Republican Congressman Mark Kennedy is slated to face Democrat Amy Klobuchar, and while the current national headwind against Republicans gives Klobuchar a slight edge, this is unquestionably a competitive contest.

If Kennedy can flip the Dayton seat and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) holds on to win reelection (which is likely), suddenly Minnesota has a twice-elected Republican governor and two GOP Senators which, coupled with the obvious trend in the presidential numbers 1992 thru 2004, make Minnesota's electoral votes very much in play in 2008.

Flipping Minnesota's 10 electoral votes (or Wisconsin's) would give Republicans the wiggle room to lose Ohio and (all else remaining the same) would put the Democrats in the difficult position of having to hold the Kerry base, flip Ohio and still find another way to pickup 8 electoral votes. Realistically that would amount to Democrats having to flip two more states, because the next high profile targets Nevada (5 EV), New Mexico (5 EV) and Iowa (7 EV) all have less than 8 electoral votes. Assuming Tim Pawlenty wins reelection, don't be surprised to hear his name mentioned often as a potential VP candidate.

Finally, there is Michigan, which is in many ways a cross between IA-MN-WI and OH & PA. There are signs that Governor Granholm, who was touted as a rising star for the Democrats only three years ago, looks to be in a competitive race. Rasmussen Reports' last three polls show the race essentially tied between Granholm and businessman Dick DeVos (April 26: Granholm 44%, DeVos 43% | March 20: Granholm 44%, DeVos 44% | February 9: Granholm 44%, DeVos 43%).

In presidential elections, Michigan (and Pennsylvania) is like Florida for Republicans. Quite simply, losing Michigan's 17 electoral votes is not realistically an option for Democrats the way the current electoral map looks. And with Bush losing by 5% in 2000 and then 3% in 2004, if you are reading 2006 returns looking toward the presidential race, a Granholm loss in Michigan could be a harbinger of a very competitive state in 2008.

Along with these two races, many of the most competitive House races are in Indiana, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, as well as a very competitive governor's race in Illinois.

Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio are in many ways still the Big Three, and each has a Senate and Governor's race this fall, though I don't know how much insight they will provide towards 2008. The Senate races aren't likely to have much of an impact, but a Democratic sweep of the governor's races would be an asset for the Democratic nominee in these critical battleground states. Right now, the odds point to the Democrats winning in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but losing Florida.

It's likely some individual state results in 2006 will have an impact on laying out the electoral battlefield in 2008, but the biggest impact will be whether or not the Democrats can recapture the House. While it may not be the best thing for the Bush administration, a Democratic takeover of the House would likely be a huge assist to the overall Republican campaign in 2008. It would deprive Democrats of the very powerful campaign message that after eight years of near total GOP control it was time for a change. It would also put Speaker Pelosi and committee Chairmen like Rangel, Waxman and Conyers front and center for public view. More than anything else in 2006, a Democratic take over of the House would change the dynamic of the 2008 race and, ironically, would probably be good news for Republicans.

John McIntyre is the President and co-founder of RealClearPolitics. Email: john@realclearpolitics.com

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