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October 2008

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Bellwethers No More?

Missouri is widely referred to as the premier bellwether state in presidential politics, having voted for the winning candidate in 25 out of 26 elections from 1904 to 2004. But Missouri isn't the only state with a remarkable record of voting with the majority of the country. Tennessee voted for the eventual winner in all but two elections between 1912 and 2004 -- its only aberrations coming in 1960 when it voted for Richard Nixon and 1924 when it chose John Davis over Calvin Coolidge.

While recent polling shows Missouri in play for both candidates this year, it's already clear which direction Tennessee is leaning -- away from Barack Obama, whom national polling indicates is favored to be the next president.

"The state seems poised to lose its status as a bellwether state this year," says Mark E. Byrnes, a political scientist at Middle Tennessee State University. "Barack Obama trails in Tennessee and few observers give him much chance of winning here. In general, the state appears to be trending more Republican, in part because of rapid population growth in white-collar suburban communities."

Franklin D. Roosevelt and other Democrats consistently won Tennessee in the first half of the 20th century. But after 1952 the only Democrats the state has supported for president have been those from south of the Mason-Dixon line. "The Democratic presidential candidates who have carried Tennessee in recent decades have been Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Southern moderates," Mr. Byrnes points out. "Candidates who appear too liberal, like Obama -- or even native son Al Gore in 2000 -- have difficulty here."

Should both Missouri and Tennessee end up voting for the loser in 2008, it may be just another sign that a dramatic realignment of U.S. politics is underway.