I called the status of the states in 7 buckets - dark blue, blue, light blue, toss-up, light red, red and dark red.
I had 245 electoral votes in the dark blue or blue categories (unlikely to be contested by the GOP) and 165 in the dark red or red categories (unlikely to be contested by the Dems.) Of these states, not a single one was misprojected, although Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada were at least nominally contested by the GOP as they attempted to expand the map. All 4 wound up going for Obama by a larger margin than he won nationally. No "dark red" or "red" state was seriously contested.
The "light red" states of Montana and Missouri both went for Romney and were not seriously contested.
The "light blue" states of Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa and Minnesota all went for Obama and all went for him by more than he won nationally, although Romney attempted at various times to go after all 4 states.
The 5 states I categorized as "toss-ups" split as follows: North Carolina and Indiana for Romney and Florida, Ohio and Virginia for Obama and all were seriously contested, although Obama bailed out of Indiana late. Other than Indiana, the other four represented the 4 closest states in the election.
So, other than miscalling Indiana as a toss-up, I was pretty darn close to the right picture for 2012 more than 3 years out.
For the Democrats, I projected that assuming that he was running, President Obama would easily win renomination. We professionals call that a "no brainer".
For the Republicans, I listed the early field as Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee, with Romney and Palin as the favorites against that field. 3 of those 5 did run, Palin and Huckabee chose not to and Romney obviously won the nod. Rick Santorum was suprisingly strong in the actual running and sideshows Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman provided some excitement, although ultimately garnered precious few votes (Cain, in fact, dropped out before the first vote.)
So, in spite of a few minor misses and adds, we actually knew a lot in 2009 about what 2012 would look like.
Which leads us to 2016:
The State of the States
Deep Blue (D +20%+) - 53 electoral votes - District of Columbia, Hawaii, Vermont, New York, Rhode Island and Maryland
Blue (D +10%-20%) - 126 electoral votes - Massachusetts, California, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine and Washington
Light Blue (D +5%-10%) - 28 electoral votes - Oregon, New Mexico and Michigan
Toss-Ups (between R +5% and D +5%) - 125 electoral votes - Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio and Florida
Light Red (R +5%-10%) - 15 electoral votes - North Carolina
Red (R +10%-20%) - 107 electoral votes - Texas, Alaska, Montana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Arizona, Georgia
Deep Red (R +20%+) - 84 electoral votes - Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Idaho, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee, North Dakota, South Dakota, Louisiana
So, assuming both parties hold their shaded states, Republicans stand to start form a base of 206 in a close election, Democrats 207 with 125 up for grabs.
There are a few interesting facts on this list.
The "Deep Red" states of West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana were all won by Bill Clinton.
Conversely, Bill Clinton never won in Virginia, which is now a toss-up.
Barack Obama won Indiana in 2008, but it is back to being in the "Red" category - 2008 is an odd outlier as the state has gone Republican in every other election cycle since 1964, usually by very decisive margins.
Taking a closer look at the toss-up states, it is instructive to look at both recent history and trend:
The state would appear to favor Republicans in a close election. It has been more Republican than the national vote in each of the last 4 elections and that margin has been relatively stable. Equalized for the national votes Florida's history is:
2000 R +0.5%, 2004 R +2.6%, 2008 R +4.5%, 2012 R +3.0%
In spite of the fact that it has picked the winner in each of the last 4 elections, this is the sort of state that Democrats only contest in elections that they are going to win anyway - as evidenced by this past cycle, where Obama won decisively nationally but only narrowly in Florida. 2000 belied this trend where obviously it was decisive, but that appears unlikely to repeat in 2016. Florida is unlikely to be the tipping point.
This is a deserved perennial bell weather that tends to closely mirror the national vote. It seems sure to be closely contested in a close race. No modern Republican has won the Presidency without it. It is a must-win for the GOP, but not quite a must-win for Democrats, although losing it cuts down Democratic winning scenarios significantly. It's history is:
2000 R +4.0%, 2004 D +0.4%, 2008 R +2.7%, 2012 R +0.9%
Expected Ohio to be toughly contested again, win a minor edge to the GOP in a close race.
Virginia didn't used to be a battleground state, but the growth of the DC suburbs has caused it to take a hard turn left. It is still winnable for the GOP, but things are only going to get harder for them in the state. It's history is:
2000 R +8.5%, 2004 R +5.7%, 2008 R +1.0%, 2012 D +0.1%
Democrats would certainly seem to hold the edge. They appear likely to pick up the Governorship this year and the demographic trends that have been driving the electoral shift are continuing. Republicans would take this state if they win solidly nationally, but I wouldn't expect it to be an easy mark for them in a close race.
This used to be somewhere between a lean Republican and solidly Republican state. The explosion of the states Hispanic population has shifted its electoral situation dramatically and Republicans look to continue to be in trouble here. It's history is:
2000 R +8.9%, 2004 R +2.2%, 2008 D +1.7%, 2012 D +1.5%
Colorado could still be won - but not if the Republicans nominate a candidate that doesn't connect with Hispanic voters.
This is the state that Republicans always want to make close, but it hasn't worked out in a long time, with the state not going Republican since 1988. They managed to narrow the margin in 2012, but it wasn't enough. They've had success in statewide politics of late, but the fact that the Republicans controlling the legislature wanted to change the electoral award process away from winner-take-all speaks volumes - they don't think they can win there. It's history is:
2000 D +3.7%, 2004 D +5.0%, 2008 D +3.0%, 2012 D +1.5%
Can the GOP make it a race in Pennsylvania in 2016? I wouldn't rule it out, but this seems like a perennial sucker's bet to me.
This small prize - a mere 4 electoral votes, remains the loan East Coast state north of the old confederacy whose outcome remains in doubt each cycle. Once a "live free or die" libertarian stronghold that bucked the liberal leanings of its New England brothers, it has move further to the left over time, but still remains a stronghold for independent thinking. It's always competitive, but seldom decisive. It is a state that favors Democrats in a close race, but not by much. It's history is:
2000 R +1.8%, 2004 D +3.8%, 2008 D +2.7%, 2012 D +1.7%
While only holding 4 electoral votes, New Hampshire is the tipping point state in a number of plausible close scenarios. Expect it to be contested again in 2016.
To the politically uninitiated, Iowa would seem like a naturally Republican state. A heavily white population in a farm-belt state, it's politics should look more like Nebraska than New Hampshire. But Iowa is more mid-west than farm belt and far more socially progressive than it's neighbors, being one of the first states to legalize gay marriage. It is a true bell weather, going to winner of the national popular vote in each of the last 4 elections. It's history is:
2000 R +0.2%, 2004 D +1.8%, 2008 D +2.3%, 2012 D +2.0%
All the candidates will spend a ton of time in Iowa in advance of the Iowa caucuses in early 2016. Expect them to return a lot in the fall as well.
A truly libertarian state where casinos abound, prostitution is legal and the days of open containers and indoor smoking carry on, Nevada still embodies the spirit of the American west. Once a solidly Republican state in terms of national elections, it has shifted to fairly heavily favor the Democrats in recent years, helped in no small measure by a growing latino population. It's history is:
2000 R +4.1%, 2004 R +0.1%, 2008 D +5.2%, 2012 D +2.8%
Similar to Colorado, Republicans have to make a better play for Hispanic voters if they are going to contend here. They generally win the white vote, but not by enough to win the state.
Wisconsin is a hard state to figure out. In the early 2000s, it seemed to be turning more Democratic as support for both parties became more heavily regionalized (Democrats in the Northeast, West Coast and Mid-West, Republicans in the South, the farm belt and the mountain states), but local politics has taken a distinct step back to the right as Scott Walker has led a Republican revolution against state employee unions. It's history is:
2000 R +0.3%, 2004 D +2.8%, 2008 D +6.6%, 2012 D +3.1%
If Republicans are looking to expand the limited map that they have been working with the past two cycles, which essentially required them to run the table in order to win, Wisconsin would be a great target. A non-radical candidate preaching fiscal responsibility might be the ticket to a GOP surprise here.
Minnesota always seems to be close but not quite close enough to seriously be in doubt. Republicans haven't won the state since Reagan's 49 state decimation of Walter Mondale in 1984, but all the elections in between have been closer than most people would probably think. It's history is:
2000 D +1.9%, 2004 D +5.9%, 2008 D +3.0%, 2012 D +3.8%
Minnesota, like Wisconsin sports 10 electoral votes, making it an enticing market. It also shares some TV markets and a border with Wisconsin, meaning that if that state is in play, there could be spillover campaigning in Minnesota. But I seriously doubt it will be a primary focal point as I can't see many scenarios where it is the tipping point state that gives a candidate his or her 270th electoral vote. In a close race, expect it to go narrowly, but reliably Democratic.
The map favors Democrats on face. If you equalize the national vote from 2012, Democrats would win in all of the toss-up states except for Florida and Ohio, leaving the Democratic candidate with 285 electoral votes. Even if you flip Virginia, which was only 0.01% more Democratic than the national vote, to the GOP side, the Democrats are still left with a winning 272 votes.
The possible Republican strategies to overcome this deficit are numerous, but the couple that are most promising are:
a. Do better with Hispanics - nominate either a Hispanic candidate or at least a candidate who speaks well to Hispanic issues - Marco Rubio would be a great choice for both causes. This puts Colorado and Nevada in contention.
b. Put the mid-west swing states in play - target Wisconsin and Iowa aggressively, with some halo in Minnesota. Having a Scott Walker on your ticket would help a lot here.
c. Thread the needle with New Hampshire - picking up Florida, Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire squeaks a GOP candidate by with just the 270 electoral votes he or she needs. Perhaps a libertarian Rand Paul could do the trick?
Which brings us to:
Here are my power rankings on those likely to run in 2016:
1. Hillary Clinton
It's not a done deal that she is running, but it is more likely than not. And if she runs, she stands to be a massive favorite. Many of us would have said the same thing in 2008, only to see her upset by an upstart first term Senator with a gift for emotionally uplifting speeches. But 2016 is not 2008. Hillary was still a controversial and divisive figure in 2008 - she is pretty well universally loved by Democrats these days after 4 years of egoless faithful service at the State Department. Benghazi looms as a general election issue, but Democratic primary voters couldn't care a wit about it and the general public is still wondering what exactly the scandal is (I include myself in that group.) If Hillary runs, it is hers to lose, plain and simple.
2. Andrew Cuomo
A well known Democratic brand name and a well-spoken, accomplished and well-liked politician, the Governor of New York is a powerful figure in the party. If (and only if) Hillary bows out, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
3. Martin O'Malley
The popular Governor of Maryland is not well known outside of his home state, but is highly regarded within the party and has a great base of support among Super Delegates to the Democratic convention. And history would indicate that Democrats generally don't have a problem nominating unknown Governors from small states - think of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
4. Joe Biden
A sitting VP ranked 4th? Joe has run for President twice already, first in 1988 when he fared poorly and withdrew after a scandal involving copying a British politician's speeches without attribution, then in 2008 when he scarcely registered at around 1% of the vote in early primaries. Suffice it to say, the Demcoratic party has roundly passed on Joe twice. He has a proclivity for foot-in-mouth disorder and has a style that can be polarizing. I wouldn't count him out entirely, particularly if Hillary bows out and Joe gets Obama's backing, but I don't make him a favorite.
5. Deval Patrick
The charismatic two-term governor of Massachusetts figures to be a force to be reckoned with, should he run. Similar to O'Malley, Patrick is not well known beyond the Democratic party, but the party faithful love him. A possible headwind is weaker fundraising support than the top 4, but Patrick has to be a consideration in an open (aka no Hillary) race.
6. Kirsten Gillibrand
I keep mentioning her, possibly hoping she will run. The junior Senator from New York has done amazing things in the Senate, leading the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, brokering a deal on the 9/11 First Responders bill and now leading a bipartisan charge for reform in the military prosecution process for sexual assaults. Gillibrand is beloved by her colleagues and her constituents and is a regular on the John Stewart circuit, making her more of a hip candidate than any of those listed above. She also has fundraising gravitas given her party and Wall Street connections.
7. Cory Booker
Okay, the obvious negatives first - he will be a first-term Senator (he is virtually assured of a win) after two terms as a Newark mayor - hardly a great Presidential resume, but frankly, a better one than Barack Obama had. His second potential negative is continuous rumors around his sexual orientation, although I wonder if that matters much in the states a Democrat could contend in. The pluses are that he is probably the best thinker and among the best speakers in the field. And his bio and reputation as servant and heroic mayor who shoveled the driveways of the elderly and once pulled a woman from a burning building make him a great candidate. He is more likely to be a Veep choice than a Presidential choice this cycle and he has shown a tendency to be deliberate in his political progression, making a 2020 (if Democrats lose) or 2024 (if they win) run much more likely, but I wouldn't count him out entirely.
Mark Warner - the former Governor and current Senator from Virginia has been considered a rising star and is very popular at home, although not well known nationally.
Elizabeth Warren - the Senator from Massachusetts is beloved on the left (and another hip lady) but she is polarizing and is scandal-scarred coming off a tough fight for her Senate seat.
Janet Napolitano - she has expressed interest in potentially running. But is her work at Homeland Security much of a springboard to the top job?
Brian Schweitzer - maybe he should be on my top 7 - he has a great folksy way, is smart as a whip and popular in Montana, hardly a conservative stronghold. My sense, however, is that he may be too moderate for Democratic primary voters.
1. Chris Christie - in spite of conservative disdain for Christie's embrace of Obama in the wake of a coastal hurricane and their general dislike of his Northeastern moderate politics, Christie is an electrifying figure and one of the best nationally known Republicans. He will easily win re-election in New Jersey this year and is my slight favorite to win the nomination.
2. Jeb Bush - really, another Bush? Maybe. Jeb is no W., he is smarter, better spoken and much more popular - I know a lot of Floridians who hated W. but loved Jeb. He is preaching sense to the GOP and has the best fundraising network of any Republican in the potential field. The Bush brand is still a little tarnished, but I wouldn't put it past Jeb to pull things out.
3. Marco Rubio - Rubio seems a little bit of a man without natural allies - he is too conservative to win over the Jeb / Christie moderates but too moderate to win over the hard-core tea party members, support *gasp* immigration reform. But Rubio might find the Goldilocks path with his politics and he figures to be a strong general election figure.
4. Scott Walker - yes, most Americans don't know who he is. Yes, he doesn't have the network with party faithful or fundraisers that the top 3 do. But Walker has been out front on a key issue that seems likely to be relevant in 2016 - public pension liabilities and as dry as that sounds, it could put him in the mix.
5. Rand Paul - the libertarians in the GOP want to believe that Rand could do it. The guy has some serious assets - he knows how to rally a cause and he has managed to balance a consistent philosophy with a pragmatism his father never showed. I know a ton of conservatives that love Rand. I know a few liberals who do too. But mis-steps like he made in his Senate race, when he says he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act on federalist grounds, while true to his ideology, won't play well in a general election.
6. Paul Ryan - many in the GOP love his budgets. My question is - if he was a weak VP candidate, what makes anyone think he would make a good Presidential candidate?
7. Ted Cruz - does any Republican who actually wants to win think Cruz is a good choice? Having said that, Sharon Angle, Christine O'Donnell and Ted Akin all won Republican nominations, so sometimes there is more to the calculus than who can win a general.
Susana Martinez - a potentially great national candidate, but highly untested on the big stage and not well known outside of her state.
Condi Rice - the GOP would love for her to run, but I don't think she is interested and I'm not sure they would much like her politics if she did.
Bobby Jindal - poor Bobby, how far the once-beloved have fallen. One bad State of the Union response knocked Jindal and his great back story down a notch. His rising unpopularity in Louisiana has knocked him down a couple more pegs.
Rob Portman - an effective Senator, but I know of no one in the GOP who is fired up about a Portman candidacy.
Rick Santorum - staged an admirable, improbable fight for the nomination in 2012 and proved his mettle as a great campaigner and a relatable guy, but what has this guy done since he lost his Senate seat? How is he relevant to 2016?
Mike Huckabee - remember Huck? I thought he could be a powerhouse opponent for Romney in 2012, but he passed. I suspect he will pass again.
So there you have it - everything you need to prepare you for a 3 year Presidential campaign. Now back to the bickering over Obamacare and the debt ceiling.
If you like this site, tell your friends.