Friday, September 16, 2011

2012 Electoral College: OMG, Virginia Gets to Decide Obama's Fate? // Plus, A Plan for Maryland

Run for the Hills! Virginia's in charge!
SURPRISE UPDATE: A knowledgeable Democratic operative confirms that Maryland Juice's "early MD primary" strategy below has been recently discussed --- it is an open question (for the future?).

I can see it now. Due to the porous borders between MD, DC and VA, many of us will start seeing a flood of television spots from President Obama and (fingers crossed) Michele Bachmann. But the reality is, for those of us in Maryland and D.C., the advertising will be all nuisance and no fun. Are you scratching your head? Let me clarify.

The ads won't be for you. They will be for the Virginians some of us share a media market with. You see, President Obama's sagging national poll numbers are big news right now. But let's be clear -- Obama's low numbers are not news because they really reveal his re-election chances (yet) -- they are news simply because that's what the media's focusing on. And that signals.... that the 2012 Presidential (Horse) Race is on!

I'm not the only one that is dismissive of early poll numbers. Our neighboring pundit in Virginia, Prof. Larry Sabato, has an early reminder of the true deciders in our 2012 Presidential Election: the Electoral College.  Maryland Juice summarizes his article below.

Mr. Sabato kicks off the real Presidential race with the following insights:
...behind the scenes, strategists for President Obama and his major Republican opponents are already focused like a laser on the Electoral College. 
The emerging general election contest gives every sign of being highly competitive, unlike 2008. Of course, at this point in 1983 and 1995, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, respectively, were in trouble; and in 1991 George H.W. Bush still looked safe. Unexpectedly strong economic growth could make Obama’s reelection path much easier than it currently looks to be. So could the nomination of a damaged candidate by the Republicans. On the other hand, a few more months like the preceding couple, and Obama’s reelection trajectory will resemble Jimmy Carter’s. 

Nobody Cares About Maryland in the Prez Business: In an early analysis of the 2012 swing states, Sabato reiterates that no matter who the Republican nominee is, President Obama can be assured of all 13 of the combined electoral votes from Maryland and the District of Columbia, "barring a Carter-like collapse." That means volunteers who want to get in the trenches next summer will once again take the Metro or Beltway over to NoVa and *gulp* beyond.

Demographic Sidebar: Notably, Mr. Sabato subtly credits Latino voters with Obama's success in finally winning deep red Virginia for the Democrats in 2008.
The Obama forces have bravely boasted that they can turn Arizona (11), Georgia (16) and Texas (38), mainly because of growing Latino vote power. After Democrats’ surprise victories in states such as Florida and Virginia in 2008, one shouldn’t reject these assertions out of hand.
Let that be a warning to the Maryland GOP nativists out there -- your political shenanigans on the Dream Act will have consequences. Mr. Sabato, by the way, is not a liberal pundit; some speculate he is a Republican, but an accurate one, at that. Either way, Mr. Sabato is definitely not a Democratic mouthpiece (note, for example, the existence of a Virginia Democratic blog called Not Larry Sabato). The long-term electoral foolishness of GOP nativism is something Karl Rove also warned his party about years ago.

Sabato outlines the 2012 Electoral College field as follows (Ohio/Florida, make room for Virginia!):
So Republicans are a lock or lead in 24 states for 206 electoral votes, and Democrats have or lead in 19 states for 247 electoral votes. Seven super-swing states with 85 electors will determine which party gets to the 270 Electoral College majority: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13). Prior to Obama’s 2008 victories in each state, several of these toss-ups had generally or firmly leaned Republican for most elections since 1980. Virginia, which hadn’t voted Democratic since 1964, was the biggest surprise, and its Obama majority was larger than that of Ohio, which has frequently been friendly to Democrats in modern times. Massive Hispanic participation turned Colorado and Nevada to Obama, and it helped him in Florida. New Hampshire was the only state lost by Al Gore that switched to John Kerry; its special New England character makes it especially volatile.
My goodness, the Virginians are playing a huge role in 2012, and perhaps for the forseeable future. For good or for bad, Marylanders should take note of that reality. We might be able to make transit funding a true Presidential issue. Now would be a great time given construction of the new Metro Silver Line. I worry, however, that Virginia may also make Democrats pander to their past reputation for electing politicians who like guns, executions and anti-tax hysteria. But even as I joke about Virginia, it ain't all Dixie anymore.

Maryland Juice's Early Presidential Primary Strategy

For those of you who are not content to just sit on the sidelines while our crazy awesome neighbors get all the attention, Maryland Juice has an (obvious) plan. While Virginia is the star in the General Election, Maryland should make a play to get attention in the Primary Elections by moving its primary date up.

The policy reasons are numerous, because Maryland's primary voters would give Republicans and Democrats alike a fertile testing ground for candidates. Maryland has large pockets of voters in a fairly compact geographic area who represent loads of key benchmark demographics: suburban, urban, ex-urban, rural, coastal, mountainous, blue collar, millionaire, Latino, African-American, Asian, etc. In short, Maryland is way more reflective of America's breadth than New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, and a number of ridiculously homogeneous states that get to choose our nominees.

We were very lucky to have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a protracted primary battle in 2008, as it forced Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to visit our region. But why should we take a backseat while other states ignore party rules and change their schedules? This is a competition for calendar space and Maryland needs to elbow itself some room at the table.

Yes, it is true that District of Columbia Democrats tried this stunt in January 2004 and were neutered by party leaders. As the AP reported:
City leaders moved the primary up from May to call attention to the lack of voting rights, but the Democratic Party undermined the effort by insisting that the vote be nonbinding. Five of the candidates took more wind out of the district's sails by withdrawing from the race, leaving voters with a limited choice.
But today, Maryland officials are Democratic Party leaders, and we should leverage that fact at our next possible opportunity. Here are a few examples....

An early Maryland primary would also make the endorsements of all our officials suddenly coveted commodities, and it would also give a boost to Gov. O'Malley's 2016 chances. Any takers?

Besides, I'm tired of hearing New Hampshire voters bragging that they have magical candidate-vetting skills. Marylanders love to poke around in politicians' closets, too! You never know what you'll find. Just ask Frederick County politician Blaine Young!

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