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In the Spotlight: Bush v. Kerry 2004 Electoral College Analysis

On July 5th, Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, selected freshman Senator John Edwards of North Carolina as his running mate for the 2004 Presidential Election. But if Kerry thinks that this is going to swing North Carolina into the Democratic column on Election Day, then he might have to reconsider his strategy.

North Carolina is hardly what one would consider to be a battleground state. North Carolina last went for a Democrat, like most of the country, in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson won easily over his perceivedly radical Republican challenger, Arizona's Barry Goldwater. Since then, North Carolina has been a reliable Republican state, with the exception of supporting Carter in 1976. So what makes Kerry think he can swing North Carolina when Missouri (Gephardt) or Arkansas (Clark) or even Florida (Graham) might have made for an easier time of it? President Bush MUST win Missouri and Florida and Ohio. Kerry could have selected someone from one of those swing states, even if to force the Bush-Cheney forces into fighting harder for it. Instead, he selected someone from a state he can't possibly win. Hmmm. Wasn't Kerry Dukakis' lieutenant governor in '88? Didn't he realize from Dukakis' mistake of taking Lloyd Bentsen of Texas? And, of course, in November 1988, Michael Dukakis lost Texas by 680,000 votes. Some help Bentsen was!

But not all Democratic candidates for President have done badly in North Carolina. In 1976, North Carolina supported Jimmy Carter with its 13 electoral votes. Carter beat Ford on election night with 297 to 240 electoral votes. But after all, Carter was a Southerner. And he was a different kind of political figure than had been seen in the past with the previous 3 presidents: Johnson, Nixon, and Ford--all career politicians with considerable political baggage. And Carter did sweep the South in 1976 except Virginia and Oklahoma. Perhaps Senator Kerry is relying on a repeat of history of sorts. Maybe a Southern Veep could do the same, yes? Well, if that's the case then just what happened to North Carolina when another Southern governor, like Carter, named Bill Clinton ran for President and didn't swing North Carolina into the 'D' column? Couldn't John Kerry look at recent history and decide that John Edwards might not be as effective?

Prior to Johnson's landslide win in 1964, North Carolina was staunchly Democratic. With the exception of Herbert Hoover's win in 1928, North Carolina never deviated from supporting the Democratic candidate. Even popular Dwight Eisenhower lost North Carolina twice in '52 and '56. But North Carolina would support his Vice President, Richard Nixon, in his two wins in '68 and '72 when the state became more conservative. Maybe Kerry believes that the South is ready to swing back and that Edwards is the key to doing just that.

Obviously, a Kerry-Edwards win in North Carolina would be crushing for the Bush-Cheney ticket. North Carolina is critical and a cornerstone in holding together the 'Solid South' that will usually go Republican--when the Democratic candidate is not one of its own (see Mondale 1984 and Dukakis 1988). Conventional wisdom holds that if one can push a staunch Republican state like North Carolina into the 'D' column, what's to keep maybe Tennessee or even Florida out? Gore nearly won Florida in 2000, which Clinton won easily in '96 by about 300,000 votes (but lost by 100,000 four years earlier). Tennessee went for Clinton by about 90,000 in '92 and 50,000 in '96. Yet, Gore lost it by 80,000 in 2000. Perhaps Mr. Gore was perceived as being too long in Washington to be considered a Southern Democrat. John Edwards has only been in Washington for 5 years as North Carolina's senior senator. He won't have the baggage Gore had. It's possible he may have a quite different effect on the South in this campaign. But more than likely not.

Where Dick Gephardt's union ties and representation of Missouri's largest city in Congress might have gone a long way to pulling the Show-Me state into the 'D' column, John Edwards has no such claim on North Carolina. Conservative--didn't vote for Clinton-nor-Gore--North Carolina. The same North Carolina who's junior senator is one Senator Elizabeth Hanford Dole, the wife of the former 1996 Republican Presidential nominee and longtime Senator from conservative Kansas, Robert Dole.

If history is any indication, North Carolina will remain Republican this year and for the foreseeable future. Senator Kerry has taken a large gamble on trying to capture North Carolina. And it looks like he's going to lose.


On November 2nd, we'll pick a President. Either President Bush will be re-elected or Senator John Kerry will be elected the 44th President of the United States. Either way, one of the deciding factors in the Electoral College will be the decision made by the Badger State.

Wisconsin has been often mentioned as a battleground state; a must win for either President Bush or Senator Kerry. And from the looks of things, the good folks in the Badger State may see a lot of both and Vice President Cheney and Senator John Edwards. But if either camp is hoping to sway Wisconsin enough for certainty, they may be sorely disappointed.

For the last 100 years, Wisconsin has been somewhat evenly divided in its political leanings. With the exception of supporting favorite son Robert LaFollette for President in 1924 over national landslide winner Calvin Coolidge, Wisconsin has gone Republican 13 times and Democratic 11 times. And of those 25 Presidential elections, Wisconsin has picked the winner 19 times, roughly 3 out of 4 times. Both parties realize, in what is proving to be a close election, that Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes just might be the key to winning the Electoral College.

Last year's Presidential contest showed Vice President Gore winning Wisconsin by the razor thin margin of not quite 60,000 votes. That's roughly the number of loyal fans who regularly attend a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field; which equates to about 2% of the 2.6 million who turned out to vote in 2000! Now four years later, both of the major parties know they each have a shot at winning Wisconsin. But if history is any indicator, Wisconsin should go Democratic. And there are two obvious reasons why.

First, regional politics demonstrates that likelihood clearly: whereas the far northeastern United States tilts Democratic (Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire), geographically, Wisconsin, too, is surrounded by heavily Democratic states, Michigan, Minnesota, and all but certain Illinois. But the Republicans, aware that Wisconsin was in doubt much of Election Night 2000, are determined to wrest it from what would normally be a Democratic given.

Secondly, Wisconsin's history of late shows that it has not supported a Republican heartily (by more than 10% of the vote) since Dwight Eisenhower's wins in 1952 (by 22%) and in 1956 (by 24%)! Both Richard Nixon's national landslide win in 1972, and Ronald Reagan's national landslide win in 1984, were only by around 9% of the vote in Wisconsin.

I've said this before: this election is Senator Kerry's to win. President Bush must have both Ohio (20 electoral votes) and Florida (27) and at least one of these 3 states: Missouri (11), Minnesota (10), or Wisconsin (10) in order to prevail. Strategy-wise, President Bush might just skip Wisconsin and put his money on winning Missouri as his best hope. Whereas Senator Kerry would do well to concentrate efforts on all three of those states. Win them all, and Kerry will win it all. Lose just one and, if Ohio and Florida are in the 'R' column, President Bush can start planning his second Inaugural Ball.


It's been my assessment that the keys to the 2004 Presidential Election devolve upon the decisions of five battleground states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, and Ohio). While much hay has been made in the media discussing these so-called battleground states, most pundits fail to agree upon how many there really are: it ranges from 8 upwards to 20. Some estimates include states like Washington and Louisiana, which in my opinion -- to be borne out on Election Night -- have already been decided for Senator Kerry and President Bush respectively. Nevertheless, both the Kerry and Bush campaigns can agree that Ohio is indeed one of the most important ones. And history bears this out.

Ohio has been the source of seven of our 43 U.S. Presidents: William Henry Harrison (lost in 1836, won in 1840), Ulysses Grant (1868, 1872), Rutherford Hayes (1876), James Garfield (1880), Benjamin Harrison (1888), William McKinley (1896, 1900), William Taft (1908), and Warren Harding (1920). Interestingly, four of those seven died in office (Harrison, Garfield, McKinley, and Harding). The other three were one-termers. Yet, with a critical eye on history, it's easy to understand why so many Presidents came from Ohio.

And when Ohio isn't producing a President, she's calling the shots. It's common knowledge to any student of the Electoral College that: "no Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio". Actually, it should state "no candidate has ever been elected without winning Ohio", because Ohio has usually gone to the victor of the Presidential sweepstakes. But in the past hundred years there have been two exceptions: in 1944 and 1960.

In the first instance, Republican Governor Thomas Dewey of New York, in his first run for the presidency, won the state by barely a third of a percentage point! But he lost the election by a landslide to President Franklin Roosevelt. The following year the contest was even closer, though not an exception; Dewey lost Ohio to President Harry Truman by less than a quarter of a percent!

The second exception was in the 1960 contest when then Vice President Richard Nixon won by 6 percent over Senator John Kennedy. But Kennedy really didn't need Ohio since his electoral college margin over Nixon was considerable (303 to 219).

Although President Bush and Senator Kerry have spent millions of dollars trying to woo the 7 million registered voters of the Buckeye State, there are two rather telling reasons why President Bush will keep Ohio in the 'R' column just as he did in 2000.

First, by looking at the percentage trends in just the last 8 presidential elections, one can see that a Democratic candidate's win has never been more than 6 percent (peak: Clinton, 1996), while Republican wins have generated double-digit percentages. Jimmy Carter's 1976 win was by less than a third of one percent and Bill Clinton's first win in Ohio was by less than 2% in 1992. Although, to be fair, President Bush beat Vice President Gore by just under 4% in 2000 -- -not a double-digit win. So this point on percentage trending is tenuous at best.

Still, the second reason is quite revealing regarding Ohio's political trending: a Republican Governor and two GOP U.S. Senators. Plus the GOP holds every statewide non-judicial office. So it appears that Ohio starts leaning Republican before the campaign even begins.

I mentioned earlier that there are only five states with the deciding electoral votes: two major states, Ohio (20) and Florida (27); and three mid-tier states: Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10) and Missouri (11). On election night, both Ohio and Florida could be called by the major networks at around 8 p.m. EST. The bottom line is that if President Bush loses Ohio, he loses his chance to win re-election. He must have Ohio and Florida, and one of the three mid-tier states to win. On the other hand, in doing the Electoral College math, Senator Kerry can win even without Ohio, thus adding 2004 to Electoral College's exceptions list.

Summarily, winning Ohio is crucial; and in the history of electing a President that has always been the case.


In the Presidential Election of 2004, the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states are once again ignored. Sure, Vice President Cheney has made a stop in his home state of Wyoming, and Senator John Edwards, the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, has made a single stop in Fargo, North Dakota. But there is a historic reason why the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and their 48 electoral votes, won't be on either campaign's itinerary.

As a general grouping, the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states I'm referring to are: North Dakota (3), South Dakota (3), Nebraska (5), Kansas (6), Oklahoma (7), Montana (3), Wyoming (3), Idaho (4), Utah (5), and Colorado (9). Although Iowa and Missouri are sometimes included under the label 'Great Plains states', the focus here is on those extremely intractable ten.

It is interesting to note that this region has also produced a few major party Presidential candidates: Democrat George McGovern of South Dakota in 1972, Republican Alfred Landon of Kansas in 1936, and Democrat William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska in 1896, 1900 and 1908. Every one of these candidates lost their home states in their campaigns for the White House (actually Bryan lost Nebraska only once -- in 1900).

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson won 44 states in his landslide victory over Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. The Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states were among those 44. It was the only time since 1936 that they voted Democratic together. However, 1964 aside, this group of ten states has been firmly lodged in the Republican column and there appears to be no end to this trend anytime soon. As a matter of fact, even before Johnson's landslide election, these states stayed true to form - voting Republican together as a bloc -- starting in 1952. Yet, in 48 years of voting the same ticket, there has been only one time when they all weren't in the same column on Election Night. It was in 1992.

That these ten Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states have stuck together since 1952 is truly monumental, but that one exception was revealing. In 1992, the country decided between 3 major candidates rather than the usual two. Billionaire businessman Ross Perot had poured millions into his own candidacy and had appealed so strongly to the media that he garnered two appearances to debate both President Bush and the Democratic challenger, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, on network television. The appearances gave Perot instant credibility. The results of this three-way decision impacted much of the country with Perot's vote tallies making dents into the natural political followings of both Bush and Clinton. And it hit this naturally conservative, rural region with a wallop: two GOP strongholds, Colorado (8) and Montana (3), went to Clinton, while Kansas (6) and Wyoming (3) went half-heartedly to President Bush.

A very portentous example was found in usually reliable GOP cornerstone Montana. The state had flirted with going Democratic four times since the Eisenhower years. Montana had given John Kennedy 48% of the vote in 1960, 42% for Hubert Humphrey in 1968, 45% for Jimmy Carter in 1976, and even 46% of the vote to Michael Dukakis in 1988. But unlike George Wallace's more regional third party run in 1968, Perot's candidacy was enough to topple the proverbial apple cart.

In 1988, Montana awarded George H.W. Bush 52% of the vote; four years later he won only 35% -- a loss of 17%. The Democrats lost points, too -- 9% of the vote from their total in '88. This gave Perot 26% of Montana's vote. Although not enough to turn the tide of the general election, Governor Bill Clinton was the beneficiary and went on to win the White House in 1992. Colorado's numbers were similar: Perot took roughly 23% of the vote, Bush received 17% less than in '88, and Clinton received 5 percent less of the vote than Dukakis had four years earlier.

The dents in the GOP's take in both Kansas and Wyoming in 1992 were just as significant and the resulting figures far from their bedrock usual. Kansas gave the GOP 17% less than the 1988 totals while the Republicans lost even more in Wyoming--by a whopping 21 percent! All in all, 1992 proved that a third party candidate is one way of splitting up the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states clique.

Another way to make these states competitive in the future may be wholly dependent upon changing the demographics of the area. But a serious effort by the Democratic candidate might be enough to wedge a few of these, namely Montana and Colorado, out of 'R' column on Election Night. Ignored, the 48 electoral votes of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states will remain the dominion of the GOP for the foreseeable future. And with that kind of guarantee -- and intractability -- there's little reason for either challenger to make the trip this campaign season.


From the second coming of Grover Cleveland in 1892 through the Johnson landslide of 1964, Arkansas has been a Democratic cornerstone, literally. In fact, for every Presidential Election from 1892 until 1956, Arkansas gave the Democratic candidate for President no less than 55% of the vote! Little wonder that when the Natural state would produce a major presidential candidate, it would be a Democrat. And that native Arkansan, Governor Bill Clinton, brought his home state back decisively into the Democratic fold in both his White House bids. In Clinton's bid against an incumbent President Bush in 1992 and in 1996 running for re-election as President, he won with over 53% of vote each time. But Clinton's runs were a sort of anomaly. Looking back to the Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace contest, one can easily see that 1968 was a watershed in Arkansas' political status. Although Alabama Governor George Wallace, in his third party run, won Arkansas's 6 electoral votes that year, the Republicans would go on to win 4 of the next 5 presidential elections, and the state of Arkansas as well.

The 2000 Presidential Election saw Arkansas swing back to the GOP after the two Clinton wins. This came about even though President Clinton remained extremely popular in his home state and his Vice President, Al Gore, was from neighboring Tennessee. A quick assumption would be that two Southern candidates would keep Arkansas in Democratic column on Election Night. But most of the Arkansas voters considered Texas Governor George W. Bush a Southerner as well, and he won a whopping 51% of the vote in 2000. This was 5% less than his father's total of 56% in 1988. Yet in comparing the two Bush wins, it is imperative to note the differences in the victory margins: George H. W. Bush's winning percentage was 14% over Democrat Michael Dukakis, whereas the younger Bush's margin of victory was by only 5%. That doesn't lend itself too much in revealing the direction Arkansas' electorate will go this year. But if Vice President Gore's loss of Arkansas was thought to have been preventable, a closer look shows that it wasn't really that surprising. And you'll see why.

Who wins Arkansas on November 2nd could have major implications in an election that is purportedly going to be as close as the 2000 contest. Current predictions demonstrate that Arkansas hasn't been all that easily pegged, even though recently it has been marked as leaning GOP. However, it is my contention that Arkansas will go to the Republicans on Election Night 2004, and there are 3 clear reasons why that will happen.

The first and most obvious of the reasons is the candidate's affiliation with the area. President Bush claims Arkansas's neighbor, Texas, as his home state. He's a Southerner. The Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, on the other hand, has no geographic ties to the area. The selection of Kerry's vice presidential running mate, Senator John Edwards, a Southerner, was supposed to help Senator Kerry make crucial inroads into Southern constituencies. However, Edwards is from the eastern end of the South: North Carolina. And Edwards' place on the Democratic ticket has had little if no effect on swaying the voters of his home state according to months of past polling. So his effect on Arkansas is truly marginal at best.

The second reason is Arkansas' own geographic tie to a certain neighboring state. Since the watershed election of 1968, as Missouri goes so goes Arkansas--or vice versa. Apparently, the Ozark Mountains aren't the only things that Bellwether Missouri and Arkansas share. Their tilt in the national electoral contest is strikingly similar, too, with Arkansas being more decisive than Missouri. An example is George H. W. Bush's 1988 wins: in Arkansas 56%, while in Missouri only 51%.

This all brings us to the third reason: percentage trending. In this case it's that margin of victory by the Republicans in 2000. As I mentioned, Arkansas and Missouri march in tandem. Although George W. Bush's margin over Al Gore in Arkansas was by only 5%, interestingly, the GOP's 2000 margin of victory in Missouri was by even less: 3.3% percent! Missouri, it would seem would be less resolute, yet most pollsters and pundits have put Missouri out of reach for the Democratic ticket this year, as Senator Kerry hasn't had a lead in the polling of that state since the end of May. And with the Democrats pulling advertising dollars out of Missouri, this means less media bleed over into Arkansas. And, essentially, no chance of winning either for the Democratic ticket.

Candidate home affiliation, geography, and voting trends: all three very good reasons why Arkansas' 6 electoral votes will belong to President Bush on Election Night 2004. Perhaps if Senator Kerry had selected General Wesley Clark of Arkansas as his running mate, the all-but-certainty of Arkansas' decision might have been considerably different. Just ask President Clinton.


Any serious student of the Electoral College must do a great deal of research to uncover past electoral trends that will help him or her better predict the way the states will fall into line on Election Night in the coming Presidential contest. Those trends usually reveal themselves in the most basic ways: geographical, demographic, and historical. Some of this trending is obvious, like the Northeast trending Democratic (since 1992), or the Great Plains going to the GOP (since 1968), and the South as well -- unless the Democratic candidate is from there (1976, 1992, 1996). But there are other trends, quaint oddities that present themselves if you know just where to look. Among those oddities are the strange political pairings that have occurred throughout our nation's electoral history. The most famous among those was the odd pairing of Maine and Vermont.

Prior to Franklin Roosevelt's landslide reelection in 1932, there was an old saw that ran, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation". And Maine had been right on the money since 1896 -- -with that one exception: siding with the losing Republican candidate, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes in 1916. But Maine's bellwether status ended in 1932, when she and Vermont voted against FDR. Four years later, both states would repeat their preferences supporting the losing Republican candidate, Kansas Governor Alfred Landon, while the rest of the nation supported President Franklin Roosevelt. So the old adage was rewritten: "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont". And this has been the case ever since, with that one exception: the 1968 three-way contest between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. It is important to note that aside from that single aberration, Maine and Vermont have been solid voting partners since 1856's Buchanan-Fremont contest. Certainly their geographic proximity would lend itself to their common voting record, but there are other strange political pairings that truly transcend geography.

By all accounts for the presidential contest of 2004, Indiana, the first state to report on Election Night, is safely in the Republican column. And the same goes for South Dakota. In fact, for the last 100 years, since President William McKinley's reelection of 1900, Indiana and South Dakota have shared a common political bias -- excepting, of course, the 1912 election. But that election, like every three-way contest, was an anomaly. While Indiana went Democratic, supporting the winner, Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, South Dakota went for the Progressive Party candidate, former President Theodore Roosevelt. Incredibly, the incumbent, President Taft, wasn't even on South Dakota's ballot that year! Nevertheless, here is a truly remarkable instance where two states from diverse parts of the country share the same voting pattern. And it doesn't stop there.

With the Harding-Cox contest of 1920, the state of Kansas joined the Indiana-South Dakota voting coterie. This might not be considered as extraordinary, since Kansas is a Great Plains state like South Dakota. But with the first Eisenhower win of 1952, a Southern state joined the club: Virginia. Neither Kansas nor Virginia have ever deviated since. The foursome became a quintet when Senator John Kennedy held off Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960, with the addition of the new state of Alaska. The diversity is exceptional here, consider: a mid-western state, two Great Plains states, a Southern state, and a northwestern state all voting the very same way for the last 40 years! Incredible. Therefore, in recalling the Maine-Vermont adage, we can surely conclude that, "As Indiana goes, so goes South Dakota. And Kansas. And Virginia. And Alaska." Could there possibly be any more odd voting associations?

There are indeed a few more odd pairings. When Indiana picked up another voting partner in Kansas in 1920, neighboring Illinois found one too: New Mexico. Both Illinois and New Mexico have now voted for the same candidate for the past 21 presidential elections. Another pair, Iowa and Oregon, together have selected the same candidate since 1952. Both pairs have no exceptions to their voting records. Both pairs also have that big difference in geography and demographics. One other notable pairing is New Hampshire and Nevada. Since Wilson's win 1912, they've also voted the same, but they have 2 exceptions: 1948 and 1960. As one can surmise, other odd pairings will turn up under enough scrutiny.

Granted, several states on either side of the continent will share common political leanings. As Maryland and California tend to be Democratic supporters, while Montana and Mississippi tend to side with the Republican candidate for president. But Maryland and California don't have a consistent shared voting track record; nor do Montana and Mississippi always match up. The peculiarity occurs when states as geographically and economically diverse as Indiana and South Dakota, or even Illinois and New Mexico share the same voting record.

In conclusion, the Indiana-led voting quintet looks to remain in tact for the election of 2004. The GOP appears to hold double digit leads in the polls in all five members. However, with both President Bush and Senator Kerry pounding away at the constituencies of New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa and Oregon (all considered swing states), it's fair to say that those voting clubs have less chance of continuing in the same way as before. Still, there are bizarre trends that intrigue, and curiosities that show up in Electoral College history that continue to make election history an incredibly interesting subject.

(This article originally appeared in six parts)

Philip is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant. He is married and a father of 7, and works as a Programmer/Analyst (SAS & SQL) in Indiana. He is a critical student of ancient history and U.S. Presidential history and is a staunch supporter of the Electoral College.

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