Friday, July 4, 2008

Jay Cost's take on Obama's ad-buys

Via, here's Jay Cost's take on Obama's ad-buys in 18 states. Cost says the aggressive buys in states like Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Georgia and Indiana show Obama's Chicagoan confidence. Cost however goes on to declare that Democrats looking to expand the electoral map beyond the Kerry-2004 states should follow President Clinton's 1996 victory pattern, playing for Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas. These latter five states apparently retain a Democratic advantage in registration, unlike the four red states. But, says Cost, Obama is not advertising here because he lost big to Senator Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Hence, Cost concludes, Obama will either win in a landslide, or lose like Kerry.

Let's look at the facts. Obama has bought ads in Nevada, New Mexico and Iowa - states President Clinton won, but Kerry lost by just 21k, 6k and 10k votes respectively (Wiki). Contrast these with Kerry's losses in Cost's "Democratic 5" - margins of 350k in KY, 100k in WVa, 350k in TN, 100k in AR, and 380k in LA. In addition, President Clinton lost Colorado by just 1.37% or 20k votes (link via the Wiki) respectively, while Kerry lost CO by 100k (<5%). If one was a Democratic Presidential candidate, would one not make a play for NV, NM, IA and perhaps CO?

In one sense, I can see that Cost is suggesting the 2008 electoral playing field will be like 2004, including states Kerry lost by not much. I would also agree that the same factors that cost Obama the Democratic primaries in KY and WV could make Obama lose the two in the GE - particularly racism. As for TN and AR - these two are Clinton turf, which explains why President Clinton won the GE there in 1996 and Senator Clinton won the primaries this year. However, Al Gore could not even carry his home state of Tennessee, let alone Arkansas, even as he won the popular vote in 2000 (Wiki). These factors, combined with Kerry's losing margins, suggest that TN, AR, KY and WV would not naturally be on this Democrat's winning strategy (or that of another Kerry/Gore-type), even in an expansionist plan.

For the other part of the puzzle - Obama buying ad-time in ND, MT, IN, AK and GA. ND and MT may be long-shots, but Obama does well in Western states (CO, NV, NM) - yesterday's Rasmussen MT poll actually has him 5% ahead! The June Alaska polls also have Obama within 5%. Indiana borders Obama's home state of IL and some parts share the Chicago media market, so folks should be familiar with Obama (the IN Democratic primary this year was very, very close). A June SUSA poll has Indiana as a tie, with Obama up 48-47.

Georgia, IMHO, is part of Obama's broader "southern" strategy, together with NC and VA. VA has been steadily turning blue. As an InsiderAdvantage poll (via write-up says, GA has a high percentage of African-Americans and youth, both of which favor Obama. There is also the Bob Barr factor in GA.

To wit - the past is not necessarily a predictor of future success. President Clinton had his winning electoral map; but that doesn't mean that's the map a Democratic Presidential candidate should follow in 2008. That is the map a White Southern Democrat would follow - if it was 1996.

A decade later, ground conditions and state politics/demographics are different, which means a state like Virginia, which President Clinton did not win in either 1992 or 1996, could turn Blue in 2008. However, even a White Southern Democrat like Al Gore, let alone a Northern liberal like John Kerry, failed to carry the south (which includes KY, WV, LA, TN, and AR). Perhaps this prompted Thomas Schaller to opine that Obama would be the latest Democrat to fail in the south, with the possible exception of Virginia.

However, Obama - as a young Black Midwestern Democrat - has strengths and weaknesses that a Kerry or a Gore or even a Bill Clinton did not have, as well as other factors like eight years of George W Bush, and even Bob Barr. So while NC, GA, IN, AK, MT, ND may seem like a stretch... Not necessarily. And current polls bear this out.

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