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Monday, August 16, 2004

Landslide? 

That's what Paul Waldman of the Gadflyer is predicting -- or almost predicting:
But here's the key point: the number of battleground states has grown since the beginning of this race, and in each case a state that Bush won easily in 2000 has, to the surprise of many, become highly contested, complete with multiple candidate visits and a tsunami of television ads. Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado were all supposed to be safely Republican; Kerry could win one or more.

In fact, there is not a single battleground state save Louisiana (which many people don't consider and actual battleground state) in which a non-partisan poll shows Bush with a lead larger than the poll's margin of error, while in many, things are trending Kerry's way. Bush won Missouri comfortably in 2000; Kerry now leads in polls there. Pennsylvania, the state Bush has visited more times than any other save Texas, now looks like it might not even be close, with Kerry garnering double-digit leads in some polls. Kerry also leads by a good margin in Michigan. Ohio was supposed to be the Florida of 2000, the state on which all could hinge; most polls show Kerry with a lead there.

Which brings us to Florida itself. After Jeb Bush coasted to re-election in 2002, some were saying Democrats shouldn't even bother trying to contest the Sunshine State; now Kerry leads there in every poll. And the situation on the ground is favorable to Kerry as well: According to the St. Petersburg Times, the Bush campaign, the state GOP, and the RNC combined have only 68 paid staffers in Florida, compared to the 300 working there for the crack anti-Bush field organizing group America Coming Together; that doesn't even count the Kerry campaign itself. Through June, the Democrats had added 129,423 new voters to the Florida rolls, compared to 75,132 for Republicans. And the Democrats will be watching the vote counting very carefully.

As President Bush tries to make his case to the American people, what exactly is he offering them? He's having a hard time making the case that his administration has been successful on any major issue. Gasoline prices are at record highs. Kerry seems to have already won the argument on the state of the economy, which is hampered by weak job creation and stagnant wages. Iraq continues to be a quagmire; a majority of Americans now believe the war was a mistake, and some time close to election day the 1000th American soldier will be killed there. On a range of domestic issues, most notably health care, Bush has neither accomplished much meaningful nor offered any compelling plans for a second term.

In short, the President doesn't have much of a hand to play when it comes to the issues that will dominate the rest of the campaign. Perhaps his convention will provide a positive, unifying theme for Bush's re-election, but it's a mighty tall order.
Need backup? We've got backup, from our distinguished colleague Thomas Schaller, who says -- channelling Muhammad Ali? -- that "the economy is flatter in the states that matter":
The National Journal recently published a special feature profiling the 20 states they deem to be 2004 presidential battlegrounds. For each, the Journal reported the statewide per capita income growth and job growth rates since January 2001, when Bush took office.

The numbers are striking: Of the 20 states, only five – Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, New Mexico and West Virginia – are doing better than the national income growth rate of 11 percent income growth since January 2001; and only six – Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia – have outperformed the national job loss benchmark of -0.8% during the same period. Crosstabulating these 11 states yields just two – Louisiana and West Virginia – that have outperformed the nationwide averages on both measures.

More damning is the fact that, of the remaining 18 doing worse on at least one measure, fully 11 are doing worse on both, and these 11 include the "big three" swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida (the other eight: Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin). It's as if the battleground states are experiencing an inverse Lake Wobegon effect – almost all of them are below average.

If not obvious, the point is that, whatever impact the struggling economy may have on this year's election, any impacts will be more pronounced in the very states that will decide whether Bush returns or John Kerry replaces him. That said, pundits who think the economy will be trumped by war issues may want to rethink the relative impact of the economic situation in these key states.

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