Opening the Blue Tide

Last night Barack Obama won in a bunch of places Democrats don’t have a history of winning in the general election. Georgia, Alabama, Utah, Colorado, Alaska, Idaho, and North Dakota all favored Bush over Kerry in 2004 and Obama over Clinton last night. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, won the red states of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Of these states, only Missouri and New Mexico were swing states that went for Bush in 2004. Obama took Missouri, and Clinton took New Mexico—both very, very close races.

Democrats are going to start placing an increasing amount of attention on which Democratic candidate is the stronger general election contender. If the candidate won the primary in a swing state, the thinking goes, then he or she will be better able to rally the troops in the general election. A look at the 2008 Democratic primary results from the 2004 swing states shows an even split. Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri have gone for Barack, New Hampshire, Nevada, and New Mexico for Clinton.

The real battleground is among independents in open primary or open caucus states. If a candidate does well in open primaries, then it’s reasonable to think he or she will retain independent votes in the general election. Looking at open contests over the entire primary season shows Obama has slightly more success. Sixty-seven percent of Obama’s wins have come in open-contest states (10 of 15 total); 61.5 percent of his Super Tuesday wins were in open caucuses or primaries. Fifty-five percent of Clinton’s wins overall and on Super Tuesday came in open contests. That margin is still slim, but it appears to fall in line with the perception that Obama courts more independents than Clinton.

With Alex Joseph