Some Bellwether States Losing Their Status

by Nathan L. Gonzales September 9, 2008 · 12:05 AM EDT

The presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has vowed to compete in all 50 states this fall. While he should perform better than Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in some traditionally Republican states, he’s not going to achieve a Reagan-esque 1984 sweep.

If he defeats Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama’s path to victory will be different from the most recent Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who came from the South. And an Obama victory will likely jeopardize the bellwether status of some Southern states. Even so, some of the 11 traditional bellwethers remain.

Missouri. Arguably, the champion of all bellwethers, the Show Me State has chosen the presidential winner in each election since 1904, with the exception of 1956. This year, Missouri remains a battleground, and the two vice presidential nominees will face off in St. Louis for the official debate. An Aug. 13-17 Public Policy Polling survey showed McCain ahead 50 percent to 40 percent.

Ohio. One of the most hotly contested states in recent years, Ohio remains a significant battleground. The Buckeye State voted for Richard Nixon in 1960 and has gotten it right ever since. The McCain campaign would like to challenge in Michigan, but it can’t afford to lose Ohio. An Aug. 31-Sept. 2 CNN/Time poll had Obama leading 47 percent to 45 percent, and an Aug. 17-24 Quinnipiac University poll gave the Democrat a similarly narrow edge of 44 percent to 43 percent.

Florida. After the 2000 fiasco, Florida will always get a significant amount of attention. The state has only two knocks against it since 1960, voting for George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Nixon in 1960. An Aug. 25-26 Mason-Dixon poll showed Obama with a 45 percent to 44 percent lead, while Republican firm Strategic Vision (Aug. 22-24) and Quinnipiac University (Aug. 17-24) give McCain 7- and 4-point leads, respectively.

Nevada. Nevada has picked the presidential winner every time since 1960, except for 1976. According to an Aug. 24-26 CNN/Time poll, Obama led 49 percent to 44 percent in a state that is experiencing a tremendous amount of population growth.

New Mexico. Since 1960, voters in the Land of Enchantment have voted for the presidential winner, except 1976 and 2000. President Bush prevailed in 2004 in one of the closest races in the country. New Mexico should be a battleground once again, although an Aug. 24-26 CNN/Time poll showed Obama with a significant 13-point lead.

North Carolina. Tar Heel State voters went for George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996, but have a great presidential track record beyond that. Recent polls have shown McCain with a slight advantage — he had a 45 percent to 42 percent edge in an Aug. 20-23 Public Policy Polling survey — but he can’t take this one for granted. If Obama is on the verge of winning North Carolina, he’s probably already won Virginia and well on his way to the Oval Office.

Arkansas. Since 1960, the Natural State has voted for every presidential winner, except for 1968, when it was one of five states to go for third-party candidate George Wallace. Today, Arkansas is one of the last to receive attention from the Obama campaign, after losing the state 70 percent to 26 percent in the primary to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), the former first lady of Arkansas.

Kentucky. In 1960, the Bluegrass State went for Nixon, who lost to John F. Kennedy, but the state has supported the presidential winner ever since. Kentucky is another Southern state where Obama performed poorly in the primary (30 percent).

Tennessee. Obama did slightly better in the Volunteer State primary (41 percent). But the Democratic nominee is not expected to carry the state in the general election, even though Tennessee has picked the last 11 presidential winners.

Louisiana. This state has only gotten it wrong twice (1964 and 1968) at the presidential level since 1960. McCain is favored to carry the state this fall.

Delaware. The First State has a great track record for choosing the presidential winner since 1960. But Delaware is trending Democratic, voting for the unsuccessful Democratic nominee in the last two presidential elections, and the presence of native son Sen. Joseph Biden (D) on the ticket makes the state neither a battleground nor a bellwether this year.