Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Dirty South

Another story* emerged on Friday that's likely to get less attention than it deserves: Obama is trying to open up a front in the South.


Did you know that a half a million African Americans in Georgia are eligible to vote but haven't registered? The Obama campaign knows this. And they plan to register these voters by November, campaign folks say.

Here's a kos diarist outlining a "10-10-10" strategy for Obama to make Mississippi competitive. And here's kos himself suggesting that Texas is in play based on Noriega's strength in his race against Cornyn.

To be clear, this is the foundation of the Republican electoral coalition (and the political promise of an African-American nominee). If a small cadre of Deep South states (or Texas itself) actually goes for Obama, he'll win in a landslide (see for yourself). If the Republicans are forced to squander their limited resources this year keeping the south solid--a more likely scenario--Obama should be able to rout them in the more traditional swing states with the brute force of his money. If voter registration numbers in the South start expanding dramatically over the summer, maybe Republican donors should start thinking about 2012.


*To recap, the US announced on Friday plans to build a big permanent prison in Afghanistan--"a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come." That's a big story. But the Friday Effect and Ted Kennedy's health scare totally swallowed it.

To expand on the significance of the Georgia initiative . . . (this gets a bit technical)

Start with two fairly safe assumptions: (1) John McCain will not bring as many white evangelical voters to the polls as George W. Bush did, (2) Barack Obama will bring more African American voters to the polls than John Kerry did.

George W. Bush's margin over John Kerry in Georgia?
Bush: 1,914,254
Kerry: 1,366,149
Total Votes: 3,280,403

African American turnout in Georgia in 2004?
25% of the electorate (approx. 820,000 total votes: 88% Kerry, 12% Bush)

White Evangelical turnout in Georgia in 2004?
35% of the electorate (approx. 1.1 million total votes: 84% Bush, 16% Kerry)

Imagine that (all other things being equal) Obama registers enough African American voters to get 300,000 more of them to come to the polls (60% of the goal). You'd have about 3.6 million total Georgia voters--31% (1,120,000) of whom are African American. That's a voting bloc that is just as strong numerically as the white evangelicals of 2004. And Barack Obama is going to win more than 84% of African Americans.

If Obama won 95% of African Americans in that new electorate, he would have improved on Kerry's performance by about 340,000 votes. John McCain, meanwhile, would get about 42,000 fewer African American votes than George Bush did.

So in this optimistic (but, I think, plausible) scenario, we'd see a swing toward Obama of about 380,000 votes within the African American demographic. That alone would narrow the whopping 19% Republican margin (548,000 votes) to a nervous 4.7% (168,000 votes). In that case, McCain has to scramble to keep virtually all of George Bush's other voters or find voters to replace them. If none of those Dubya voters defect to Obama, McCain can't afford to have more than 168,000 (15% of white evangelicals) stay home. If none of the Dubya voters stay home, McCain can't afford to have more than 84,000 (7% of white evangelicals) defect to Obama.

Remember: John McCain is not popular among evangelicals or Bush loyalists (see page 2); both groups went strongly for Huckabee. Those groups are a big part of the reason why McCain lost the Georgia primary.

McCain could probably manage to hold Georgia under the circumstances I laid out, but it would be tough--a real county-by-county battle that requires a lot of money, a lot of hand-holding, and a lot of favors. A battle like that would necessarily take dollars, time, and chits away from traditional swing states.

The upshot of all this is that if you see Obama announce around convention time that he's on his way to registering 350,000 new African American voters in Georgia, then Georgia--Georgia!--is a battleground state.

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