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How the 2008 electoral map has changed

Virginia could be a bellwether in a year that is likely to see a few more battleground states.

By Staff writer / September 7, 2008

Barack Obama took questions from supporters in Terre Haute, Ind.

Michael Conroy/AP

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Washington

Flush with cash, Democrat Barack Obama has spent months trying to expand the battleground in the 2008 presidential elections. Ad buys in normally Republican states like Montana, North Dakota, and Alaska signaled a bold effort to turn the usual 10-or 11-state map of swing states into a 20-state contest.

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Now, following a whirlwind two weeks of back-to-back conventions and a stunning vice presidential pick by Republican John McCain, both nominees have consolidated their bases of support. And the likelihood is that, with a few exceptions, the 2008 battleground will look similar to 2004.

“We’re probably talking about a race that is very much about the Great Lakes and Mountain West regions,” says Evan Tracey, a political media specialist and founder of Campaign Media Analysis Group in Arlington, Va.

Demographic shifts have nudged traditionally Republican Colorado and Virginia onto the map, with the campaigns planning plenty of appearances in both states. But a look at the 11 states in 2004 that were decided by a margin of victory of fewer than 6 points provides a basis for assessing 2008. Of those 11 states, Democratic nominee John Kerry won six: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Oregon. President Bush won New Mexico, Nevada, Iowa, Florida, and Ohio.

In 2008, Oregon is on no one’s list of battlegrounds, and is expected to go for Obama. Of the others, pundits disagree on the degree to which various states are in play. Michigan, for one, with its deeply struggling economy, should be in the Democrats’ back pocket, but Senator McCain has played well there in the past. Same goes for Pennsylvania.

McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a cultural conservative with a charismatic persona, could help the GOP ticket in the rural portions of those two states. But the degree to which independent and swing voters are receptive to her persuasion remains uncertain.

“Rural Pennsylvanians are Republican,” says Byron Shafer, political science chair at the University of Wisconsin. “Republicans are going around scooping up Republicans. In order to carry Pennsylvania, you have to win a big chunk of the Hillary vote.”

In the end, he adds, it’s a stretch to see many supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who beat Obama soundly in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary, being swayed by Governor Palin, whose policy positions hold little in common with Clinton’s.

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