Monday, December 15, 2008

Does It Matter Where a Senator Comes From???

Before all of the shenanigans in the Illinois Senate seat appointment emerged, there was an underlying discussion about the ability of whoever was appointed to win "statewide." With the assumption that the designee would hail from Chicago, attention immediately turned to the fact that whoever was chosen would have to run two years later for a full term. An even more daunting schedule awaits Hillary Clinton's successor as the new Senator will have to run first in 2010 for the right to fill out the term, and then in 2012 for a full 6 years.

Given that the designee will not initially gain their seat via the will of the people, there is uncertainty as to how palatable they will be to the electorate once they are on the ballot. More ethically minded governors than Rod Blagojevich need to speculate about how the new Senator will fare across a state's myriad voting groups. In the case of Illinois, should the designee come from Chicago they begin, potentially, with a large voting bloc ready to support them (or that is at least familiar to them). This would especially be the case for appointees already holding some elected office--House members, mayors, state senators, etc. Once in office, however, they will need to broaden their appeal to voters across the rest of the state.

Complicating this, sometimes, is the fact that voters "out-state" tend to receive coolly politicians from the "big city." These candidates might be perceived as arrogant, unconcerned with the needs of people from small towns or rural areas, or too ensconced in the ways of the state's dominant metropolis. Thus, "out state" voters might react against them in favor of someone more familiar. Central to Richard Fenno's theory of "home style" is the need for voters to identify with candidates in order to trust them. This tension between the big city and "out-state" has manifest itself in my home state of Wisconsin where a governor who hailed from Milwaukee hasn't been elected since the late 1920s despite the fact that the Milwaukee metropolitan area accounts for roughly 30% of the state's population. While Chicago clearly dominates Illinois' economy and is by far the population center, there is no guarantee that a Senator from there will automatically win. This question got me wondering, then, about how common it is for Senators to come from their state's largest city or metropolitan area. Is it truly an advantage or might "out state" Senators be more attractive. Thus, I decided to look at the current Senate (minus Obama) to see if one type of candidate is more prevalent.

In answering this question I would note that there are numerous caveats to raise. Many many factors, aside from residence, account for why candidates win Senate seats. Among these are their previous experience (elected offices, private sector work, etc.), the underlying partisanship of the state, the quality of their challenger, whether they are an incumbent or seeking their first term, fundraising prowess, and the political climate in which their campaign takes place. Also, we can't automatically assume that the candidate will automatically win these big city voters in a proportion greater than the norm. Further worth noting is that some states have many population centers, thus creating numerous "big city" vs. "out state" dynamics. California comes immediately to mind with L.A., San Francisco, and San Diego acting as population meccas; Texas and Florida might also be cited. Thus, this analysis, and any conclusions we might draw, will be crude at best. Nonetheless, what do we see.

Above I've produced a simple spreadsheet that shows each state's two Senators followed by the state's largest city and metropolitan area. I included both city and metro areas because of the possibility that the suburban spread of one city might make it larger than that of the state's largest city proper. Because metro areas share common media a candidate might be able to take advantage of this to attract a large voter base. I also included metro areas because in some states the largest metro area is in fact a cluster of suburbs to a city in a neighboring state--New Jersey being the obvious example here. Next I've listed both the residence and city of birth for the Senator. While we see that many Senators reside in the same places in which they were born, Senators will also try to identify both their residence's and birthplace's voters as their own. Should there be a match between either the Senator's residence or birthplace and either the state's largest city or metro area, I've highlighted the correlation.

As a bit of trivia, I'd note that Brooklyn seems to be a great place to be born if you aspire to represent a state other than New York in the Senate, as Barbara Boxer (CA), Bernie Sanders (VT), and Norm Coleman (MN) all hail from there.

Overall, we see that for just barely a majority of Senate seats--52--does the incumbent Senator come from their state's population center. Thus, there doesn't seem to be, on its face, much of an advantage from coming from the area with the most votes. Candidates seem to be able to emerge from a variety of places within a state--some from big cities, some from tiny hamlets. One thing that might be worth exploring--which I didn't calculate--is whether the size of the biggest city vis a vis the rest of the state--matters. If the biggest city in a state is comparatively small the advantage accrued by winning those votes is less that if the state's biggest city is proportionally much larger.

I'd be happy to entertain any other theories or observations that anyone has about how meaningful the "big city" vs. "out-state" dynamic is.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Saul Anuzis to GOP Economic Populists: "This is not your average Republican twitter page!"

ElectionDissection strolled down to the offices of Americans for Tax Reform for the latest in the series of Newsmaker Breakfasts hosted by the American Spectator.  The “newsmaker” on hand was Saul Anuzis, the Michigan Republican Party chairman who earned the Paultards’ enduring animus by calling for Ron Paul’s exclusion from Republican presidential primary season debates after his symbiotically beneficial contretemps over 9/11 blowback with fmr. NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani in South Carolina.

Despite the fact that its Congressional delegation has been shrinking in recent rounds of redistricting and expects to at the next census, Michigan’s noteworthy political legacy is even more salient as potential bailouts for the Big Three dominate the headlines.  It’s clear that Anuzis’ decades of experience in the trenches of Wolverine State politics do color his vision for a revivified GOP as he vies for RNC Chair.

Anuzis highlighted his vision for harnessing new media to facilitate disseminating the GOP’s message.  (Best line: “This is not your average Republican twitter page!” Oxymoron of the week: “Republican twitter page!”)  And he repeatedly harkened back to the fabled “Reagan Democrat,” citing appealing to this once-decisive voting bloc as the key to a Republican resurgence.  Suburban Detroit’s Macomb County boomed in the 1950s and 60s with auto workers as White Flight emptied the white working class neighborhoods of Detroit’s Wayne County.  Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg identified Macomb as the spiritual home of this famously crucial electoral demographic.  (It’s interesting to note that Greenberg, post-2008, agrees that this political dinosaur is, in fact, extinct.)   

“Reagan Democrats,” of course were those Northern, often-ethnic and heavily Catholic, white working class voters who were lured away from their ancestral Democratic moorings by GOP appeals to their conservative opinions on moral issues, busing and crime and Cold War hawkishness.  But many of these voters were proud union men (and women) who couldn’t swallow even Ronald Reagan’s free trade agenda.  This was especially acute in Macomb Co., Michigan in the 1980’s as competition from Japanese imports rattled Detroit’s long-term game plan.

While social conservatism can be found in Michigan politicians of both parties – Reps. Dale Kildee, Bart Stupak and John Dingell count themselves as either pro-life, pro-gun or both – so, too, does the state’s formidable strain of economic populism infect voters on both sides of the aisle. 

Alabama’s segregationist governor George Wallace first identified this political animal instinctively, scoring above his national average in Macomb in his 1968 indie bid, and capturing a majority in the 1972 Democratic presidential primary statewide.  Twenty years later, Pat Buchanan barnstormed the state denouncing imports and racked up his best score this side of the Granite State in his challenge to George H.W. Bush’s renomination.  Four years later, he fared even better, denouncing NAFTA at every stop. 

Only an underwhelming performance in Detroit dragged Ross Perot’s percentage statewide back to his national average in 1992.  In over half of Michigan’s counties, his call to heed that “giant sucking sound” supposedly sending manufacturing jobs to Mexico pulled in over a quarter to 30% of the vote.

And in this year’s Republican presidential primary, Mike Huckabee scored well in Dutch-settled southwestern Michigan where his social conservatism no doubt resonated with the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church-goers.  But, his economic populism seems to have struck a cord here, too.  The area’s Dutch-American U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra was the only Michigander Republican to oppose NAFTA back in ’93.  Huckabee’s populist notes also played among Yoopers, too, in the Upper Peninsula’s mining and timber towns. 

But Michigan’s stunted population growth has frozen the smaller, broken rust belt cities like Saginaw, Flint, Muskegon and Bay City, where Wallace, Buchanan and Perot exploited white working class anxiety, as well as both the U.P. and the Dutch southwest where Huckabee found a base far above the Mason-Dixon Line. 

Macomb is growing, but still totals far behind Oakland’s population.  (Besides, Obama captured the county comfortably, flipping the narrow win G.W. eked out in 2004.)  Contrast Macomb to its fellow Detroit suburb, Oakland County.  Once home to Midwestern, Michigan, Gerald Ford-style regular Republicans, as this affluent and educated enclave population expands, it threatens to surpass Detroit’s Wayne County, which still continues to hemmorage residents, as the state’s largest jurisdiction.  Oakland’s Democratic trend is relentless as Obama scored the best Dem numbers since LBJ, beating FDR, even!  McCain’s percentage dipped to near Goldwater and Alf Landon lows.  Once safe GOP Rep. Joe Knollenberg also succumbed to Oakland's Democratic wave in '08, after what shouldn't have been a surprisingly close race in '06, given the county's trends were then becoming evident.  (Note, too, the strong showing by North Dakota Rep. William Lemke’s third party bid here in 1936, whose message melding social conservatism and economic populism was amplified by on air harangues from Father Coughlin, the anti-Semitic radio priest whose Shrine of the Little Flower sits in now-trendy Royal Oak, a leading indicator of Oakland’s partisan progression.  Royal Oak gave Gore a 51-45 win over Bush in 2000.  By 2008, Obama’s margin here had grown to a lopsided 61-37.)

Building on a question from blogger Dave Weigel suggesting the GOP's appeals to socially conservative voters and anti-immigrant demagoguing had aliented electorates in similar suburban counties nationwide, ElectionDissection questioned Anuzis about whether his strategy for staving off further losses in Oakland included toning down the economic populism that hasn't been a vote-winner there – especially in light of a Big Three bailout that may play well in his state, but not among the Southern-anchored grassroots of the party he wants lead - his answer focused more on this blog’s analysis of Michigan’s political geography than his thoughts on recasting the Republican message.  But Anuzis did offer some interesting off-the-cuff insight into shifting intra-state demographics – UAW retirees, for instance, migrating up north to retire and the increasingly racially diverse make-up of Oakland Co.’s electorate – which offer fodder for future posts.  

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Twin Cities' Suburbs and Obama's (Lack of) Coattails

To get a sense of why they're still counting votes in the Minnesota Senate race, the above maps might be instructive. Obviously, Obama's support was more widespread than Al Franken's. Initially, I thought the reason Franken wasn't able to capitalize on Obama's big win was due to underperformance in Ramsey County (St. Paul). Being Norm Coleman's home--he was Mayor of St. Paul prior to running for the Senate--this wouldn't be surprising.

When one compares the candidates' performance in both Ramsey and neighboring Hennepin County, however, another explanation seems more plausible. In looking at the countywide vote, Franken actually did better in Ramsey than Hennepin. The third party candidate in the race, Dean Barkley, performed about equally well in each county, receiving 15.5% in Ramsey and 14.7% in Hennepin. Franken, while winning both counties quite handily received 51.1%in Ramsey compared to 49.3% in Hennepin. Coleman thus took 33.3% in Ramsey and 35.7% in Hennepin.

In comparing the maps one sees a noticeable strength for Coleman in the western and southern Minneapolis suburbs, still part of Hennepin County. Whereas Obama was able to win in a number of these outer precincts, Franken fell short.

This split ticket voting was evident not only in the Senate race. Going into November 4th, Democrats were hoping to pick up the open House seat being vacated by moderate Republican incumbent Jim Ramstad in the 3rd District. On election day, however, Republicans were able to hold the seat with the election of state legislator Erik Paulsen. Whereas Obama won the 3rd district with 53% of the vote, Paulsen scored an 8 point victory over Democratic nominee Ashwin Madia.

This dynamic was not confined to the Twin Cities. In a number of suburban areas, sizable Obama wins did not necessarily translate into Democratic congressional pickups. For example, in a similar type of race, moderate Republican Rep. Mark Kirk was able to hold onto his suburban Chicago seat despite the fact that it went for Obama.

**Maps courtesy of Minnesota Secretary of State

Does It Take Two Hurricanes Plus an Indictment to Elect a Republican in New Orleans???

Louisiana has to have some of the most interesting, yet oftentimes confusing, politics in the country. And since the devastation, and demographic chaos unleashed by Hurricane Katrina, Bayou politics has become more unpredictable. The most recent evidence of this came about Saturday as a result of the congressional election in the 2nd district that saw the defeat of long embattled (and indicted), yet long tenured Congressman William Jefferson. The result of the election was the ascent of the first ever Vietnamese-American to Congress, Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao. How we got to this piece of history takes a little explaining.

The arrival of Hurricane Gustav this August essentially pushed back each election for the seat. November 4th was actually the primary, which Jefferson won in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. With the primary completed, the general election was thus held on Saturday. However, as we know, elections held after the general are fraught with both unpredictability and low-turnout (witness last week's Georgia Senate run-off). While Jefferson's indictment, one would think, would be responsible for his defeat, other factors are likely bigger factors. First, as the coverage of the election makes pretty clear (good number breakdown here), turnout among African Americans--the largest group and backbone of the district--was very low. While low turnout among a candidate's base might be enough to spell their demise, Jefferson's difficulties were exacerbated by another Hurricane--Katrina. In my look at HBCU voting last week (see post here) I examined the vote in a number of southern counties. As we would have expected, the total number of votes in these high African American vote counties greatly exceeded what we saw in 2004. In Orleans Parish, however, the opposite happened. Because of the massive out-migration and displacement among African Americans caused by Katrina, 50,000 fewer votes were cast this year than in 2004. Thus, Jefferson found himself faced with an unfavorable environment:

Fewer Total Democratic Voters + Low Turnout + Indictment = TROUBLE

Throw in the fact that Cao has an incredibly compelling story and you have Saturday's result. While people are already doubting the ability of a Republican to hold this district in a more "normal" election year like 2010 (running against someone not under federal indictment), such jockeying for the seat can wait for a while in light of the history this election made.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Indian Republican or Republican Indian? Slurpees or Casinos?

Savvy flaks in the Party of Lincoln are perpetually mindful of their historic paucity of even passably plausible minority public faces.  And, in the midst of the GOP’s post-drubbing soul searching, former Maryland Lt. Gov. – and famously failed Senate nominee – Michael Steele has stepped forward, offering himself as a reform-minded candidate of color for RNC chairman, differentiating himself from the white guys in suits/Republican Regular types who usually vie for the post. 

However, after the smoke cleared from the recent round of internecine squabbling among what’s left of the congressional Republican rump before the 111th Congress convenes, one more of those public faces has fallen by the wayside. 

Only those who follow this sort of insider skullduggery took note that when Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) withdrew in the face of a seemingly overwhelming challenge to topple him from the head of NRCC, the House GOP campaign arm, Republican leadership lost it’s only American Indian.  Critics hounded Cole as the GOP lost previously safe seats in special elections - including shockers in rural Mississippi and fmr. Speaker Denny Hastert’s in once-rockribbed Republican Illinois – and blamed him for failing to stanch House GOP losses in November.  Tension lingered between Cole and House Minority Leader Boehner.  So, Cole’s distinctive ancestry (at least in these circles) seemed to be the last thing on Members’ minds.  

Much more attention has been lavished on Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.  The Subcontinental Indian descended chief executive of a state that nearly elected a former Grand Wizard as recently as the 1990’s, is repeatedly dubbed a "GOP rising star" in the press. 

With Cole on the way out and the Jindal on the way up, it’s hard to escape hearing Lisa Lampanelli, the “Queen of Mean,” bark out her witty update on the old stereotype, “dot or feathers,” in 2005’s dirty joke biopic, “the Aristocrats.”  The GOP’s new direction?  “Slurpees not Casinos!”       

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Black Student Vote and Barack Obama

Last week I came across this article about Obama’s win in North Carolina. Mentioned at the end is the claim that Obama’s win can be partially explained by increased turnout not just among African American voters, but especially students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's). The Tarheel State has 11 HBCUs. This got me thinking about the role of this student group across the country and whether or not we can point to any clear gains made by the Obama camp as a result of this energized student base. Also bolstering my interest in this question was the fact that last weekend saw the playing of the annual Bayou Classic in New Orleans, one of my favorite sporting events of the year to watch. If you don’t think the Obama win was important to the student bodies of Southern and Grambling State Universities, check out the halftime performance of the “Battle of the Bands”—in many ways a more passionate and heated contest than the football game itself (Southern here, Grambling State here).

Thus, I decided to build a database of voting across the HBCU universe and do some number crunching. The database has been posted here (Google account required) along with the explanatory key for each column.

HBCU’s were created, beginning in the aftermath of the Civil War, to allow African Americans access to higher education. The vast majority of these schools are located in states of the Deep South, which isn’t surprising given the degree to which blacks were excluded from college enrollment in these states’ flagship universities. Thus, HBCU’s have for decades acted as the route to the professions for many of the country’s black students. Currently, about 14% of all African Americans in college attend an HBCU and about 25% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded to African Americans come from one of these schools. Over time, several HBCU’s have not only welcomed non-black students but have become predominantly white or other minority. The University of Texas El Paso, for example, is now over 70% Hispanic. This school, formerly known as Texas Western, has an important place in collegiate athletics and HBCU history in that its 1966 national championship men’s basketball team was the first to start 5 black players (against the all white University of Kentucky dynasty). Thus, their role not only in educating the black community, but the nation as a whole, has been vital.

There are currently 103 HBCU’s across the country, located in 22 states and 76 counties. Only a small handful are outside of what we would consider “the South”—Lewis College of Business in Detroit; Cheyney and Lincoln Universities in Pennsylvania; Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles are examples. Alabama is the state with the most HBCU’s—14. Next among the states with many such schools are North Carolina (11), Georgia and Texas (9), and Mississippi and South Carolina (8). Another thing one notices, and which is included in the database, is the diversity in the size of each of these schools. Some have only a few hundred students while others are quite large—Howard University, Florida A&M, Texas Southern, and Southern University are among the largest. Overall, however, in looking at enrollment size, it doesn’t seem as if these schools—within their respective counties—provide enough votes to truly sway an election.

When we look at how each of these schools’ counties voted this year—and compare this year’s race to 2004’s--what do we see? First, Barack Obama won 52 of the 76 counties in which HBCU’s are located. While on the surface this might have been useful for Obama in capturing several states, the reality is that many of these wins took place in states that went solidly for McCain. For example, as mentioned Alabama contains 14 HBCU’s yet was won by McCain with 60%. At the county level, Obama won 3 of the 8 counties containing these schools. Likewise, in Mississippi, Obama won all 6 of the counties containing its HBCU’s and in South Carolina he won 4 of 5 HBCU counties (McCain won each state with 56% and 54% respectively). This fact, it seems, illustrates a much larger point not only about the history of the HBCU movement but about America’s complicated political history.

In numerous posts over the past year or so I’ve dwelled upon the debate about white vs. black voting in the Deep South. What we’ve seen, through not only exit polling, but also simple geography and demographics, is that there has been a clear divide between black and white voters in the region. For example, most of these HBCU’s are physically located in counties that have very sizable black populations. 58 of the 103 HBCU’s reside in counties that are at least 30% African-American. Thus, it would seem as if the decision about where to locate these schools was very deliberate. Because these schools in many cases served a population that was underserved and lacking in resources it made sense to have them close to where the student body would hail from. Also, one wonders how successful these schools would have been (or even if they could have been created) had they been located in overwhelmingly white areas. For example, only one HBCU (Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill, SC) is located in a county that is less than 20% black in the Deep South states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana. Worth remembering is the degree to which the residence of the black population in the South (as seen across counties) has been remarkably stable. Thus, returning to the vote this year, it seems as if the Obama vote we see at the county level is not so much a result of these schools bringing political change to an area, but rather amplifying the underlying preferences that have always been there. Obama’s candidacy energized this underlying Democratic allegiance and gave it reason to turn out in greater force than it had in years past.

When we compare this year’s vote to 2004, while we do see evidence of change, some of it seems due to other factors. Whereas Obama won 52 of the 76 HBCU counties, John Kerry managed to win only 39. Obama’s improvement on Kerry’s number took place across 8 states, flipping three counties in North Carolina (Cumberland, Forsyth, and Wake); 2 in Louisiana (East Baton Rouge and Caddo) and Texas (Dallas and Harris); and one each in Alabama (Jefferson), Delaware (Kent), Florida (Leon), Georgia (Peach), Pennsylvania (Chester), and Virginia (Henrico). The Texas wins in the counties containing Dallas and Houston can be attributed to no longer having native Texan George Bush on the ballot. Likewise, the addition of Delaware’s Kent County can be tied to Joe Biden’s VP nomination. Here is a breakdown of these counties, their Obama vote %, Black % vote, and HBCU enrollment:

Jefferson AL (Birmingham) 52.6% Obama, 39.4% Black, 3000 Students
Kent DE (Dover) 55.0% Obama, 20.7% Black, 3000 Students
Leon FL (Tallahassee) 62.2% Obama, 29.1% Black, 10000 Students
Peach GA (Ft. Valley) 53.4% Obama, 45.4% Black, 2500 Students
Caddo LA (Shreveport) 51.5% Obama, 44.6% Black, 1100 Students
E. Baton Rouge LA (Baton Rouge) 51.1% Obama, 40.1% Black, 11000 Students
Cumberland NC (Fayetteville) 58.9% Obama, 36.7% Black, 4000 Students
Forsyth NC (Winston-Salem) 55.3% Obama, 25.9% Black, 2800 Students
Wake NC (Raleigh) 57.3% Obama, 19.7% Black, 4300 Students
Chester PA (Cheyney) 54.6% Obama, 6.2% Black, 2800 Students
Dallas TX (Dallas) 57.7% Obama, 20.3% Black, 700 Students
Harris TX (Houston) 50.8% Obama, 18.5% Black, 10000 Students

Henrico VA (Richmond) 56.2% Obama, 24.7% Black, 1500 Students

Of those remaining counties, the only county with both a close margin of victory for Obama and a sizable HBCU population is East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana. Thus, whereas Southern University may have lost the Bayou Classic on Saturday, their vote may have helped tipped their county to Obama’s side, something Grambling State wasn’t able to do in Lincoln Parish which went heavily for McCain. Whereas Leon County Florida has a big HBCU population (Florida A&M) it was quite lopsided in its support for Obama. The presence of Florida State University there and its big student population might explain some of the margin and could perhaps show a greater tendency of white and black students to vote in a more colorblind way. For the North Carolina county flips, we see both relatively large margins for Obama and a relatively small HBCU population.

What are some other things we see when crunching these numbers??? Overall, Obama’s performance across these counties greatly improved on that of Kerry, something McCain was not able to replicate vis a vis George Bush. Compared to 2004, the Democrats got a higher % of the vote in 72 of the 76 counties considered here. Obama only underperformed Kerry in Jefferson County Arkansas (which he still won handily), Mercer County West Virginia, and Harrison and Wood County Texas. While McCain’s county %’s versus 2004 are dismal (only gaining in the 4 Obama declined in), an even worse scenario emerges when we look at raw vote totals. Given that the size of the electorate increases over time and that this year saw higher turnout than 2004, one would assume that both McCain and Obama would get more votes in each county than Bush and Kerry did respectively. Not so. Whereas Obama got more votes than Kerry in 70 of 76 counties, McCain only got more votes than Bush in 31 of the 76!!!! And remember, we’re mostly talking about the Deep South here. When you compare the improvements that Obama made with these declines suffered by McCain, you see how Obama was able to turn some areas from red to blue. Here, North Carolina jumps out.

Obama won North Carolina by 14,177 votes. In the HBCU database, we saw how Obama flipped Cumberland, Forsyth, and Wake County. Looking at the net vote gains (Democratic gains in 2008 over 2004 minus Republican gains in 2008 over 2004) in these three counties, Obama had a net increase of 126,563 votes. That’s your win right there. If you take other strong Obama counties in the state included here—Mecklenburg (Charlotte),
Guilford (Greensboro), and Durham (Durham)—you add an additional 162,154 votes!!! That’s nearly 290,000 votes gained in just 6 counties. Not only did Obama vastly overperform in North Carolina, McCain didn't even break even with past Republican showings. That is a sure fire way to lose.

Another state that I thought might show a similar dynamic was Virginia. Overall Obama had a 234,527 vote cushion. In the database here, there are 3 counties with an HBCU (Brunswick, Henrico, and Prince George) plus Hampton and Norfolk cities which are not part of a county jurisdiction. When you add up the net gains made by the Democrats one sees that Obama had a 70,928 vote advantage. Thus, while the Democrats increased their performance against the Republicans vis a vis 2004 in these counties, they had to rely on other counties, especially in northern Virginia to put them over the top. I should be clear that in neither North Carolina nor Virginia do I suggest that the HBCU presence and student vote were the reason these states switched from red to blue. I’d make the same caveat about the county level results as well. Rather, using this lens through which to view the election returns allows us to pick up on things we may otherwise have missed.

By focusing on HBCU’s, the data shows that we are for the most part looking at counties that are southern, black, and consistently Democratic. The Obama campaign and the 2008 election seem to have energized this electorate and given them the opportunity to elect the country’s first black president. Given the politics of the states in which most of these schools exist, we didn’t see the Obama campaign rack up massive numbers of electoral votes. States like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina were never really in serious danger. Most of the gains made by the Democrats in these states and elsewhere seem attributable just as much to Republicans staying home as new Democrats turning out. In those states that did switch (North Carolina and Virginia) other factors surely contributed to the gains—greater white support for Obama, the economic crisis, etc. The HBCU’s, in short, didn’t make Barack Obama our next president. Nevertheless, beyond the more academic exercise of crunching election returns by using HBCU’s as a prime variable, one can’t deny the meaning that this election had to these schools’ students. If you don’t believe that, watch this.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Georgia Sen Runoff: Could it have been "Peach-ier" for Vernon Jones than Jim Martin?

Most press previews of today’s Georgia Senate runoff focus on how the result is expected to hinge on Afro-Am turnout.  Black voters were believed to have boosted overall turnout by over 600K this year and sliced McCain’s margin over Obama by ten points as compared to Bush’s 2004 margin over John Kerry.  And conservative white Democrats are believed to have returned to the fold down ballot after going for the McCain-Palin ticket for president.  (No wonder that the GOP has sent in Sarah Palin to rally the base in this expected low turnout runoff.) 

Performance doesn’t seem to be too far off, geographically-speaking.

Here’s the map of county returns for president:

County Map

 And here’s the Senate county map

Note Mitchell County’s tie!):

 County Map

 Given this playing field, it’s difficult not to speculate how this race might be panning out if Dem nominee Jim Martin, a fmr. State rep. and failed Lt. Gov. nominee, had fallen to DeKalb Co. CEO Vernon Jones in the primary.  Jones’ bid might have been fatally wounded by ethics questions, but given his moderate – and even conservative – views on some issues and his geographic base, Jones might have been an ideal candidate.  In fact, Jones has flirted with Republicans: donating to the Georgia Republican Party and confessing to voting for George W. Bush, twice, all the while hectoring Martin for being insufficiently pro-Obama.   

Jones’ controversial temperament seems to have stunted his growth into a politician in the mold pioneered by Black Caucus Blue Dog Georgia House Democrats Sanford Bishop and David Scott, who have built up a support in white rural Georgia – the heart of Lester Maddox country! – by staking out conservative positions on issues such as gun control and positioning themselves as guardians of local and ag interests – particularly peanuts, in Bishop’s case.

Jones would differ significantly in that he would be the first politician to carve such a support base out of a booming New South county like DeKalb.  DeKalb is now majority Afro-Am, but continues to be fairly affluent even as its residents’ hues have changed.  Despite being home to the notorious giant bas-relief memorial to Confederate generals in Stone Mountain, DeKalb was a rare oasis of support for Richard Nixon, as George Wallace swept the Peach State in 1968.

While Bishop or Scott might be secretly harboring questions of how they might have been better positioned in this post-Obama runoff, Jones might be wondering - if he had crafted a more careful career – how he might have been able to cobble together an energized black Georgia electorate with just enough of a sliver of suburban Atlanta McCain voters still disaffected with the Bush Administration and Saxby Chambliss’ Congressional Republican cohorts to pull off a victory that might be just beyond the reach of the Democratic nominee, Jim Martin.