Political polling has evolved by leaps and bounds in the last decade or so. Back in the day, presidential candidates were lucky to get a reliable national poll once every week or two, and that was about it. In 2012, individual states were being polled almost daily, and there are so many pollsters out there that part of the game is knowing which ones are the most reliable, which ones tilt to the left or right, and so forth.
This is very much a two-edged sword. Because presidential campaigns have reliable state-by-state polling data right from the beginning of the campaign, it is very easy for them to do “triage” on the whole country: separate all the states into “Solid Blue”, “Up For Grabs”, and “Solid Red”, and focus all their attention on those toss-up states in the middle.
But that means giving up on a lot of territory, and it becomes a vicious self-fulfilling cycle. “Why don’t we campaign in Montana? Because we don’t win there. Why don’t we win there? Because we don’t campaign there. Why don’t we…”.and so on and so on.
As Tip O’Neill was once informed by one of his reluctant voters, more people vote for you if you get out there and ask for support: “People like to be asked”.
Republicans know this. First, they know they face serious demographic problems with women and minorities, so they know they need every bit of support they can get. And second, they are run by a bunch of extremist whackaloons who really do think they need to win every vote and every race so they can protect Umurka from the evil librul menace.
So Republicans don’t give up anywhere: they keep the Republican party alive in ultra-blue New York, they elect fascist governors in Florida and the Midwest, they successfully enact hard-core anti-tax legislation in California, and they built solid majorities in the legislatures of blue states like Ohio and Wisconsin, by means of gerrymandering, vote suppression, union-busting, by any means necessary. And, as old Tip would point out, Republicans get more votes in Blue Country because they get out and ask for them.
But Democrats don’t do this.
There are a number of states Obama could have won in 2012 if he had fought for them: Arizona, Indiana, Missouri and so forth. But he didn’t even try.
Down south, Bill Clinton found blacks, women and liberals to back him in Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Georgia in 1992 – that’s 64 electoral votes today. In those areas, Obama not only didn’t compete, he generally did even worse than John Kerry did in 2004. Because he didn’t try.
Out west, Clinton found environmentalists and live-and-let-live libertarians who had moderate views on gays and abortion; he took Montana in 1992, and came within a few points in South Dakota, Texas, Kansas and Wyoming. I’ll hit that point again: Clinton almost won Texas and Wyoming, without even really trying out there. Needless to say, Obama didn’t try out there at all.
You can’t just run for President of Ohio. Democrats need to contest the red states, just as Republicans contest the blue ones. They need to build up state organizations in places that have scarcely seen Democrats in years, nurture candidates, fight for the state legislatures, restore the unions, elect governors. They need to organize and energize blacks in the south, Hispanics in the southwest, and women and moderates everywhere. And they need nominees who want to fight in red states (i.e. not Obama), and who can compete there effectively (i.e. big old white guys like Brian Schweitzer). Go into a bar and shoot pool! Eat some barbecue! Take off your tie!
There should be no place in America for Republicans to hide safely and say “this turf is mine!” Especially Texas. And there should be no place in America where a Democrat should be afraid to tell the tobacky-chewing locals: “I’m going to defend Medicare and Social Security and unions, I think government shouldn’t tell women how to manage their lives, I think ‘equal justice for all’ applies to same-sex families, and I think the Clinton-era tax structure created a hell of a lot of jobs. I’m a liberal and so was Jesus.” There are liberals and moderates in every state of the union, just waiting for someone to come and tell them that it’s okay to put a pro-choice bumper sticker on their car, without fearing the locals will slash their tires one night. That “liberal” isn’t a badge of shame just because Republicans say it is. That we’re right and they’re wrong, everywhere, in all fifty states.