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Jeannie Ralston Headshot

Where To Live Now: Using The Electoral Map As Guide

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"Come to Montana," a friend living in Bozeman told me when she heard my husband and I are planning to move back to the States next spring after three years in Mexico. "We almost went blue; you could help put us over the edge next time."

"We would be thrilled to have you in the Old Dominion," my sister-in-law said. "Now the new Dominion."

"Maybe you'll consider Colorado," another friend wrote, exulting in her state's red-blue shift.

Ever since Obama took the prize last week, I've been excited about moving home to the States and though my husband and I have many requirements -- a bucolic piece of land within an hour of a sizable airport; good schools; four seasons, not too cold, would be nice -- I've found that I've increasingly consulted the electoral map as I've been trying to zero in on our new home.

One reason I left the U.S. in the first place was my growing disconnect with a country (and especially the rural area of Texas where I used to live) that could send George Bush to the White House twice. This time, I'd like to be surrounded by neighbors who are less likely to flaunt the confederate flag or shoot my dog (this happened -- twice). I'm weighing this need for some blue-tinged enlightenment with the competing desire to be closer to my family in Tennessee and friends in the Southeast.

The good news is that now many more states have opened up to me: North Carolina and Virginia, for example.

The bad news is that my husband, a Texan, loves the open land and broad horizons of the West. This summer, hopeful that an Obama victory would give me the confirmation I needed to return to the States, I agreed to a scouting trip in the West, but I insisted that it had to be the Blue West.

I loved the Northwest but each place offered its own challenges. My husband doesn't want to live in or near a big city, which excludes Seattle. We looked around Spokane, but after our intense ethnic experience in Mexico we felt there wasn't enough diversity. Canadians don't count, we decided.

My husband nixed Oregon, which is prime blue state west. "It must be a socialist state," he complained. "You can't even pump your own gas!" We liked the area around Trinidad, Colorado, until I learned it was the sex change capital of the world. Yes, I like diversity, but even I have my limits.

When we couldn't agree on anything in the West, I set out to persuade him to go East. I eventually convinced him to consider the Nashville area, including nearby Franklin. Several elements made it attractive to him: it's gorgeous; Tennessee is one of the least-taxed states in the country; and it's not that far from his dear Texas. I'm painfully aware it's not blue, but we'd be only four hours from my parents.

We were making plans for a post-Christmas visit to the area when the New York Times gave me reason to reconsider. Last week, it published a map showing counties that went more Republican this time than in 2004.

While almost all of the country showed blue, meaning on this map that Democratic percentages were higher than 2004 in these counties, there was a big swath of dark red that extended from Southwest Virginia through Arkansas (the "Hillbilly Belt," someone called it), meaning that a serious chunk of the redder-than-ever counties were in Tennessee.

I was reassured to see that Nashville went blue in 2008 and though the county surrounding Franklin voted Republican, the compensation is that fewer votes were cast for McCain than for Bush, which indicates that I'll find some sort of intelligent life there.

But still, I'm tempted to strike the whole state. I'm not sure I could live in a state that, as a whole, didn't seem fazed by the developments of the last eight years. A state that has achieved what I thought was impossible: it's now even redder than Texas.

Sensing my new hesitation about Tennessee, my husband proposed Oklahoma. He'd found a wonderful piece of property near the historic town of Guthrie. Consulting my electoral map, I found that Oklahoma is one of only two states in the country in which every single county went for McCain. Nary an oasis in sight. (The other pure red state is Alaska, which is little comfort).

I now feel like we're back to square one -- which is all over the map. Maybe we need to reconsider New Mexico, which had been ruled out earlier for other reasons, and my husband is thinking it might not bee too bad if we didn't have to pump our own gas in Oregon.

In the meantime, we're open to suggestions.