After Louisiana: Whatever Happened to Swing States?

10/26/2007 05:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The decisive Republican victory in Louisiana's gubernatorial election this week seals the state's shift from battleground state to safe GOP stronghold, particularly in the upcoming presidential contest. Louisiana thus joins a half-dozen former swing-states that are now firmly in one partisan camp or the other after 15 years of demographic and political realignment.

As states have become less competitive in presidential elections, this leaves only a narrow sliver of six or seven nearly exclusively Western and Midwestern states that can really be counted on to be competitive in 2008. Only Florida has notoriously become a true swing state since 1992. All other six states within three percent or so of the national average in 2004 (Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin) were already so 15 years ago.

It is hard to imagine that as recently as 1992, Kentucky and Tennessee, in addition to Louisiana, were voting close to the national average in the presidential election, as were Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Maine. John Kerry lost all three Southern states by more than 14 percent in 2004, but won the four Northeastern states by an average of eight percent (as he was losing nationwide by 2.4 percent).

Three states, West Virginia, Missouri and New Hampshire, have swung so strongly that they went from safe Democratic for the first two and safe Republican for the third to significantly leaning to the other party.

Other states continue to titillate, but mostly fail to deliver. Bill Clinton won Arizona in 1996, but Al Gore and Kerry lost pretty big there. Arkansas, of course, voted for Clinton, but that has been the Democratic exception. Clinton narrowly won Montana in 1992, but without Ross Perot, national Democrats have lost there by more than 20 percent on average since then.

North Carolina and especially Virginia are trending blue, but there is still a way to go (Kerry lost the Commonwealth by over eight points) despite encouraging recent polls.

Minnesota and Oregon came close for the GOP in 2000 but then reverted back to type and gave Kerry a more comfortable margin.

Many Democrats insist that Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, or Montana, impoverished and highly reliant on the Federal government, should vote for a Democratic presidential candidate if they know what's good for them.

This is most certainly true, but far less relevant than the lesson of Ohio in 2004.

The state was at risk of falling yet further to the Republican side as George W. Bush increased the GOP share from 41 percent to 50 percent from 1996 to 2000 (essentially all the Perot voters). But in 2004, with Kerry paying far more attention to the state than Gore had, Ohio essentially voted the national average (actually even better than the average, if we take into account the successful efforts to suppress Democratic votes).

With this in mind and money probably no object for the Democratic candidate in 2008, he or she may yet reach that elusive goal of expanding a field that has shown far more of a propensity to shrink. That said, I'm still not sure that Kentucky and Montana would be wise spends.