02/14/2008 12:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reality Bites: Swing-State Math

In '04, I traveled as a surrogate for the John Kerry campaign. I was sent to places like Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Florida. Quite the roadtrip.

In the beginning, I wondered why I kept getting sent to these random "swing states." Iowa (a state in 2004 with, yes folks, only one Starbucks!!) Why did Iowa matter? I was a political novice. So dumb. So naïve.

To me, it seemed so terribly undemocratic that a handful of states could determine who became our president. Likewise, It never truly clicked in my head when my New Yorker friends would wryly state that their vote didn't count. Of course their vote counted. Every vote counts. This is America, right?

And then on Election Day '04, I learned the hard way why those swing states mattered so much. John Kerry lost Ohio and Florida and therefore lost the election to George Bush. Four more grueling years of Republican rule. My impression on that sad day? 1460 days to go.


So with all this talk of delegates and superdelegates counting and not counting, why has nobody (at least to my knowledge) looked at how either Clinton or Obama performs against McCain in the crucial 15 swing states? Frankly speaking, isn't that really all that matters?

Let's consider:

1. "Not a Chance" Red States

First, consider the 20-22 states that are historically Red States. In other words, these states go to the Republicans no matter what. For example, in '04 John Kerry only got 37% of the vote in Kansas. In Texas, Kerry only got 38% of the vote. See my point? These states include: Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alaska, North Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Montana, South Dakota, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arizona, West Viriginia, North Carolina.

Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in many of these states. Undoubtedly, these wins have contributed to building Obama's "unstoppable momentum."

But, on Election Day '08 Barack Obama will not win any of these states. Neither will Hillary Clinton. They will go to John McCain.

Thus, keep in mind that any current Democratic wins in these states (or Obama momentum gained) is meaningless.

2. "Sure Thing" Blue States

Next, consider the 13 states that are historically Democrat in nature. In other words, these states always vote Democrat-even if Big Bird was on the ticket. These include: Maryland, New York, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Washington, New Jersey, Delaware, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine.

Either Barack or Hillary will win these states on Election Day '08, so they do not factor into any analysis as to who is a stronger Democratic Presidential candidate. In short, these numbers are meaningless.


For there to be a Democratic president, the Democratic nominee must hold all states won by John Kerry in '04 by less than 5% plus at least one more from the states that Bush won by less than 5%. If the Democratic nominee loses one more state than John Kerry, then we need to pick up more than one other swing state to make up that difference. Got it?

So let's take a look at the 15 "Battleground/Swing" States:

A."Must Hold Onto" States:

First there are the states that we must match John Kerry. These are the 6 "Must Hold On To" States where Democrats won within 5%: New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Minnesota.

So far, New Hampshire and Minnesota have held their primaries. Hillary won New Hampshire and Barack won Minnesota. A draw.

Regrettably to date, Michigan and Pennsylvania remain unknown.

Also note that John McCain is incredibly popular in New Hampshire.

Finally, because Michigan is led by Democrats and faces an economic malaise, there might be a Democratic backlash in '08, meaning it might be vulnerable and ripe for Republicans. Unfortunately, Obama and Edwards withdrew from the ballot and we have no numbers for Michigan. This is obviously a huge and unfortunate screw-up.

To repeat though, we must "hold onto" all 6 states--including Michigan.

B. "Let's Get 'Em Back" States:

Nine states are states where the Republicans won within 5%. These are: Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Mexico. These states are where we find our plus one more than Kerry.

Remember we must win one of these additional states (ergo, plus one more) to get the White House in '08. Moreover if we accidentally lose Michigan to McCain, we will need to pick up more than one of these states to make up that difference.

Thus, how Obama and Hillary run in these states really, really matters.

So far Obama took Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico. Hillary won Arkansas and Nevada.

Most notably, Florida and Ohio (the two key states that Kerry lost in '04) remain unknown.

Who might run stronger in Florida or Ohio? Does anyone have answers? Where is the data that proves that Barack Obama when pinned against John McCain runs better than Hillary Clinton in states like Florida and Ohio? Or any of the other 13 swing states for that matter?

How should Democrats feel about Barack Obama not credibly building the bulk of his "unstoppable momentum" in these 15 vital states? Should Democrats feel vulnerable with just the unstoppable Obama on the ticket? What do you think Karl Rove thinks?

What does this all mean?

For starters it means that on Election Day '08 it doesn't matter a hill of beans that Barack Obama beat the pants off Hillary Clinton in places like Idaho. Idaho hasn't figured into Democratic numbers/analysis for years. So cool your jets with the whole Obama momentum bit.

Likewise it doesn't matter that Obama may have better national poll numbers against McCain. National numbers don't mean squat on Election Day.

Fifteen states, folks. That's all that matters. Those 15 states should be our sole focus TODAY. Because if we want the Democrats in the White House in '08 then we need to support the Democratic Candidates who run best in the crucial swing states. And that means we need to support BOTH Hillary and Barack until we have a more definitive answer. Period. End of Story.

Like it or not, the hard, undeniable, and very real numbers speak for themselves. Neither candidate can (as of yet) win the vital swing states alone which is why both Obama and Clinton need each other on Election Day 08.

Democrats it is time for us to grow up, smarten up, and rise up above ourselves and our differences (however big or small they may be) because we've got a White House to win back.

Once again, i reiterate: UNITY TICKET '08

POSTSCRIPT: HuffPost doesn't allow for a dual byline so I need to take this space to credit and source Jim Henry over at who helped me write this piece. Jim is a passionate Obama supporter and very good friend--not to mention a scary smart numbers guy. So thank you Jim...and Happy Valentine's Day.