New Mexico

The contours of the electoral map might seem disorienting to those accustomed to the old red-blue divide of the last decade. A bevy of states haven’t returned to their Bush-era patterns—instead, they've moved in opposite directions. Traditionally Republican North Carolina remains doggedly competitive, and Romney isn’t even contesting New Mexico. At the same time, Obama is well beneath 50 percent in states that he carried by 10 percent or more in 2008, like Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

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It’s widely acknowledged by political observers that the country’s demographic change in the last four years—particularly the increase in minority voters and decline of white non-college voters—favors President Obama’s re-election bid. What’s less obvious is exactly how much these changes favor Obama—especially in the swing states that loom so large in this coming election. These data can be hard to come by.

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So, you think Obama leads by 8 percentage points in the swing states, as suggested by last night’s NBC/WSJ survey? Before you jump on the bandwagon, understand what that entails: a blowout.   In 2008, Obama carried NBC/WSJ’s twelve swing states by 7.7 percentage points.  A result like last night’s poll would require a repeat performance, even as most polls show Obama’s standing substantially worse than four years ago. Obama’s big 7.7 percent advantage was driven by decisive victories in several states, including big states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.

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More information is usually for the best, but last night’s NBC/WSJ poll took an unusual step that could detract from our understanding of the horse race. In addition to reporting Obama’s 3 percentage point lead, NBC/WSJ decided to note that Obama leads by 8 percentage points in 12 swing states: the ten true battlegrounds where both sides are investing resources, plus Michigan and New Mexico (rolls eyes). Predictably, political reporters have jumped on this data, implying that Obama holds a structural advantage in the Electoral College.

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Revisiting Arizona

With the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Arizona law and the Obama administration’s recent decision to halt deportations and allow work authorization for certain young undocumented workers likely to gin up enthusiasm among Latino voters, it’s worth revisiting the math in 2012’s stealth battleground: Arizona. Neither campaign is airing advertisements in Arizona, but the Obama campaign has boots on the ground registering voters in an attempt to vault the state into the toss-up column.

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“We’re Americans,” Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu told me two weeks ago in the Russell Senate building in Washington, D.C. “We don’t eat our dogs, and we don’t eat our horses.” She had just finished delivering a speech to a rapt audience of two-dozen bright-eyed teenage girls, a handful of congressmen, top members of the ASPCA and Humane Society, and Lorenzo Borghese, star of the ninth season of the reality television show The Bachelor.

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The federal transportation reauthorization passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this month is notable for its (relative) bi-partisanship and for putting in place several key reforms. The bill’s new dedicated freight program, more efficient project delivery mechanisms, and increased in funding for innovative finance programs are all important and laudable, setting the stage for a truly transformative six-year bill in 2013.

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Mission Impossible

In late January, on the eve of the Florida primary, Bettina Inclán, the 32-year-old head of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee (RNC), appeared on Fox News opposite progressive activist Simon Rosenberg to discuss the Latino vote. To say that the deck was stacked against Inclán in this fight would be an understatement. Over the past year, the major Republican candidates have gone out of their way to make anti-immigrant sentiment a centerpiece of their campaigns.

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Vice Precedent

In May 2010, Susana Martinez was running neck and neck in the Republican primary for the New Mexico governor’s race. Her opponent, Allen Weh, a former chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, had poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into his campaign. Martinez, a district attorney, was fighting to close the gap. Then Sarah Palin came to town. On May 16, Palin, whose star power was at its peak, appeared before a standing-room-only crowd in Albuquerque’s Marriott hotel, clad in a black leather jacket, and enveloped Martinez in a hug.

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