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The Blue Wall

One of my most popular posts over the last 30 days has been my post on Hillary Clinton from September. Nothing has really changed factually from that, but the narrative has certainly changed. We've spent October watching an increasingly ridiculous Republican sideshow--getting more ridiculous even as I write over Ben Carson--and Hillary sat through double-digit hours of grilling in front of the Benghazi Committee and came out smelling like roses with soaring polls. She had a Democratic debate performance that pretty much iced Bernie Sanders out of any hope for gaining on her. (We'll leave aside, politically, the Gov race in Kentucky which really wasn't that earth-shattering even if tons of ink is being spilled on doesn't say that much about 2016 since KY is a deep red state anyway.)

Since much of what I explained in the "3 dumb reasons people think Hillary is in trouble" post was just basic stuff to keep in mind going forward, I wanted to give my one-year-away thoughts on the fundamentals of 2016. I don't mean the economy, current President approval/disapproval numbers, or any of those numbers that pundits plug into supposed "formulas" to predict the election result. I'm talking here about the game board--the Electoral College map.

You can call it whatever you want...the "blue wall," "Democratic advantage in the Electoral College," demographics...but there has been much talk about the idea that Democrats start with a very different map than Republicans do. You can see several incarnations of this at 270 To Win. You can see it as the map of "firm," "likely," and "lean" states. The toss-up and competitive states. Projections by several sources. But the point is the same...Republicans have fewer combinations of states they can use to win the Presidency. A few fairly well-known pundits have both allowed and questioned the validity of this line of thought at the same time. Essentially, if the nation is going to swing in a certain direction it's going to raise the tide in all states and make the idea of a defensive border obsolete. I'd call it less of a Blue Wall, personally, and more of a built-in population advantage. Especially given the current (admittedly unhelpful) national polls which show a close race or Hillary with a slight lead. There's not currently a GOP wave or some sort of major earthquake brewing and in a relatively competitive election with the demographics we know, the map has a distinct blue tinge to it.

No map is super helpful here to fully explain. Some states--hi, Indiana--weirdly switched to Obama in 2008 but are obviously deep, deep Republican states if it's electoral "business as usual." For this reason, I question how soon Democrats will be tipping Georgia or Texas even if the population changes lean that direction eventually. (North Carolina/Virginia is a tougher case.) Then there are states like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Minnesota where we hear every cycle about how they'll be close...despite not having voted differently since the 1980's in some cases. Those are blue states unlikely to turn unless something bigger is happening. Anyway, one thing you'll notice about nearly every scenario you click on is that there are more possible winning combinations for Democrats than there are for Republicans. Florida, for one, is must-win for Republicans. The 29 EV in Florida--by itself--puts Democrats over the 270 needed. Not that Democrats have to put all the eggs in that basket...Democrats could lose FL but still win OH plus a Western state like Nevada and get the White House. Etc.

In short, if you were to sit down to the 2016 Electoral College as a chess board and pick which side you'd rather play, you're going to pick the blue pieces. Democrats have something like 62 ways they could win while Republicans have only 35. They very quickly run into situations where their candidate will have to run the table in, for example, FL-OH-CO because just defending FL as red doesn't win the election. It just prevents Democrats from an easy one-state victory.

Just a few things to keep in mind...not only does the Republican candidate have to be good enough to match-up nationally with Hillary Clinton but the eventual nominee is going to have to be strong enough to fight an uphill battle in overcoming an electoral deficit. What we're really talking about when we talk "Blue Wall" is actually less about the Electoral College per se and more about the population centers that are more red and blue. Saying the EC is irrelevant at this point--hi, Nate Silver--is saying it's silly to start really doing the math. But it is certainly a useful baseline for where the pools of Democratic and Republican votes will be coming from.

Map created at