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This year’s presidential election promises to be wildly different from those in years past. The nation will most likely witness the history-making campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, who hopes to become America’s first black president. And then there’s Sen. John McCain, who because of his maverick disposition and willingness to work with the other side on bipartisan legislation, has been dubbed by some as Republican in name only.
This time last year, Republicans were urging their conservative soul mate, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, to enter the race, while Sen. Hillary Clinton was feeling what could only be described as “inevitable.” Throughout the nominating process, however, there have often been discussions about whether either Obama or McCain can keep a tight reign on his party’s faithful.
Political pundits wonder: Will Clinton supporters vote for Obama? Will true-blue conservatives stay home, or hold their noses and help lead McCain to victory? What about independents? As Republicans and Democrats begin to focus more attention on the general election, voters can expect each party to try to redefine the campaign map in an attempt to gain a majority of the 538 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.
“For all kinds of reasons, I think this election is different than others. There are some obvious reasons, like history-making candidates, but another is that independents are going to play such an important role,” says Carly Fiorina, the Republican National Committee Victory ’08 chairman. “The number of Americans registered as independents is the highest it’s ever been, and the consequence of that is McCain and the Democratic [nominee] are going to run, in essence, in every state in the country.”
Ruy Teixeira, a joint fellow at the Century foundation and American Progress, also believes that independent voters will be critical to both sides. “Obama is running quite well among independent groups in the general election and primary contests, and the Democrats need to do better among them than they did in 2004. They agree with Democrats on most issues, and are extremely dissatisfied with Bush and his administration, the Iraq war, and the economy,” he says.
Teixeira believes that McCain, more than other Republicans, has an appeal among independents. “But I think the Democrats will seek to identify him as closely as possible with the Bush administration. That could give Obama the edge in appealing to independents.”
In past presidential races, both parties have been able to rely on traditional strongholds. A look at election results from both 2000 and 2004 shows little variation in states that were Democratic blue or Republican red. Some of that will not change this year, analysts say.
“This is not rocket science. Republicans will clearly get the deep South, as opposed to the border South, and virtually all of the plain states, plus the northern rocky states. I would be astonished if they didn’t carry states like Idaho, Montana, and Utah,” says William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “On the Democratic side, I would expect that they have most, if