June 4, 2008


Fretful and fearful Republican politicians and strategists, both nationally and locally, can no longer console themselves with the notion that 2008 can't be any worse than 2006. It will be much worse. An Obama "undertow" is developing, and a huge Democratic sweep looms.

As the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama will draw votes from millions of voters who did not participate in the 2004 election, particularly younger voters and blacks. They will vote for Obama and for every other Democrat on the ballot.

As the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain will draw the votes of millions of Democrats who will support him largely because of race. Those anti-Obama white and Hispanic voters will vote for McCain and for every other Democrat on the ballot.

That means that Democrats will make significant gains in congressional, state and legislative elections. Right now, Washington Republicans are fixated on their 2008 "fire wall" -- how many U.S. Senate and House seats can they keep in 2008, be viable, and still be in a position to rebound and retake a majority in 2010? The Democrats control the Senate by 51-49 and the House by 236-199. A projection: Obama may not win the presidency, but the Democrats will have 57-43 and 270-165 majorities, respectively, in 2009. Here's why:

It's the arithmetic, stupid. In 2000 George Bush had 539,947 fewer votes than Al Gore (50,456,169-50,996,116) in a national turnout of 105,360,260, with 2,831,066 votes going to Ralph Nader and 446,743 to Pat Buchanan and others, but Bush, by winning Florida and 28 more states, carried the Electoral College by 271-266.

In 2004 Bush beat John Kerry by 62,040,606-59,028,109, a margin of 3,012,497 votes, winning 31 states with 286 electoral votes, to Kerry's 252 votes, in a turnout of more than 122 million -- an increase of 17 million over 2000.

Expect turnout in November to hit a stratospheric 140 million, an increase of 18 million over 2004. At least three-quarters of those new voters, about 13 million, will be pro-Obama -- white liberals, Generation X twentysomethings and blacks who did not vote in 2004, and there will be another six million people who didn't vote in 2004 who will surface to vote against Obama.

The 2004 Bush base of 62 million votes will dwindle, for a myriad of reasons: disgust over the intractable Iraq situation, anger over economic doldrums and $4.50-a-gallon gasoline, and widespread fatigue with the Bush Administration. Plus, many evangelical Christians, part of the Republican base, have determined that Obama in the White House is the best route to a 2012 comeback by Mike Huckabee; they will abandon McCain.

To win, McCain needs at least 90 percent of the 2004 Bush vote (56 million), 15 percent of the 2004 Kerry vote (nine million), and a third of the new 2008 vote (six million). That would give him 71 million, a bare majority if the turnout is 140 million.

Obama needs 90 percent of the Kerry vote (53 million), 10 percent of the 2004 Bush vote (six million), and 75 percent of the new voters (13 million). That would give him 72 million votes.

The key is, will the defection of pro-Kerry whites and Hispanics to McCain be counteracted by the infusion of pro-Obama blacks and young voters? Bush got an estimated 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. The country's Hispanic population is now 35.5 million, exceeding the black population of 34.6 million; the white population is 211.5 million.

Obama surely will garner 95 percent-plus of the black vote (about 20 million nationwide), and black turnout will be huge. Whereas about half the eligible black voters turned out to back Kerry in 2004, that number will rise to 80 percent in November. Obama will energize black voters as Harold Washington did in Chicago in 1983 and 1987. He will get 15.5 million black votes, an increase of almost six million over Kerry.

 The registered nationwide Hispanic vote is under 12 million, and normal turnout is barely half. The 40 percent of Hispanics (about two million) who backed Bush surely will support the pro-immigration reform McCain. Hispanic antagonism toward Obama is based on racial rivalry, be it personal, political or economic. As a minority, Hispanics want to be the first to scale the heights, and not have blacks get there first. But even if Hispanic turnout is 70 percent (8.5 million), and 70 percent of Hispanics opt for McCain (six million), that's a net gain of four million votes for him, which is offset -- by at least two million -- by the spike in the black vote.

The political infatuation of younger voters with Obama, particularly in urban areas, does not spell doom for McCain. He is not going to win states such as California, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan or Colorado. In Texas, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia, the increased black and liberal white vote for Obama will be countered by an increased rural, blue collar white and Hispanic vote for McCain.

McCain's his hopes for victory hinge on these five states:

Ohio (20 electoral votes): Bush won the state by 118,599 votes in 2004 and by 166,735 votes in 2000. The state is 11.4 percent black and only 1.9 percent Hispanic. Hillary Clinton won the 2008 presidential primary with 55 percent of the vote. Black turnout in Cleveland and Columbus will be gargantuan, but McCain will win the state if he gets 60 percent of the white vote.

Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes): Bush lost the state by 144,248 votes in 2004 and by 204,840 votes in 2000. The state is 9.8 percent black and 3.2 percent Hispanic. Clinton won the primary with 55 percent of the vote. Black turnout in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh will be huge, but McCain will win the state if he gets 60 percent of the white vote. A McCain win in Pennsylvania would compensate for the possible loss of 2004 Bush states Nevada (five electoral votes), Colorado (nine) and New Mexico (five).

Florida (27 electoral votes): Bush won the state (and hence the presidency) by the disputed margin of 537 votes in 2000, and he increased that to a solid 380,973 votes in 2004. The state is 14.2 percent black and 16.8 percent Hispanic. Pro-Obama black turnout in Miami and Gainesville will be huge, but so will pro-McCain Hispanic (primarily Cuban) turnout in Miami-Dade. McCain is favored.

Virginia (13 electoral votes): Bush won the state by 220,200 votes in 2000 and by 262,217 votes in 2004. The state is 19.4 percent black, with a 4.7 percent (and rapidly growing) Hispanic population. The black vote in Richmond and the Newport News-Norfolk-Hampton area, coupled with the exploding liberal white vote in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, give Obama a chance to win, but McCain is ahead.

North Carolina (15 electoral votes): Bush won the state by 435,317 votes in 2004 and by 373,471 votes in 2000. The black population is 21.4 percent, centered in the rural east and in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, and the Hispanic population is 4.7 percent; a large liberal white contingent exists in and around the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. McCain needs more than 65 percent of the white vote to win.

The bottom line: If McCain wins all five of those states, he's the president, but if Obama wins either Ohio or Pennsylvania, he goes to the White House.

From a congressional perspective, the election is shaping up as a Republican catastrophe. The party lost six Senate seats and 30 House seats in 2006, yet the current Democratic Congress suffers no blame for current problems.

For November, the "Ten Percent Rule" will be relevant: Any Republican incumbent who did not win in 2006 by a margin of at least 10 percent is in serious danger. With higher turnout by pro-Obama voters, every Republican's vote will substantially decline, and many will lose.

Republicans are hoping that 2008 replicates either 1920 or 1976.

In 1918 discontent with World War I was pervasive, and President Woodrow Wilson was highly unpopular. Republicans won a congressional majority. The 1920 landslide for Republican Warren Harding created an "undertow," and Republicans increased their majority to 62 senators and 300 representatives. In 1922 Republicans lost eight Senate seats and 75 House seats.

In 1974 Republicans suffered a Watergate backlash and lost 75 House seats and four Senate seats. In 1976 Democrat Jimmy Carter created no "undertow," and the Democrats lost one House seat and gained one Senate seat.

Expect 2008 to be more like 1920 than 1976.