Maine and Nebraska

Posted: October 5, 2008 in 2008 Elections, Barack Obama, John McCain
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48 out of 50 states allocate their Electoral College votes on a winner-take-all basis. For example, whichever candidate wins a majority of the votes in Florida, he would get all of the state’s 27 votes.

The two states that are the exception to this rule are Maine and Nebraska, who allocate their Electoral College votes (5 in Nebraska, 4 in Maine) on the basis of their congressional districts (3 in Nebraska, 2 in Maine). Both states are reliably Republican or Democratic in presidential and but have bipartisan leanings when it comes to statewide elections.

Late in the race, two new battlegrounds have opened up. The 2nd congressional district in Nebraska (which includes Omaha), and the 2nd congressional district in Maine, which is predominantly rural. Both are worth 1 Electoral College vote apiece, and in a 269-269 scenario, where both sides tied with one vote shy of winning the presidency, either district could make or break the two campaigns.

There are two articles worth pointing out. The first, from the Omaha World-Herald:

In another sign that Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District is in play in the race for the White House, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will speak at a public rally tonight in Omaha.

It’s rare for a member of the national ticket in either party to visit traditionally Republican Nebraska this late in a presidential campaign. Obama drew about 10,000 people to an Omaha rally in February. GOP nominee John McCain was in Ashland, Neb., for a fundraiser in July.

First, the fact that they are even contemplating the possibility of McCain losing an Electoral College vote in Nebraska would have been unthinkable at this time last year, let alone in previous presidential elections where the GOP candidate swept all of the state’s votes. Second, the fact that the McCain campaign finds it necessary to send Palin to hold a rally there this late in the game, when they should be focusing their efforts on the swing states that will decide the election is NOT a good sign. This is especially important in light of McCain’s decision to concede Michigan a month before the election, which narrows his options on the map to hit 270.

The second article, on McCain’s efforts to win an Electoral College vote in Maine, from the Associated Press:

PORTLAND, Maine—With a moose-hunting hockey mom sharing the ticket, Republican John McCain plans to make a greater push in this state that has gone blue in recent elections but shares Sarah Palin’s embrace of hunting, snowmobiling and the outdoors.

McCain’s presidential campaign indicated it would put more resources into Maine as it decided to pull out of Michigan and cede that state to Democrat Barack Obama.

Of particular interest is Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, the largest east of the Mississippi, where Palin is more likely to find kindred spirits in the state’s rural north. The vast expanse of lakes, forests and coast may remind her of Alaska, where she serves as governor.

Finally, there’s the possibility of splitting Maine’s four electoral votes. The state awards two to the statewide winner and one to the winner of each of the two congressional districts. In a close race nationally, Republicans can’t afford to write off the one electoral vote from residents of the state’s rugged north.

Maine’s 2nd district mirrors rural Alaska in some ways. Favorite pastimes include hunting, fishing and snowmobiling. Palin’s husband is a snowmobile racer and commercial fisherman, and a video of Palin attests to her ability to field dress a moose.

First, the idea that they might win Maine because of some common elements with Alaska on the environment and hunting and snowmobiling is ridiculous on its face. This is from the same logic playbook that Palin has foreign policy experience because of Alaska’s proximity to Russia.

Second, Maine has a long history of voting for moderate Republicans. Both of the state’s current senators are Republican women. William Cohen is another example. Sarah Palin is a red-meat conservative Republican on everything – social issues, the economy, foreign policy, etc. While McCain may have some crossover appeal here because of the quirky libertarian streak that runs through parts of New England (especially in neighboring New Hampshire, which McCain won in 2000 and 2008), that does not mean it will automatically transfer to Sarah Palin.

The Obama campaign would be guilty of political malpractice if they took this district for granted, and according to the article, they have 30 offices in the state to promote their candidate. But the biggest question I have is why is the McCain campaign spending time, energy, and resources in Maine?

Ultimately, I think both campaigns’ posturing essentially amount to a paper tiger strategy, projecting an image of competitiveness on the other guy’s turf to force him to spend money and resources on defense. Both states and their votes will probably fall in line with historical trends – Nebraska for the GOP, Maine for the Democrats – but Obama has more resources to work with and as of this writing, a friendlier political environment and a bigger map to reach 270.


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