It’s Memorial Day here, a holiday that began as a commemoration of the Civil War Union dead — and thus of the subjugation of one part of the country by another — and became a memory of American dead in foreign wars.

In Texas, there’s military parades. In Nebraska, relatives visit and clean the graves of the fallen. And in Portland, folks have a late mushroom n asiago omelette brunch in the Pearl District, browse Powell’s for new anime and then take in a movie at the Living Room, preferably black and white, preferably Brazilian. Semper fi, o cap’n my cap’n.

Six more weeks here and I will no longer be able to understand myself.

God knows what the country will look like next year when once again one part of the country has subjugated the other, but even with a Democratic grand slam the place will still be embroiled in foreign wars. The question is whether the US will be led by someone who’s trying to back out of them, who defines them as exactly the wrong relationship the country should have to the world — or by a man who, despite subsequent backpedalling, is easy with the idea of being in ever more exotic locales for a hundred years.

Currently, the polls would suggest the latter scenario, with McSame leading Obama by around four points across the board — more than enough to grab a few more states than Bush took from Kerry or Gore. But we’re a long way out and a lot can and will happen. However one thing is certain — if Obama is to win this, the election will have to be rendered qualitatively different by his candidacy and campaign than any before.

If Indecision ’08 merely runs in the grooves of red state-blue state culture wars that have gone before, then Obama may as well give up now. Of all the possible scenarios for an Obama victory, the least likely is the one that Democrats have been working on for the past three years, when Hillary was seen as a shoo-in. Consider from worst to best for Obama:


The current state of play is that the Democrats hold New England, the north bit of the industrial Northeast, and the Pacific coast. The GOP holds the South, the Southwest, the Midwest, the Great Plains, and the northeast remnant — Indiana and Ohio. Bush got 286 electoral college votes, Kerry 251.

The assumption has always been that the Democrats must win either Ohio (20 votes) or Florida (27) in order to regain the White House.

Given the current polling of Obama among certain sectors, that is looking unlikely. Indeed one possible result is that Obama not only fails to gain either state, but loses back to McCain New Hampshire (4), the most ornery of the New England states, and maybe even Michigan (10), for a true debacle, and an entrenchment of “McCain Democrats”.


Would have Obama losing these states, but gaining GOP states that the silvertailed Kerry couldn’t get — New Mexico (5), Iowa (7) maybe even Colorado (9), to do slightly better than Kerry, without actually winning.


Has Obama holding all the states Kerry took, taking neither Florida nor Ohio, but taking some of New Mexico, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada (5), and maybe even South Carolina (8) in such a way as to give him the 18 votes he needs for a narrow victory.


Assumes that much of the “won’t vote Obama” thing is pique, that can be magicked away both by Obama going head to head with McCain and by a remorseless worsening of everything the latter is in favour of. In this scenario, Obama gains one or both of Florida, and a couple from the New Mexico etc list, to take the Democrat vote above 300, and lay the basis for a reconstruction of the electoral map.


Is the grand slam. Obama takes everything below the GOP waterline, leaving the Republicans with redoubt states like Texas and Idaho. With the Democrats also gaining a 50-60 seat majority in Congress, the conditions are set for a decade or more of Democrat power, and the chance to appoint several Supreme Court justices, effectively setting the terms of American political culture for the next three or four decades.

So you can see why things are a little fraught on the Democrat side, but also why Obama supporters are more confident than the terrifying stories of white working class desertion would have one believe.

Two factors are key here — one is the winner take all nature of a state-based selection process. Take the state by one or one million votes, it don’t matter (except for Nebraska and Maine, sh-ttily enough), the electoral college votes are yours. New Mexico went to Bush by six thousand votes last time, and a few other states are so close to the waterline that it is generally assumed that sheer Bushatred will carry them for the Dems.

Second is the small state weighting — electoral college votes are arrived at by adding congressional districts to Senate seats. Since every state has two senators, that means small states punch above their weight. Ohio has 18 districts and New Mexico has three. The latter is one-sixth the size but gets one quarter of the electoral college votes (20 against 5). To get 20 electoral college votes from three close smaller states — New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, say — means convincing less people than one close big state.

Usually, that’s a goose-gander sauce thang. This year it may be different, because so many of these states may be composed of the sort of people — Hispanic Americans, mixed culture, outlaws in general — most likely to have some sort of general identification with Obama. Effectively, his status as the first post-modern candidate may be enough to outflank the rustbelt-sunbelt states that it’s hitherto been assumed the Democrats have to win.

Risky strategy? You bet. But the Democrats ain’t got much else. Which means that… Hillary’s still in the race. Why? Because if she were the candidate, most likely none of this outflanking nonsense would be needed — after all she’s not the one getting endorsed by frikkin Castro (de facto). The Dems would take not only Ohio, but quite possibly regain a chunk of the South — Kentucky, Mississippi etc — plus the Southwest, to put together an electoral college vote not seen since, well, since the last time a Clinton ran.

Who’s to say that won’t become so obvious, so compelling in the lead-up to the convention that there won’t be a sudden superdelegate crossback? Who’s to say it’s not possible that they won’t feel it not merely their prerogative but their duty to history.

For the party, for the country, for the Union dead?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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