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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

With the diversions of healthcare reform vote mostly behind us, let’s return to something I wrote last week about the possible effects of the decline in the so-called “Obama surge voters” and how it might affect the two parties’ chances this fall. In that post, I computed and reported the absolute and relative turnout changes in all 50 states between 2006 and 2008.

I suppose there are two ways for Democrats to look at the states that witnessed a huge voter turnout surge in 2008. The optimistic view is that a significant enough share of these newly-registered or mobilized Obama surge voters will turnout for the 2010 midterms, buffering expected Democratic losses; the pessimistic view is that, precisely because Democrats in these states benefited most from the surge, these are the very states where the off-year, drop-off effect will be most electorally painful. For what it’s worth, I suspect the latter will be closer to the truth come November: That is, one would rather be a Democrat in Minnesota or South Dakota, where there was already high turnout prior to Obama’s political rise, than a Democrat in Nevada or North Carolina, where Democrats might be dealing with a severe drop-off effect in the midterms absent Obama on the ballot.

In any case, here is a quick survey of Senate and governors races (House analysis, which is bit more cumbersome, to follow in a future post):

Senate. Let’s start with Nate’s ratings of Senate races, left. Of the top 10 states most likely to flip–in order: North Dakota, Delaware, Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Hampshire, Missouri and Ohio–four of them (DE, IN, NV and NH) are among the 21 states that witnessed above-national-average relative turnout increase between 2006 and 2008. Because four of these 10 races are among the roughly 40 percent of states above the national mean, we can say the 10 most competitive Senate race states are neither under- nor over-represented among the big turnout jump states of 2008; put another way, any retention or decline of Obama surge voters will probably not have a disproportionate effect on the overall slate of Senate contests and likelihood of Republicans flipping the Senate this November.

But consider Indiana, which saw a bigger turnout boost in 2008 which helped make it the state with the largest net partisan swing between the 2004 and 2008 presidential cycles. The Hoosier State in 2008 experienced massive turnout increases in cities like Gary, located in Lake County, which is one-quarter African American. Lake County’s 2008 turnout jumped 42 percent in absolute terms and an eye-popping 150 percent in relative terms, from just 28 percent in 2006 to a stunning 70 percent in 2008–a rate of change that dwarfs Indiana’s 22.7 absolute and 62 percent relative changes statewide, and which in turn ranks it among the top dozen states nationally in terms of the 2006-to-2008 jump. Anytime a centrist with deep family roots like Evan Bayh retires suddenly in a generally red state, it’s a problem for Democrats. But to have that happen in Indiana right now compounds the Democrats’ problems.

A final point in regard to Nevada and Harry Reid’s electoral fate: If there are places that Obama is likely to help or hurt by appearances on behalf of Senate Democrats, Nevada is the kind of state where in general it helps to have the president at your side. Little wonder, then, that Reid invited Obama out to Nevada last month to stump on his behalf.

Governors. Of the 18 governors races that the Cook Political Report rates as toss-ups as of today, March 28–the page gets updated as rankings change, so depending upon when you hit the link it may or may not be 18 or the same 18–only six are also among the 21 states that experienced above-national-average relative turnout increase. They are California, Nevada, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Obama’s home state of Illinois. If one takes the pessimistic view of the retention/surge scenario, that means the Democrats are lucky there aren’t more large-surge states among the competitive races.

But the first thing that jumps out at me from looking at these six is that five of them are among the nation’s 11 most-populous states, which means the gubernatorial outcomes in these five could have very important implications for the drawing of new House maps (and, of course, state legislative maps). Many of these six states also have both significant black and Hispanic populations, in some cases in the double-digits for each minority population group. That means we will get to see if the retention or decline of minority Obama surge voters is the same or different between these two subgroups of surge voters.

As for specific gubernatorial races, the obvious one to watch is in Obama’s home state of Illinois. A Democratic loss there would be similar to the Scott Brown victory for Republicans in Massachusetts–a symbolically powerful “message” to the White House. But I’ll also be curious to see what happens to turnout in Florida. Florida’s result (and to a lesser degree Nevada’s) could be especially telling because it is the only large presidential swing state among the six–and it’s also a state with a huge, white senior/retiree population, too. If there is a racial and/or generational cleavage in partisan voting this November, Florida is one place where its effects should be demonstrable.

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