Magazine article The American Prospect

Mind the Map

Magazine article The American Prospect

Mind the Map

Article excerpt

ON ELECTION NIGHT, OUR EYES WERE GLUED TO THE "battleground states" that would decide the presidential election--not just the traditional swing states of Ohio and Florida but Virginia and Indiana as well, on this new electoral map where all things had become possible.

But let's take a moment to respect some states that weren't considered battlegrounds. Wisconsin, for example, had been decided by the closest margins in the country in both of the previous presidential elections, 2000 and 2004. On Nov. 4, 2008, Barack Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points. Or Colorado, which had been an anchor of the Reagan-era "Sagebrush Rebellion," home of conservative powerhouses like the Coors family and James Dobson. Bush won the state twice by solid margins, but John McCain, a senator from a neighboring state, gave up on it well before the election. Obama took Colorado by seven points.

The strong progressive majorities in these former swing states or Republican strongholds are not the accomplishment of the Obama campaign alone; they are more like a gift the campaign was given. Nor did political or partisan work entirely lay the groundwork for the transformations. Colorado and Wisconsin are arguably the best examples of successful progressive efforts to build capacity at the state level. These long-term efforts strengthened think tanks, issue advocacy groups, and community organizations and coordinated them around a common agenda and an awareness, within legal constraints, of elections and their consequences.

Some of the work began in the wake of the 2004 election, when donors recognized what activists had been telling them--that there was more to conservative dominance than writing checks to candidates--and turned their attention to building progressive infrastructure. Some of the work goes back even further, such as to the unprecedented coordination of funding in Colorado that led to the Democratic takeover of the legislature and one U.S. Senate seat in 2004 and then to the modification of the state's crippling tax limitation known as TABOR, which had bankrupted public services, in 2005.

This painstaking work paid dividends in 2008. Taking states like Wisconsin and Colorado off the board entirely gave Obama even more time, money, and human resources to concentrate on genuinely competitive states. And in addition to electoral votes, Obama's agenda will now have the backing of two Democratic senators from Colorado--a first since 1979--and Congress will be rid of the odious Rep. …

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