Thinking of the 2004 election as a matter of the old red states and blue states is a big mistake, and so is looking at our country that way.
Because the 2000 election was so close, the idea of an America deeply divided by region seemed entirely natural. We certainly are polarized politically. There are Americans who love George W. Bush and Americans who despise him. However this year's voting turns out, something close to half of us will be furious if not seditious come the morning after Election Day.
What's misleading is to assume that the dividing lines etched on the map of the United States in 2000 are permanent facts of American life. The states that the television networks colored red for Bush are not destined to be Republican bastions any more than the states colored blue for Al Gore are permanent Democratic strongholds.
That is especially true here in the Southwest and the rest of the Rocky Mountain region. New Mexico voted for Gore by a whisker, and Bush hasn't given up on the state this year. Arizona went for Bush in 2000 but for Bill Clinton in 1996. At a rally near here last week, the state's Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano, vowed: "We're going to turn Arizona blue."
Napolitano's victory two years ago is one indication of why stereotyping states is foolish. Arizona was once viewed as a right-wing bastion, but the state's population is now a quarter Hispanic, and migrants from the rest of the country are making it very diverse.
The same is true in Colorado and Nevada, where both parties are advertising heavily. The campaigns understand the danger of assuming that the past dictates the future.
Colorado is neither a red nor a blue state. Some parts are very blue -- progressive Boulder, for example -- and others, such as the Colorado Springs area, are quite red.
Colorado goes through phases. It was pretty conservative and Republican in the 1960s. But a progressive and Democratic insurgency emerged in the 1970s when environmentalism and the battle to slow growth produced politicians such as Gary Hart, Richard Lamm and Pat Schroeder. "What these guys don't understand," a moderate Colorado Republican told me many years ago, speaking of his own party, "is that once people move here, they don't want a whole lot more development, they don't want the state to change."
Despite these Democratic victories at the state level, Colorado voters remained largely loyal to Republican presidential candidates (though Clinton carried the state in 1992). The state's conservatism deepened in the '80s and '90s because new migrants tended to come from conservative parts of the country. Now it's evolving one more time, in part because of the Latino influence.
Nevada's politics are, if anything, even more subject to the whims of migration because so many people keep moving in. Clinton won beat Bob Dole by a single percentage point in 1996. If you are willing to put down a large bet on Nevada one way or the other, you probably like playing the slots.
What's true of the once-upon-a-time red Rockies is also true of a number of the blue states. Bush keeps visiting Pennsylvania even though the state has voted Democratic three times in a row. There is enough Republican territory between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to give the president a fighting chance.
Similarly, states generally thought of as Democratic and rather liberal -- Oregon, Minnesota and Iowa, for example -- gave Al Gore very narrow margins in 2000. No wonder both Bush and Kerry are fighting hard to win them.
Okay, there are really red and really blue states. It's highly doubtful that Texas, Idaho, Utah, Mississippi, South Dakota or South Carolina will vote Democratic this year. But you may be as surprised as I was to discover that Clinton lost Mississippi by only five percentage points in 1996, South Dakota by only three and South Carolina by just six.
We Americans revere our regional differences. As a Massachusetts guy by origin, I know my state will never vote for Bush, just as most Texans firmly believe the opposite of their state. But the truth we avoid is that we are, if you'll forgive the phrase, a much more national nation than we like to admit. We move around a lot, we mix up the demographics of every state, we welcome immigrants. Despite ourselves, we will ultimately save our country from being divided too deeply between the red and the blue.