Talking Points Memo's Dylan Scott interviewed Mitch Stewart, the former battleground states director of President Obama's reelection campaign and now a member of the Hillary Clinton campaign-in-waiting known as "Ready for Hillary," about how the 2016 electoral map could be expanded in Democrats' favor if the former secretary of state is, as expected, the party's presidential nominee.
Stewart suggests two "buckets" of states that Clinton could make competitive in 2016 that Obama, for a several reasons, couldn't in 2008 or 2012. The first bucket is Arkansas, Indiana and Missouri. The second contains Arizona and Georgia.
The first bucket of states is ridiculous. The second is plausible -- but almost certainly not in 2016. Let's take them in order.
Stewart's explanation for Clinton's heightened competitiveness in Arkansas, Missouri and Indiana is that she can appeal to whites and, in particular, white working-class voters and, even more particularly, white working-class women voters in a way that Obama could not. (It's worth noting that the Clinton people have made a similar argument about the potential competitiveness of Kentucky.)
"Where I think Secretary Clinton has more appeal than any other Democrat looking at running is that with white working-class voters, she does have a connection," Stewart told Scott. "I think she's best positioned to open those states." As evidence, Stewart cited Clinton's success in the 2008 primary process in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Fair(ish). But remember that Clinton's performance in those primaries was against an African American candidate named Barack Obama, not against a Republican in a general election. And that coming close isn't the same thing as winning. Yes, Clinton would almost certainly do better with white working-class voters than Obama did. But, in some of the states that Stewart puts in that first bucket, that's a pretty low bar.
Arkansas is a good example. It's easy to assume -- and the Clintons almost certainly are assuming -- that the former first couple of Arkansas have a special connection to the Natural State. After all, Bill Clinton spent years as the state's governor and used it as a launching pad for his presidential bid in 1992.
That was a very long time ago. And even in the past six years, Arkansas has moved heavily away from Democrats at the federal level. In 2008, both U.S. senators from Arkansas were Democrats, as were three of its four House members. Following the 2014 elections, all six are Republicans. ALL SIX. President Obama won just 37 percent of the vote in the state in the 2012 general election after watching someone named John Wolfe win 42 percent of the vote in the Democratic presidential primary against him.
Would Hillary Clinton do better than that? Yes. But the idea that the Arkansas that helped push Bill Clinton into the national spotlight has anything in common, politically speaking, with the Arkansas of 2014 is a fallacy. As for the idea that Obama's race was the fundamental reason for his poor showing among white working-class voters, here are two words for you: Mark Pryor. As in, the two term incumbent senator -- and son of a former governor and senator in the state -- who just lost badly in his bid for reelection. Pryor took just 31 percent among white voters and won an even more meager 29 percent among whites without a college education. (The exit poll didn't break down income level by race.)
Missouri and Indiana are slightly -- emphasis on slightly -- less clear-cut as such huge reaches when it comes to Clinton's presidential prospects. Obama's successes in both states in 2008 -- he won Indiana and lost Missouri by less than 4,000 votes -- would seem to provide significant encouragement for the Clinton forces. But subsequent election results in both states make 2008 look far more like the exception than the rule for Democrats.
In 2012, Obama lost Missouri and Indiana by 10 points each. And the successes Democrats have had winning federal races in recent years in both states are, in a word, anomalous. In 2012, Republicans nominated two disastrously poor candidates in Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin; in so doing, they allowed Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), respectively, to be elected. Republicans seem unlikely to follow that blueprint come 2016, meaning that Clinton's ability to harvest lots and lots of Republican-leaning voters will be greatly reduced. (In Indiana, Republicans control eight of the 11 seats in Congress; in Missouri, it's seven out of 10.)
Stewart's second bucket makes more sense -- although he may be getting a little ahead of himself, demographically speaking. In that bucket sit Arizona and Georgia, two states where the growth of the Hispanic vote -- and Democrats' continued dominance among that group -- is in the process of making both states much more competitive. In Georgia, George W. Bush won 58 percent of the vote in his 2004 reelection race, but four years later John McCain won less than 53 percent in the state. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 53 percent of the vote. Arizona's trajectory is similar. A decade ago, Bush won it with 55 percent. In 2008, McCain, the home-state senator, got only 54 percent; Romney got that same 54 percent in 2012.
That's the right trajectory for Democrats. But Georgia in 2014 provides a reminder of why the demographics just aren't there yet for Democrats to win. Democrats recruited their best possible candidate -- Michelle Nunn -- for the seat of retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R). Many Democrats (and neutral observers) expected Nunn, at a minimum, to keep Republican David Perdue under 50 percent and force a Jan. 6 runoff. Perdue won 53 percent, an eight-point victory margin.
While Nunn swamped Perdue among black voters (92 percent to 8 percent) and won easily among Hispanics (57 percent to 42 percent), he absolutely destroyed her among white voters (74 percent to 23 percent). That's instructive. For someone like Clinton (or any Democrat) to win statewide in Georgia, she/he would need to equal Nunn's margin among black voters while outperforming Nunn significantly among Hispanics and whites. Possible. But not likely -- at least in 2016. By 2020 (or 2024) -- maybe.
Here's the thing about Stewart's claims of map expansion: Clinton doesn't really need to do it. Remember that Obama won in 2008 with 365 electoral votes and in 2012 with 322 -- both comfortably above the 270 required to claim the presidency. As I've written before, the Democratic Party has the sort of built-in electoral college edge at the moment -- and likely in 2016 -- that Republicans enjoyed through the 1980s. With California, Illinois, New York and, very likely, Pennsylvania going to Democrats in 2016, Clinton would start with 124 electoral votes. Compare that to the Republican nominee whose only big state -- 20+ electoral votes -- already in the bag is Texas with its 38.
Is it possible that a massively well-funded Clinton campaign makes a play at Arkansas -- for old time's sake -- in 2016? Sure -- especially since the state's media markets make it a relatively cheap risk. But spending significant money in any of the states in Stewart's first bucket seems like wasting money that could be better used in Ohio and Florida. Spending money on the states in the second bucket makes some sense but more as a long term investment, not a 2016 play.
The 2016 map will favor Clinton (or any Democrat) -- even if she does nothing between now and then. She'd be better off focusing on re-creating Obama's 2012 map rather than trying to reinvent it.