The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza opines on a possible (but unlikely) "game-changing event" in the final days of the presidential campaign:
What the dead heat suggests is that it is literally impossible to predict how some sort of unforeseen event -- ranging from something as trivial as an impolitic comment to something as severe as a domestic terrorist attack -- would impact the race between Obama and McCain.
In other words: An "October Surprise" -- if it happens -- will have surprising (eh?) political consequences.
As I see it, if McCain wins, or if Obama wins by a larger-than-predicted margin, it will mean that most of the polls were wrong for various possible reasons. (The Bradley Effect? Poor response rates among cellphone users or Fox viewers?) But pundits and popular historians will look for an event in the last couple of days in the campaign to fully explain a "last-minute" shift. They will almost certainly be wrong, as wrong as they will be in attributing Hillary Clinton's win in the New Hampshire primary to her tears.
Unlike earlier elections, where cities were strongholds of Democratic voters and suburbs were considered to be Republican territory; recent elections have shown a different pattern. While cities remain staunchly blue, suburbs are now contested territory — a change that most likely reflects the growing racial and income diversity of the suburbs. And because the next presidential election will be decided in a few key swing states, the most important counties in the country are the suburban counties in those states.
There's nothing original about saying that suburbs are politically important. The USA Today headline for a story about the findings -- "Suburbs: New Shortcut to White House?" could have been written 50 years ago. But the Virginia Tech report gets at a more recent development, which is the wide political differences among suburbs, depending on how far they are from the central city. Over the past few presidential elections, older and more densely populated suburbs have become increasingly Democratic, while the new towns that make up exurbia have voted overwhelmingly Republican. (I would argue that, in addition to growing racial and income diversity, density itself causes a community to shift to the left, as residents demand public transit and other government services.)
The Washington Post's Alec MacGillis has a nice piece on Barack Obama as having the strongest "city pedigree" of any presidential nominee since Al Smith in 1928. (MacGillis dismisses Michael Dukakis as a resident of "genteel Brookline" -- and it's true that, despite having its most famous resident take the subway to Beacon Hill when he was governor, Brookline insists on calling itself a "town." And he writes that John F. Kennedy and John F. Kerry fit Hyannisport and Nantucket better than they did Boston.)
But the gist of his piece is that Obama represents the rise of the metropolitan mindset rather than the revival of urban politics:
With his organizer background, he could have cast himself as a knight riding to the rescue of cities neglected by Republican administrations. Instead, he has adopted the framing increasingly favored by many mayors and urban-policy types -- promoting America's cities based on their strengths, not their failings. Cities, he argues, are now melded to their suburbs, and, taken as a whole, America's metro areas are the "backbone of regional growth," as he put it in a June speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "Washington remains trapped in an earlier era," he said, "wedded to an outdated 'urban' agenda that focuses exclusively on the problems in our cities, and ignores our growing metro areas, an agenda that confuses anti-poverty policy with a metropolitan strategy, and ends up hurting both."
As a matter of policy, this approach makes sense. As politics, it's even more sensible. The reason the Democratic Party remains competitive (and, this year, ascendent) in national politics is that it has become the Metropolitan Party even as its inner-city base has lost voting strength. This happened a long time ago in Massachusetts, when older suburbs aligned themselves with Boston to elect Democrats such as Dukakis (and, more recently, Gov. Deval Patrick). It's now happening in places such as Virginia, whose slice of metropolitan Washington, DC, seems likely to deliver the state to Obama next week.
Via Universal Hub: the Boston Coasters website is now selling posters, T-shirts, and messenger bags with blogger Vanshnookenraggen's MBTA map of the future. Imagine a Red Line that goes all the way to Burlington; a Blue Line with a branch that serves poor, overlooked Everett; and a new subway line that replaces the limited commuter-rail service in much of Dorchester.
But don't get your hopes up for new subway stations in Boston or anywhere else in America in the near future. From today's Washington Post, which, to my surprise, doesn't mention Boston as one of the fiscal basket cases:
Metro and 30 other transit agencies across the country may have to pay billions of dollars to large banks as years-old financing deals unravel, potentially hurting service for millions of bus and train riders, transit officials said yesterday.
A mathematician who pioneered a fractal-based urban-mapping technique is embroiled in a copyright battle that raises legal questions about whether a company can claim ownership of the definition of neighborhoods: their specific locations and boundaries. The dispute highlights a growing movement to quantify the amorphous tendrils connecting communities...
Vermont-based mapping company Maponics is now suing [Bernt] Wahl to keep him from creating any more neighborhood maps "derived from or containing parts of" the original maps he produced four years ago, which defined 7,000 neighborhoods in 100 cities. Wahl did that work as a contractor for a real estate web portal, which then sold the copyright to Maponics. Because American's biggest metropolitan areas were included in the original batch of maps, the lawsuit could effectively bar Wahl from the mapmaking business for good.
Not only that, but nonprofits and startup businesses could be forced to buy expensive software from Maponics if they want to use Wahl's work in setting up social networks, databases, etc. Would Maponics "own" the definitive boundaries for unofficial neighborhoods such as the French Quarter in New Orleans? What about Boston's SoWa?
UPDATE: Read the comments section of the Wired piece for a response from Maponics.
My updated look at the "10 States of American Politics," below, is in the current issue of America magazine (written before John McCain apparently gave up on the state of Michigan). Besides being a very smart magazine, the Catholic weekly has an excellent election blog headed by Michael Sean Winters. (And if you're still under the delusion that Catholics are a monolithic voting bloc in the US, you need some serious education.)
Maps dividing the nation into blue states and red states fail to capture the real differences and contradicting trends within what have been called, facetiously, the United States of Canada and Jesusland. One alternative is the four-region model (Northeast, South, Midwest, West) long used by the U.S. Census Bureau. But what kind of political description would apply to a “Midwest” that stretches from Detroit to Dodge City? Or to a “South” that includes both George W. Bush’s best county in 2004 (Ochiltree, Tex.) and his worst (Washington, D.C.)—as well as Barack Obama’s best county (Jefferson, Miss.) and his worst (Magoffin, Ky.) in this year’s Democratic primaries?
For such reasons I have developed a 10-region model, shown on the map above. These regions are roughly equal in voting strength (each cast about 12 million votes in the 2004 election), but each has a distinct history and political bent. (You can find more detailed data here.)
This year Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, seems to be focused on three goals: Increase John Kerry’s narrow 2004 margin in the Hispanic-heavy region of El Norte (with the goal of winning Colorado and New Mexico and becoming competitive in Florida); erase the Republican Party’s customary solid lead in South Coast (winning Virginia and possibly North Carolina, plus going over the top in Florida); and reduce the Democrats’ often-huge deficit in Cumberland (allowing Obama to take Ohio and possibly Indiana).
CW Unbound, the official blog of CommonWealth magazine, is now live. Among the first week's topics is Massachusetts coming in dead last in the number of state representative races that have both Democratic and Republican candidates.