Republicans face the dilemma of the Big Blue Wall

The last several decades, the Republican Party has been shaped profoundly by deepening roots in the American South.

The cultural and political landscape that stretches from the mid-Atlantic to Texas shifted the GOP sharply to the right.

The modern Republican movement has a sensibility that is far more evangelical Christian, more rural, more white and more traditionalist than observers even a decade ago would have predicted.

This political approach has produced strong results, with the GOP controlling the White House and Congress for long periods after 1980.

Indeed, by many measures, this has been a golden age for the conservative movement, with right-of-center leaders and ideas often dominating the national debate.

But it’s no secret that this broadly Southern reinvention of the Republican Party has also produced a countervailing trend, which has put the GOP in considerable peril in presidential contests.

While conservatives have fared well in smaller, rural states — building a vast coalition that includes much of the South, the Midwest and the northern Rockies — Democrats have moved to dominate 3 of the nation’s 5 largest states.

The Blue Wall effect in California. The state’s PVI (Partisan Voting Index) has shifted more than 12 points in favor of Democrats over the last eight presidential elections. Source: RealClearPolitics

California, Illinois and New York are now safe “blue” territory, providing a combined total of 104 electoral college votes, which can be counted upon without the expenditure of campaign cash, organizational resources or candidate time.

By contrast, Republicans can only count reliably on one mega-state:  Texas.

Democrats also have strong political and cultural advantages across the Great Lakes region, with Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin generally leaning into the blue column.

Those states, along with the relatively safe terrain of the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, provide roughly 235 electoral college votes.

Which means that Democrats begin each race with significant advantages in states that provide  87% of the total electoral college votes needed to win.

That represents a huge systemic tilt, which the pundits have begun calling this the Big Blue Wall.

Already, this paradigm means that Republican presidential contenders must run campaigns that are essentially perfect, finding ways to win in battleground states like Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia.

It also means they have to compete successfully in places that are often out of sympathy with the overall demographic and ideological trend of the GOP.

As a consequence, Republican candidates haven’t enjoyed a blow-out win in the electoral since 1988.   They have eked by, prevailing by razor thin margins, even against relatively weak opponents.

This is the headwind that Mitt Romney faces.  His fate will likely hinge on whether he can capture one or two big bluish state like Michigan or Pennsylvania.

The present-day scenario scary enough for the GOP.  But conservatives could face an even greater danger going forward.

There is a very real possibility that Democrats will soon add one or two new chunks to their blue wall.

At present, it appears that Arizona and Florida are  following much the same cultural trend that reshaped politics in California, Colorado and New Mexico, with a rapid growth of minorities (primarily Hispanic) and urbanites who tend to vote Democratic.

Over the last decade alone, Florida’s Hispanic population rose from 16% to more than 22%. Over the same period, Arizona added 600,000 Hispanics.

And it’s not just immigrants contributing to this trend.  Native born Americans of Hispanic descent are growing in numbers rapidly.  (Hispanics already make up 45% of Arizona’s population under the age of 18.)

Unless these patterns reverse soon, America’s changing racial and ethnic landscape could shift American politics much faster than most people grasp.

As early as 2016, Republicans could face a Democratic opponent who begins the presidential race with a literally overwhelming structural advantage.

It is no longer beyond the realm of fanciful to imagine an American presidential contest — even one with two non-incumbents — where the outcome is essentially a foregone conclusion.

If Joe Biden were to enter the contest with a substantial lead in Florida, for example, he would open his campaign with a likely 264 electoral college votes — just six shy of the total needed to win.

Obviously, a lot of variables could change this near-future dilemma for the GOP.

Republicans are making a strong play to rebuild support in the Great Lakes region, for example, a region that is much whiter and more rural than the country as a whole.

If Mitt Romney can eke out a victory in Michigan or Wisconsin, the big blue wall will look far less formidable.

And it may be that conservatives will find a way soon to reach out more effectively to Hispanics, or even African Americans.

But competing successfully in those places and with those voters over the long term would likely mean a significant shift in policies and agenda, one that would sit uneasily with established Republican voters in the southern U.S.

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45 Comments on “Republicans face the dilemma of the Big Blue Wall”

  1. mervel says:

    The other nail in the coffin for them will be Texas. By some estimates, Texas will by 60% Hispanic by 2020, not far off. The are at 40% now, with their second largest community, San Antonio (also the 7th largest city in the US) at 67% Hispanic. Texas Hispanics are not as you mention dominated by new immigrants but long time Texans of Hispanic decent. They are more conservative than in other states, however in general they vote Democratic.

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  2. mervel says:

    The response which is unfortunate, does not look to be reaching out to this community, but instead attempts to disenfranchise them, the courts will be involved for some time in Texas voting.

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  3. Peter Hahn says:

    The voter suppression laws might work for the republicans for a while in the close elections, but its hard to see how that doesn’t alienate and motivate the very groups they are trying to disenfranchise.

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  4. Paul says:

    “Republicans are making a strong play to rebuild support in the Great Lakes region, for example, a region that is much whiter and more rural than the country as a whole.”

    That area is “whiter and more rural than the country as a whole”?

    According to the census Michigan is 80.2% white and the country as a whole is 78.1%.

    Most of this is probably pretty accurate but not all that sentence. It looks like the folks in Michigan live about twice as far apart as the country on a whole (175/sq mile compared to 88) and they are more into agriculture. I guess that is what you call “rural”. It looks like Michigan is a little less white than NY.

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  5. Brian Mann says:

    Paul – Thanks for correcting me. I should have checked the Michigan stats.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  6. mervel says:

    Peter, yes I agree.

    In the long run it is a very bad strategy. Its too bad for the Republicans because the Hispanic population in Texas for example is not totally out of bounds for them on many issues, they would have a shot at least for a decent percentage. The problem though is the immigrant stances. Being against very humane and basic things like the Dream Act, being in favor of having local cops pull over anyone they deem looks like might be here illegally and demand their papers. So what does that mean in a city of 65% Hispanics? So you have to worry about getting pulled over to prove you are a US citizen to some local yokel without proper training? As long as Republicans go down that road they will always lose with the majority of Hispanics.

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    It’s a dilemma they brought on themselves when they gleefully accepted the Dixicrats into their party.
    The Republican Party has sadly become the party of those who wish for the days before the Civil War. Some are a little more modern and wish for the time before FDR. What they share in common is a dream of the past. They fear the future.

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  8. Paul says:

    And the democrats apparently have to worry about the big green wall!

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  9. mervel says:

    In the end though I think parties are self correcting. They want to win and if and when the southern strategy starts to fade out; I think they will adjust.

    Winning elections is about who votes not about the demographics of the nation.

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  10. tootightmike says:

    The Hispanic population doesn’t fit into the Republican party because of the unmentioned race thing. My Republican relatives would tell you in no uncertain terms what color a real Republican is, and Hispanics can hear that bias. Why would they vote with the racist white block that would happily send them all back to wherever.

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  11. mervel says:

    I think that is part of it, although that is a pretty broad brush and I don’t think the Republican Party and most Republicans are racist, some are and some of the policies come across that way. The bizarre thing is that many of these people don’t seem to get is that particularly in the Southwest and Texas, the Hispanic population was there before the non-Hispanic Population. San Antonio was the capital of Spanish Texas, the majority of the individuals who fought and died against Mexican Tyranny in the fight for Texas independence were Hispanic.

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  12. mervel says:

    Also being Hispanic is an ethnicity not a race, Hispanics can be any number of races, including white, the majority of Hispanics in the US would be classified as white racially for example.

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  13. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I worry about the spread of Super Christian churches and Christian radio into the northeast.

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  14. newt says:


    Racism is a big tent kind of thing. Just about anyone can be put under it. Before WWI, Greek, Italian, and other Americans from southern Europe were often not considered to be “white” in many parts of the country.

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  15. Paul says:

    knuck, what are you “worried” about?

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  16. Paul says:

    “I don’t think the Republican Party and most Republicans are racist”

    Mervel, are you being serious with this comment?

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  17. mervel says:

    Paul what do you mean? I was responding to tootnight who said that his Republican relatives felt that Republicans were white, a clearly racist view of the US and the Republican Party. No doubt today, there are more racists in the Republican Party than in the Democratic party, its just a fact. I say that as someone who has often voted Republican. I don’t believe the Party itself is racist or that most in the party are racist. However the Republican Party used a Southern strategy to get rid of the Southern white Democrats in 1972, they invited white southern racists into the party, that was the plan and it worked. The South went from the solid south, meaning solidly always democratic, to republican, for one reason, race and acceptance of white racism.

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  18. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I worry that decent people will be brainwashed by the constant blather in the same manner that so many have fallen prey to Fox News. Except not even Fox News is that bad by comparison. I listen to some Christian radio on occasion and some of it is okay, advice for people with troubles or Bible geek shows where they debate what the meaning of “is” is in chapter x verse y, but some of it is very political with extreme right wing points of view knocking down strawmen, and some of it is just plain xenophobic racist lies.

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  19. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    About the racism thing; my mother never had a racist bone in her body nor was she ever afraid of anything that I could tell, but after she got old and sat for hours a day in front of Fox News she started to be afraid of things, of people and she started to say bigoted and racist things.

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  20. Larry says:

    Wow, I am thrilled to learn all about Hispanic history, culture and political thought from a bunch of people who probably don’t even know any hispanics. Mix that up with a healthy dose of pure hatred of Republicans (“The Republican Party has sadly become the party of those who wish for the days before the Civil War”) and add a dash of complete idiocy (Fox News turned knucklehead’s mother into a racist) and you have a classic collection of liberal lunacy. Do you all really expect to be taken seriously while spouting this kind of nonsense?

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  21. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Larry, do you have some knowledge about my mother that I don’t know? I actually had a discussion with her about it. Did you?

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  22. Larry says:

    The Republicans have less to worry about than you think. Obama has demonstrated that fixing the nation’s problems takes more than just blaming them all on Bush. Add to that his total inability to do anything positive about the economy and today’s validation of 98% of the Bush tax cuts and it begins to look a little less bleak for the GOP. Does he really think soaking the rich is going to fix the economy? After four years of nothing he’s going to go with that? Admittedly, Bush and Romney are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree but Obama is going to end up making them look like geniuses! Good luck.

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  23. Larry says:

    I don’t have any knowledge of your mother and I certainly don’t mean her any disrespect. I just don’t think it’s credible to blame Fox News for turning people into racists. Whatever may have happened with your mother likely had little to do with TV.

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  24. scratchy says:

    “Obviously, a lot of variables could change this near-future dilemma for the GOP.”

    Yes, perhaps a third party will emerge to save us from the failed two party system. Oh well, you can always wish.

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  25. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Larry, if you read what I wrote you would find that I didn’t say that Fox News turned my mother into a racist. I said:
    “after she got old and sat for hours a day in front of Fox News she started to be afraid of things, of people and she started to say bigoted and racist things.”

    It really gets tiresome having to repeat what I said because you wont read it carefully the first time. I was making a correlation between the type of news my mother was watching generating fear, and that fear affecting the way a person sees the world and the people around them. And possibly the affect aging has on a person. It is anecdotal, granted, but I think there is a correlation there.

    When I hear my mother talking about a news story and I ask her where she hear such a thing and she says that it is all over Fox News then I must conclude that the Fox News worm has gotten into her brain. It is like a drug. I tell her to watch something else because it is proven that Fox News makes you less well informed, but she can’t stop. I wish she’e watch Animal Planet, or Pickers or something.

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  26. tootightmike says:

    I’m with scratchy on that. I’d vote Green, or Progressive, or 99er, or even Communist if they were out there, but the two parties have moved toward the middle in valueless attempt at gaining numbers by watering down their rhetoric. As it is I can only vote as a Democrat as far left of the Christian/Conservative/Tea Party as I can get.
    Several years ago, I listened to a couple of friends describe Al Gore as the extreme left of the party, and I said “Huh??! What?!! His wife is a freakin’ Nazi! Where does that put me?!”

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  27. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:


    I suggest you turn her on to the PBS news hour, North Country Public Radio, and nearly anything on the BBC. Basically anything not owned by Rupert Murdoch or some other titan of media…..

    Oh, and Larry, Obama doesn’t literally believe taxing the rich will solve our economic woes or seriously address our debt problems. It’s a calculated statement in which he’s attempting to frame the argument for reelecting him or voting for Romney. In other words, vote for Romney and he’ll protect the rich, vote for me and I’ll protect the middle class. Whether it’s a true statement is another matter, but it’s not meant to suggest it’ll solve our economic or debt woes, it’s politics….

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  28. Paul says:

    “No doubt today, there are more racists in the Republican Party than in the Democratic party, its just a fact.”

    Really? Would you mind showing us some of the data to support this fact. Not data that shows that some republicans are racist, or that some democrats are racist, but that data that proves that there are more registered republican racists than democrats as you claim. Don’t forget to include all forms of racism.

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  29. Paul says:

    Recently I watched that old Reiner movie Stand By Me. In it the 12 year old kids talked about how they worked hard to come up with new and crazy ways to degrade other kids mothers. Sound familiar?

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  30. Paul says:

    Clapton has it right, what the president is doing with this proposal is simply political. He is floating an idea that he knows will get nowhere to make a political point. The country doesn’t need any more of this from either side, what it needs is real leadership. Where we will find that and when is anyone’s guess.

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  31. mervel says:

    Sure Paul.

    It was a well known and documented strategy by the Republican Party to court segregationists members of the Democratic Party. This was the Southern strategy. Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helmes, Trent Lott, all proud members of the republican Party and all segregationists, welcomed by the party. The party ran adds such as the Willie Horton adds, the party welcomed Pat Buchanan at their convention talking about “our” kind of people.

    Many laws that are now championed by the Republican party dealing with immigration, are simply racist. Those are just some examples but I think show somewhat of a statistical trend.

    Also why DON”T ANY racial minorities vote n any larger numbers Republican? Is it just some fluke?

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  32. mervel says:

    The Party has to now pay for the sins of the past, they wanted all of these Southern white yahoo’s (they made no attempt to attract black southerners) , which is now the Party’s base. It worked for a while but it was short term thinking. Now you can’t send those guys back down to the basement.

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  33. Paul says:

    Mervel, sorry but none of what you cite supports your claim that there are more racists in the republican party than in the democratic party? Facts don’t come from those kinds of anecdotal stuff.

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  34. Paul says:

    If you want some facts here are some from George Mason University:

    “History reveals that the Republican Party was formed in 1854 to abolish slavery and challenge other racist legislative acts initiated by the Democratic Party.

    Some called it the Civil War, others called it the War Between the States, but to the African Americans at that time, it was the War Between the Democrats and the Republicans over slavery. The Democrats gave their lives to expand it, Republican gave their lives to ban it.”

    “Congressional records show that Democrats were opposed to passing the following laws that were introduced by Republicans to achieve civil rights for African Americans:

    Civil Rights Act 1866
    Reconstruction Act of 1867
    Freedman Bureau Extension Act of 1866
    Enforcement Act of 1870
    Force Act of 1871
    Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871
    Civil Rights Act of 1875
    Civil Rights Act of 1957
    Civil Rights Act of 1960″

    The summed it up well with this:

    “Today both parties must remember their past. The Democrats must remember the terrible things they did to Blacks and apologize and the Republicans must remember the terrific things they did for Blacks and re-commit to complete the work that their predecessors started and died for.”

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  35. mervel says:

    Paul what I was getting at was official Republican policies, stands and actions and that these would reflect the members sensibilities at some level. If you take a Willie Horton add, would a party that was not playing on racial fears and racism itself run that add?

    Certainly it is correct that I don’t have individual data on racism in the Party all I have to go by is the stated policies and actions of the party itself and the voting patterns that have resulted from those actions.

    I vote Republican quite a bit and I think it is nuts if you like some of the ideas in the Party to ignore the racism currently within the party. There is a reason that 95% of African Americans and I think 80% of Hispanics choose NOT to vote Republican, why? It is about their perceptions of racism in the party itself. Until the republicans can figure out a way to become more inclusive they are going to be in big trouble, the demographic shifts coming are very large. What will the Presidential map look like when Texas goes blue?

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  36. Paul says:

    I think that the voting disparity you describe is based on income issues not on the racism that you are describing?

    How do you include those groups? By helping them understand that what we need are more taxpayers and not necessarily higher taxes. But that is a tough argument to make. It is easier to make the argument that the democrats are making with those groups.

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  37. Larry says:

    You sound like Bill Clinton parsing the word sex. You said it and now say that what you said is not what you meant. Sounds a lot like Obama, whose apologists say here that he doesn’t really mean that taxing the rich will fix the economy. Too much of people not meaning what they say or at least, temporizing when challenged. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.

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  38. mervel says:

    Larrry I think part of the problem with much of the mentality today is not ENOUGH parsing, not too much. It is this bizarre idea that aggresive talk, lack of compromise is good, when in reality it is usually just someone who does not understand the complexity of a given issue or is too intellectually lazy to really look at the complexity of modern issues. Bill Clinton has a much better understanding of most issues in modern America, including sex, than most recent Republican presidents. The fact is he was much brighter than either Bush or Reagan and that is why he was a better president, more willing to compromise and more had the ability to get things done; simple meritocracy, something that at one time was a Republican virtue.

    So in this case as I said all along as someone who often votes republican, I don’t think that Republicans are de-facto racists. However they have indeed cultivated racism as a political wedge and are now paying the price. Does that mean the party is racist given that they invited racists into their party as a means of splitting the Southern Democratic party? I guess you would want me to say hell yes and we could get into a big pissing contest, but that really is boring and useless.

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  39. Paul says:

    Mervel, it would be a crazy comment for me to say that 94% of African Americans voted for the president because hew was black. They have many reasons for why those folks voted the way they did, race isn’t much of a factor in my opinion.

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  40. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I think it would be crazy to believe that blacks didn’t vote for Obama because he was black. As if black people wouldn’t vote for the first black man that they had a chance to vote for President?

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  41. Larry says:

    Not enough parsing of the language, huh? What happened to plain, straightforward speech? We could use more of it, on all sides. I can remember Clinton explaining that what he did wasn’t sex and the feckless sycophants who agreed with him. I guess that set the tone for those of you who insist that what Obama is doing to the country isn’t what many of us know that it is.

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  42. mervel says:


    I think we have too much of what is called plain straightforward speech, it is usually a mask in my opinion for oversimplified solutions to very complex problems in a complex society. It goes to our bumper sticker society, no one can really have a conversation anymore, its all just yammering talking points that someone else came up with to “stay on message”.

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  43. mervel says:

    It is like here, I can’t say, hmmm that is not really what I meant, I meant this, without you saying that I am parsing language as Clinton did when he was essentially lying (I realize the guy had some big faults). Do you see my point?

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  44. Larry says:

    I see your point even though I don’t agree with it entirely. We can have straightforward speech without resorting to a bumper-sticker mentality. Complexity is even OK, as long as it is accompanied by clarity and truthfullness.

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  45. Paul says:

    Knuck, you don’t give those voters much credit.

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