Et Tu, New Jersey?

Four formerly stiff states proclaim their right to swing

 WASHINGTON—With the election entering its final stretch, four states have suddenly appeared as potential wild cards. They are New Jersey, Colorado, Hawaii, and Arkansas, representing a total of 34 electoral votes.

New Jersey (15 electoral votes): Since 1992, was safe haven for Bill Clinton (in two elections) and Al Gore in 2000. But New Jersey lost more than 700 people on 9-11, and the GOP convention's focus on the war on terror is thought to have played very effectively there. In the Quinnipiac poll last week, George Bush and John Kerry were virtually tied. (A recent Star Ledger–Eagleton Institute poll shows Kerry pulling away.) Thinking New Jersey would be safe, the Dems took money and staff out of the state, not into it, leaving the place open for a Bush-Cheney landing. Kerry should pull this out, but the closeness in the polls makes Dems nervous.

Bottom line: New Jersey has registered a staggering new 463,000 new voters since 2003, reports WNYC's Bob Hennelly. In previous cycles, registration has averaged 150,000. These new votes should go Democratic, although Republicans are mounting a huge attack on voter registration, with 21,000 volunteers who, under the law, can demand ID of anyone who registered by mail.

Colorado (nine electoral votes): Bush took this state in 2000, and seems poised to win again, save for the possibility of Kerry swinging independent voters, of whom there are around 1 million. (Ralph Nader got 5 percent here in 2000, and he's polling around 2 percent now.)

Another factor is the campaign to divide the state's electoral votes so it reflects the popular vote. Polls show 60 percent of the population are against an amendment to change the current system, but new registration, the youth vote, and turnout could spell the difference here. The measure is worded to apply to this election, and there's some question as to what would happen if it passed.

If the votes were split, polls show it would go 5-4 for Bush. CNN had Bush leading Colorado 51-45 as of October 17. A poll released October 21 by Survey USA showed Bush at 52 and Kerry at 44.

In the '70s and '80s, Colorado was known for its Democratic politicians, including Gary Hart. The state became something of a symbol of the environmental future, as politicians laid out plans for protecting the wilderness and building up solar energy as an energy source. More recently conservatives have moved in, bringing their concerns for lower taxes and anti-gay "family values." Clinton carried the state in 1992, but lost it to Bob Dole in 1996. Bush won in 2000, by 51 percent to 42 percent, as the conservative areas of the state, especially those around Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy, showed their strength.

Hawaii (four electoral votes): Both parties are making a last-minute pounce on Hawaii, with Al Gore and Kerry's daughter Alexandra scheduled to speak Friday evening, and Dick Cheney slated for a speech Sunday. Clinton is giving interviews to Hawaiian media.

The economy has been on a downslide since the early 1990s, and caught between recessions in California and Japan, the state lost its prime source of revenue, tourism. Sugar plants closed, and the agricultural economy on which the state once depended is almost irrelevant as an economic force. Until the Iraq war, government and military employment were on the decline.

Hawaii has traditionally gone Democratic—Clinton won easily here both times, as did Gore in 2000. Republican presidential candidates have won only twice since statehood, Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984. But today there is a Republican governor, Linda Lingle, and she may well have sent the state’s voters Republican with a populist message. She is pro-choice, anti–death penalty, against gambling, and opposed to school vouchers, but pro-business and pro-military.

Arkansas (six electoral votes): Bill Clinton will be joining Wesley Clark this weekend to stump the state for the Democrats. Clinton won the state with over 50 percent in both 1992 and 1996. But Gore lost to Bush, 51 percent to 46 percent. Without Clinton, the state ought to go Republican, and Clinton isn't just missing in action here. Recent visiting aside, he has permanently moved to New York and supposedly wants to be secretary general of the UN.

A recent University of Arkansas poll has Bush ahead by 47 percent to 40 percent. But an October 10 Zogby poll showed Bush with 46.2 percent to Kerry's 44.6 percent. A poll by Opinion Research Associates of Little Rock, taken October 18–20, found Bush and Kerry tied at 48 percent among likely voters. Both of those polls had margins of error of 4.5 percent.

Like a lot of other places, Arkansas lost jobs, especially in manufacturing, during the recent recession. The ballot features an inititive banning gay marriage, which is sure to draw out the conservative Christian vote, and another limiting legislative terms.

 
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