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Obama's Near Misses Northwest of the Mississippi

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Barack Obama's convincing victory on Election Day was noted for several strong performances West of the Mississippi - picking up New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada as well as taking back Iowa, which had flipped to the GOP in 2004.

Obama also turned in particularly impressive performances in Montana and the Dakotas (and John McCain's home state of Arizona), though it remains to be seen whether the president-elect will be able to lead Democrats into serious contention in these states in 2012 and beyond.

History is on the side of the GOP.

South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana have each participated in 30 presidential elections since statehood, beginning in 1892.

On the positive side for the Democrats, Obama's performance in South Dakota (44.8 percent) was the 10th highest ever and the largest since Michael Dukakis in 1988 (46.5 percent). South Dakota turnout for Obama was also 5.1 points higher than its 116-year average (39.1 percent).

In North Dakota, Obama's 44.5 percent was the 9th highest in state history, and the largest since Jimmy Carter in 1976 (45.8 percent). It was also 7.1 points greater than the statewide historical average in presidential elections (37.3 percent).

Montana, the Democratic Party's next best chance to pick up a West of the Mississippi state in 2012, registered 47.2 percent for Obama - good for 11th highest in state history, and the largest since LBJ in 1964 (59.0 percent). But, Montana used to be a Democratic stronghold throughout WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII, with its nominees carrying the state 11 times overall 1896, 1900, 1912, 1916, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1964, and 1992. As such, Obama's 2008 vote tally was just 1.8 points better than the state's historical average for Democrats (45.4 percent).

The Democratic Party has a much steeper hill to climb at the presidential level in the Dakotas: no Democrat has won either state since LBJ in 1964. Democrats have carried South Dakota just four times (1896, 1932, 1936, and 1964) and North Dakota five times (1912, 1916, 1932, 1936, and 1964).

Looking at the three-state region as a whole, Democrats have reached the 50 percent mark in just 3 of 45 presidential contests dating back to 1952 (and all of those in 1964).

Democratic Vote in Presidential Elections, 1892-2008

Year
South Dakota
North Dakota
Montana
2008
44.8
44.5
47.2
2004
38.4
35.5
38.6
2000
37.6
33.1
33.4
1996
43.0
40.1
41.2
1992
37.1
32.2
37.6
1988
46.5
43.0
46.2
1984
36.5
33.8
38.2
1980
31.7
26.3
32.4
1976
48.9
45.8
45.4
1972
45.5
35.8
37.9
1968
42.0
38.2
41.6
1964
55.6
58.0
59.0
1960
41.8
44.5
48.6
1956
41.6
38.1
42.9
1952
30.7
28.4
40.1
1948
47.0
43.4
53.1
1944
41.7
45.5
54.3
1940
42.6
44.2
58.8
1936
54.0
59.6
69.3
1932
63.6
57.4
58.8
1928
39.2
44.5
40.5
1924
13.3
7.0
19.4
1920
19.7
18.2
32.1
1916
45.9
47.8
56.9
1912
42.1
34.1
35.0
1908
35.1
34.8
42.6
1904
21.7
20.4
33.8
1900
41.1
39.6
58.4
1896*
49.7
43.7
79.9
1892
12.7
0.0
39.8

* Democrat William Jennings Bryan ran on the Populist ticket in South Dakota in 1896.



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