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Which State Will Host the Most Closely Decided Presidential Race in 2012?

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Since 1824, Kentucky and Maryland have each hosted the closest statewide presidential contests five times; Ohio last did so in back-to-back cycles in 1944 and 1948

barackobama05.jpgWith a week to go until Election Day, it is still unclear which presidential candidate will end up victorious in as many as 20 percent of the states across the country.

The battlegrounds of 2012 are certainly earning their name this cycle with as many as 10 states still up for grabs.

And which state will be decided by the most razor-thin margin on November 6th?

Nine states have had at least one poll released in the last week that show the Romney-Obama contest within one percentage point: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In recent cycles, the closest statewide presidential contests took place in Missouri in 2008 (won by John McCain, 0.13 points), Wisconsin in 2004 (John Kerry, 0.38 points), Florida in 2000 (George W. Bush, 0.01 points), Kentucky in 1996 (Bill Clinton, 0.96 points), and Georgia in 1992 (Clinton, 0.59 points).

And since 1824, there have been 29 different states who held this title.

Kentucky (1896, 1900, 1920, 1952, 1996) and Maryland (1824, 1828, 1832, 1872, 1904) lead the way with five cycles each of hosting the most narrowly decided presidential contest.

In the Election of 1832, Henry Clay defeated incumbent Democrat Andrew Jackson by just four votes out of more than 38,300 cast in the Old Line State.

Maryland's contest was decided by just 232 votes in 1828 (with John Quincy Adams defeating Jackson) and 109 votes in 1824 (with Adams beating Jackson, William Crawford, and Henry Clay).

On only two other occasions has the closest statewide presidential race taken place in the same state in back-to-back cycles: in Kentucky (1896, 1900) and Ohio (1944 and 1948).

In 1896, Republican William McKinley nipped Democrat William Bryan by 0.06 points in the Bluegrass State.

In 1900, Bryan defeated McKinley in Kentucky by 1.71 points, even as the Democratic challenger performed worse across the nation overall.

In 1944, Republican Thomas Dewey edged FDR by 0.37 points to win the state's 25 electoral votes. Four years later, Dewey fell to Democrat Harry Truman by an even closer margin - 0.24 points.

Missouri - unofficially dubbed the bellwether state of the 20th Century - has hosted the tightest presidential statewide race four times: in 1908, 1956, 1968, and 2008.

California has done so in three cycles (1868, 1880, 1892) with two each for Minnesota (1972, 1984), Ohio (1944, 1948), New Hampshire (1916, 1936), Connecticut (1888, 1932), and New York (1864, 1884).

Twenty states can lay claim to the narrowest margin of victory in a presidential race one time: New Jersey (1836), Pennsylvania (1840), Tennessee (1844), Alabama (1848), Delaware (1852), Louisiana (1856), Virginia (1860), South Carolina (1876), Vermont (1912), North Dakota (1924), Rhode Island (1928), Michigan (1940), Hawaii (1960), Arizona (1964), Oregon (1976), Massachusetts (1980), Washington (1988), Georgia (1992), Florida (2000), and Wisconsin (2004).

Of course, an election cycle's most closely decided race doesn't always make headlines, as even landslides inevitably produce a few competitive statewide races.

For example, in 1964 and 1984 the only interesting thing about the nation's narrowest victories in Arizona (Barry Goldwater, 0.99 points) and Minnesota (Walter Mondale, 0.18 points) is that the losing challengers eked out wins in their home states while netting only 52 and 13 electoral votes respectively.

Or, in 1936, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about Franklin Roosevelt's 1.75-point win in New Hampshire during his landslide win, other than the fact that the next closest race was decided by six more points (FDR winning Kansas by 7.72 points).

Overall, the closest statewide presidential race was decided by less than one point in 36 of the 47 cycles since 1824 and by less than one-tenth of a point in 11 cycles.

In 2012, it is conceivable that the most narrowly decided state will not be one of the top 'battlegrounds.'

If either Romney or Obama perform much more strongly than current polls suggest, then a state like Missouri (in the case of a great day for Obama) or Minnesota (in the case of a great day for Romney) might end up with the narrowest victory margin across the 50 states.

The Closest Statewide Presidential Contests by Cycle, 1824-2008

Year
State
1st
Party
2nd
Party
MoV
2008
MO
John McCain
GOP
Barack Obama
DEM
0.13
2004
WI
John Kerry
DEM
George W. Bush
GOP
0.38
2000
FL
George W. Bush
GOP
Al Gore
DEM
0.01
1996
KY
Bill Clinton
DEM
Bob Dole
GOP
0.96
1992
GA
Bill Clinton
DEM
George H.W. Bush
GOP
0.59
1988
WA
Michael Dukakis
DEM
George H.W. Bush
GOP
1.59
1984
MN
Walter Mondale
DEM
Ronald Reagan
GOP
0.18
1980
MA
Ronald Reagan
GOP
Jimmy Carter
DEM
0.15
1976
OR
Gerald Ford
GOP
Jimmy Carter
DEM
0.17
1972
MN
Richard Nixon
GOP
George McGovern
DEM
5.51
1968
MO
Richard Nixon
GOP
Hubert Humphrey
DEM
1.13
1964
AZ
Barry Goldwater
GOP
Lyndon Johnson
DEM
0.99
1960
HI
John Kennedy
DEM
Richard Nixon
GOP
0.06
1956
MO
Adlai Stevenson
DEM
Dwight Eisenhower
GOP
0.22
1952
KY
Adlai Stevenson
DEM
Dwight Eisenhower
GOP
0.07
1948
OH
Harry Truman
DEM
Thomas Dewey
GOP
0.24
1944
OH
Thomas Dewey
GOP
Franklin Roosevelt
DEM
0.37
1940
MI
Wendell Willkie
GOP
Franklin Roosevelt
DEM
0.33
1936
NH
Franklin Roosevelt
DEM
Alf Landon
DEM
1.75
1932
CT
Herbert Hoover
GOP
Franklin Roosevelt
DEM
1.14
1928
RI
Al Smith
DEM
Herbert Hoover
GOP
0.61
1924
ND
Calvin Coolidge
GOP
Robert LaFollette
PROG
2.52
1920
KY
James Cox
DEM
Warren Harding
GOP
0.44
1916
NH
Woodrow Wilson
DEM
Charles Hughes
GOP
0.06
1912
VT
William Taft
GOP
Teddy Roosevelt
PROG
1.91
1908
MO
William Taft
GOP
William Bryan
DEM
0.09
1904
MD
Teddy Roosevelt
GOP
Alton Parker
DEM
0.02
1900
KY
William Bryan
DEM
William McKinley
GOP
1.71
1896
KY
William McKinley
GOP
William Bryan
DEM
0.06
1892
CA
Grover Cleveland
DEM
Benjamin Harrison
GOP
0.05
1888
CT
Grover Cleveland
DEM
Benjamin Harrison
GOP
0.22
1884
NY
Grover Cleveland
DEM
James Blaine
GOP
0.10
1880
CA
Winfield Hancock
DEM
James Garfield
GOP
0.09
1876
SC
Rutherford Hayes
GOP
Samuel Tilden
GOP
0.49
1872
MD
Horace Greeley
DEM
Ulysses Grant
GOP
0.69
1868
CA
Ulysses Grant
GOP
Horatio Seymour
DEM
0.48
1864
NY
Abraham Lincoln
GOP
George McClellan
DEM
0.92
1860
VA
John Bell
CON UNION
John Breckenridge
SOUTH DEM
0.09
1856
LA
James Buchanan
DEM
Millard Fillmore
AMERICAN
3.39
1852
DE
Franklin Pierce
DEM
Winfield Scott
WHIG
0.20
1848
AL
Lewis Cass
DEM
Zachary Taylor
WHIG
1.12
1844
TN
Henry Clay
WHIG
James Polk
DEM
0.10
1840
PA
William Harrison
WHIG
Martin Van Buren
DEM
0.12
1836
NJ
William Harrison
WHIG
Martin Van Buren
DEM
1.05
1832
MD
Henry Clay
NAT'L REP
Andrew Jackson
DEM
0.01
1828
MD
John Q. Adams
NAT'L REP
Andrew Jackson
DEM
0.51
1824
MD
John Q. Adams
DEM-REP
Andrew Jackson
DEM-REP
0.33
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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