Democrat Barack Obama’s victory Tuesday was impressive—the most impressive for any Democrat since Jimmy Carter won just over 50 percent of the popular vote in 1976.
Obama not only won a large Electoral College majority Tuesday, he edged up to 51 percent of the popular vote—more than any presidential candidate has won since George H.W. Bush won just over 53 percent of the popular vote in 1988.
Obama improved upon John Kerry’s performance with both male and female voters. According to the national exit poll, Obama won male voters by a point—49 percent to 48 percent, and he won female voters 56 to 43 percent.
He won young voters overwhelmingly—66 percent of voters aged 18-29 voted for Obama, and turnout among that group was higher than it was in 2004.
But how did Obama turn a number of red states blue? Let’s start with Virginia.
Obama ran up big margins in the Northern part of the state—winning nearly 60 percent of the vote in Fairfax County—and he made significant gains in Northern Virginia’s suburbs and exurbs.
The extent of Obama’s inroads in Loudoun and Prince William Counties Tuesday are nothing short of amazing considering how solidly President Bush won these counties four years ago, and it was undoubtedly key to his victory in the Commonwealth.
Professor Robert Lang, who heads up the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, told Campaign Insider last week that an Obama victory in either one of those Virginia counties—even by half a percentage point—would be impressive.
Obama ended up winning Prince William County Tuesday by a vote of 56 percent to 44 percent. He won Loudoun County 53 percent to 47 percent. Those are about the same margins that George Bush won those counties by four years ago. In 2004, Bush won 56 percent of the vote in Loudoun County and 53 percent of the vote in Prince William County. 2008 marks the first time since 1964 that either of these counties supported a Democrat for president.
In Colorado, two key counties tell the story of Obama’s victory there. First, Arapahoe County, which has seen an influx of highly educated white voters. That has helped shift the demographics of its suburbs. Obama won Arapahoe with 55 percent of the vote Tuesday. In 2004, George Bush carried the county with 52 percent.
The second spot is Douglas County, Colorado, where Obama showed remarkable improvement over John Kerry’s performance there four years ago. George Bush won a full 67 percent of the vote to Kerry’s 33 percent in that county in 2004. Tuesday, Obama was able to win 41 percent, while keeping McCain to less than 60 percent. For a county that all but defines exurbia, that’s a big gain for a Democrat.
In Pennsylvania, Obama swept the Philadelphia suburbs, which hold the key to capturing the state. And, as in the Virginia suburbs, the margins are noteworthy. Obama not only won most of the suburban counties that George Bush won in 2004—he won them by bigger margins.
Obama bested Bush’s 2004 margin of victory over John Kerry in Bucks and Chester Counties. And in Lehigh County, where Kerry won by some 3,000 votes four years ago, Obama won by a commanding 24,000 votes.
The suburban margins, combined with high turnout in Philadelphia and Pittsburg, gave Obama a convincing Pennsylvania win—55 percent to 44 percent.
We could do a similar analysis state by state, but the point is evident. Barack Obama could have won this election just by running up his margins in the urban areas of key states, and just narrowing McCain’s margins in suburban and rural counties. But he didn’t do that.
Obama won handily Tuesday in counties that George Bush won going away 4 years ago. It’s not only impressive—it gives Democrats a real chance to solidify those gains two and four years from now.
Shane D’Aprile is web editor at Politics magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org