The final event on George W. Bush’s schedule on the final day of the 2004 presidential election campaign was not a late-night gathering in a “battleground” state such as Florida or Ohio. Rather, it was a Monday evening “victory rally” on the campus of Southern Methodist University in his home state of Texas.
Texas? After months of focusing on the dozen or more targeted states that supposedly will decide this election, why did the Bush camp decide to finish things off in the one state that ought to be securely in the president’s column?
Because, despite everything that has been said over the past few months, this campaign is not just about battleground states. There is also a national fight to win the popular vote, and Bush’s election-eve trip to Texas was an acknowledgment of that fact.
To be sure, the fight for the popular vote was overshadowed during this year’s long campaign by the fight to reach the “magic” number of 270 electoral votes. That Electoral College fight plays out in the battleground states. And as the 2004 campaign raced to a close, it was far from settled. At least 20 states–from Hawaii to Maine–saw pre-election poll numbers that suggested either Bush or Democrat John Kerry could win their precious electoral votes. Never before in the modern history of American electoral politics have so many states been so undecided on the eve of an election.
The candidates could not possibly visit all of those states before the voting started, however, so they effectively ceded states to one another in the final days. Both campaigns narrowed the focus of their last-minute campaigning to a handful of states where polls suggest the two campaigns are effectively tied. Bush campaigned in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico, while Kerry awoke Monday in Florida and then flew north for a stop in Wisconsin, several stops in Ohio–including a huge rally in Cleveland where Bruce Springsteen sang and urged the crowd to “Vote for Change”–and a return to Wisconsin for a 1:00am Tuesday rally in the city of LaCrosse. Kerry spent the night in LaCrosse, where local television news programs reach audiences in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, before beginning a Tuesday morning journey home–via Ohio, again–to Boston.
Kerry can be reasonably assured of winning roughly 200 electoral votes from states where he led going into today’s election, while Bush is assured of at least that many electoral votes. This means that whichever campaign secures a clear majority of the roughly 135 electoral votes that are up for grabs in the so-called “super-battleground” states that have been the targets of so much late-in-the-day politicking will be well positioned to claim an Electoral College majority and the presidency.