America’s battlegrounds: The Blue Wall and the Red Sea

The Red Sea

Georgia, Arizona

Looking at an American map on the night results are announced, vast swathes of the country down middle appear red. A Republican victory? Not necessarily.

The Red Sea is a group of states Republicans have considered bankable over the last seven election cycles-typically, these are in sparsely populated, primarily rural parts of America. In a presidential election, they could be worth as many as 158 electoral college votes, more than halfway to the White House.

But not when the Red Sea shows signs that it is receding. 2020 is one of those years.

Georgia’s 16 electoral votes-which have gone to Republicans in six of the last seven elections-are far from a certainty for Trump.

Biden and Trump are locked in a statistical tie according to polls. This is a state that Trump took by over 5 points in 2016, marginally outperforming predictions.

What has changed?

Primarily, Georgia’s demographics, and the inability of the Republican party to keep pace with the change. In 1996, when Bill Clinton lost the state to his opponent Bob Dole, 77 per cent of the voters were white. That number is down to 60 now.

The diversity and growth have gone hand in hand. The state added nearly 8,00,000 voter registrations after the state’s close 2018 gubernatorial race is hard to say. But the new voters are mainly young people, a substantial number of whom are people of colour.

The pandemic has changed the nature of this election and will possibly be the single biggest factor in determining who wins, but remember the name Rayshard Brooks?

Less than a month after George Floyd was killed by policemen in Minneapolis, Brooks fell asleep in his car outside an Atlanta, Georgia, drive-through restaurant. A confrontation with the police led to his shooting and death.

In a state where close to every third person is black, the backlash was inevitable. Simmering race divisions boiled over, Atlanta burned.

These divisions are bound to be reflected in the polls-this part of the red sea is turning purple.

The arid lands of Arizona have produced one of modern America’s great heroes. Senator John McCain ran for president against Barack Obama in 2008. That campaign was unsuccessful, but his stature remained undiminished till his death in 2018. As he ailed, waiting for the inevitable, he expressed a wish: Donald Trump not be invited to his funeral.

McCain was the embodiment of the essential decency that pre-Trump conservatives have in common. It is a powerful group, shrinking and somewhat subdued at the moment, but very much there. As are their supporters. Joe Biden may belong to the opposite camp, but he has much more of the spirit of John McCain in him.

Trump’s crude attacks on McCain and his private disdain for the armed forces cannot have played well in Arizona. McCain spent six years in a Vietnamese prison, enduring torture and refusing the Vietcong’s offers of early release once his captors became aware that the young pilot was from a distinguished military family. Trump, who avoided the draft because of ‘bone spurs’, refused to acknowledge McCain was a war hero. “He was captured. I don’t like people who get captured.”

This attitude filters down to policy. Trump is against spending resources rescuing people who are injured or go missing in battle. He thinks of soldiers who have died for their country as “losers”.

The pandemic will play its role in Arizona, as will Trump’s immigration policies (it has a long border with Mexico, and a large Latino population, but if there was one state in the country where this election is about character, Arizona could be it. And on that count, Trump filed for bankruptcy ages ago.

This is why Arizona’s 11 electoral votes could now go to a democrat-because a large number of Arizona’s voters don’t want them to Trump. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump trails Biden by 3 points in a state he won by about 4 per cent in 2016.

Post script: Maricopa county, Arizona is the county that has added the most number people through the last few years, making it more diverse. This typically helps the Democrats.

To return as president, Trump realistically needs to retain all five of these states. If he loses Pennsylvania and Georgia, for instance, the rest won’t matter.

America's battlegrounds: The Blue Wall and the Red Sea