Barack Obama’s landslide victory will require time sink in emotionally and also analytically. The exit polls will need to be adjusted to reflect the actual turnout: The numbers we had last night were skewed to the Democrats and under-counted Catholics I suspect. Still, some things are apparent.
The "faithful remnant" of the GOP is confined to those parts of the country that are the least Catholic: the deep South and the Prairie states. The states that are most Catholic – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - are also the states that are the bluest of the blue. Obama’s margin in Pennsylvania was the most impressive of any of the large contested states as he won there by eleven points. It is especially noteworthy that in Lackawanna County, home of Scranton bishop Joseph Martino who was one of the country’s fiercest episcopal critics of voting for Obama because of his views on abortion, Obama won 63% to 36%. This was an increase over John Kerry’s 2004 margin of 56% to 43% in Lackawanna. In neighboring Luzerne County, home of Wilkes-Barre, the numbers were similar: Obama took 54% of the vote, besting Kerry’s 51% four years ago.
Latino Catholics appear to have been decisive in flipping three states from red to blue: New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. Colorado’s nine electoral votes swung into the Obama column with a strong 53% to 46% win and in New Mexico the margin was even larger: 57% for Obama to McCain’s 42%. In Nevada, 55% of the vote went to Obama and McCain took 43%. If Obama delivers comprehensive immigration reform, these three states and their 19 electoral votes will be blue for a generation. They will also likely be joined by Arizona, which might have joined the shift this year had it not been for the home turf advantage McCain enjoyed. Nine points separated the candidates in Arizona, and the state’s ten electoral votes are low-hanging fruit for the Democrats next election.
Latinos are the fastest growing part of the electorate and young voters are just beginning to define their political loyalties. Obama won both groups convincingly: 67% of Latinos nationwide and 66% of voters age 18-29. That bodes well for the future of the Democratic Party.
Enough of the numbers. Watching our new President-Elect last night, I was struck by his bearing, his dignity. He did not seem overwhelmed by what had happened. In front of our very eyes, he shifted almost effortlessly from being the focus of the hopes of the Democrats to becoming the focus of the hopes of the nation. He recalled Ann Nixon Cooper, an Atlanta woman who is 106 years old and all the changes she had witnessed in her long life and what this election meant to her. He used her story to point to the future, wondering what changes his daughters might encounter if they were given such length of years. It was an elegant and organic moment that achieved the first task of political leadership: articulating the present circumstances by looking to history and finding in its lessons a narrative that points to the future.
It has been an amazing run and in the next few days we will continue to examine the consequences of the race before taking a break next week. Readers are encouraged to send in your election night stories and to write what this result means to you and what you believe it means for the country. Last night was a watershed and the air is filled with hopes but also questions this morning. The challenges that face our president-elect are mind-numbing for me, if not for him, but we can all look with anticipation at what awaits our nation around the corner of history.
Michael Sean Winters