Historical electoral mistakes and do-overs

With what we know now about polling, and a little 20-20 hindsight, are there close elections where one crucial state should have been targeted by a losing candidate? What are some examples where a candidate, in hindsight, erred in limiting resources, candidate appearances, pandering on a particular issue, etc which would have swung the election? Was there a state, say, that Nixon lost in 1960 that he could have won if he’d just tried a little harder there? As a corollary, which state did Nixon lose that he was contesting very hard in? IOW, provide examples (in hindsight, of course) of a well-intended campaign that simply did not correctly target winnable states. These would all be, by definition, very close elections, and perhaps much closer than the losing candidate expected.

If Al Gore had carried his home state in 2000, the Florida issue would have been irrelevent. Perhaps not taking that for granted would be a good example.

Anyone know specific details of Gore’s losing TN in '00? How much did he lose by there? Which issues were in play? Who should he have wooed harder? At what cost elsewhere?

Gore lost Tennessee by 3.86% - not a huge margin, but one would be hard pressed to say that more Gore presence in TN would have carried the election.

FWIW, Obama is leading Romney in Massachusetts by 15-18% right now. However the national election goes, I will bet anyone $100 cash money that Romney does not carry the state he governed for four years.

One could argue that Gore’s home state was actually DC, which he *did *carry. :wink:
His strategic mistake came years earlier, in not working harder to oppose the packing of the Supreme Court with activist partisan Republicans.

Looking ahead a bit, it’s a bit puzzling that Obama seems to be conceding NC and IN, even though he carried them last time, and MO, even though he almost took it. That may be a matter of focusing on the bigger-EV swing states instead, though.

I think it’s a simple calculus for team Obama right now - carry any two of VA, FL, OH, PA and it’s almost impossible for Romney to win. Carry any one of those and it’s still pretty tough.

Considering the economy and the national poll numbers I think the campaign is quite right not to be worrying about MO, NC, and IN right about now and instead focusing on keeping OH +2 Dem vs. the national polls.

For the OP, I’d say the Nixon campaign could have done a much better job of contesting close states - with 6 states under 1% (5 won by Kennedy) it wouldn’t have taken much to change a large course of US history.

A specific example from the 1960 election:

At the Republican Convention, Nixon had pledged to campaign in all 50 states. This pledge backfired when, in August, Nixon injured his knee on a car door while campaigning in North Carolina; the knee became infected and Nixon had to cease campaigning for two weeks while the infected knee was injected with antibiotics. When he left Walter Reed Hospital, Nixon refused to abandon his pledge to visit every state; he thus wound up wasting valuable time visiting states that he had no chance to win, or that had few electoral votes and would be of little help in the election. For example, in his effort to visit all 50 states, Nixon spent the vital weekend before the election campaigning in Alaska, which had only three electoral votes, while Kennedy campaigned in large states such as New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.


Clinton might have been able to help in TN, but probably not enough to flip TN. Gore screwed up by picking Lieberman rather than Bob Graham of Florida.

Yeah. Gore picking Lieberman was a colossally stupid mistake. Why did he pick him again?

John Kerry did himself no favors with John Edwards. Wasn’t there anyone from FL or OH he could have taken?

Reportedly, to give the ticket more attraction for Northeast liberals, conservative Democrats, and/or hawk Democrats, and to insulate himself from Bill Clinton’s scandals, which Lieberman was among the first to condemn.

Indeed. My first realization of Edwards’s weakness as a candidate was his performance in the debate against Dick Cheney. Much as I despise him, the old buzzard had his shit down. For every question, he had a position – he knew what he believed, knew why he believed it, and had reasons why you should believe it too. Edwards came across as a flabby, hand-waving adolescent.

Are there any statistics or guesstimates on the effect of campaigning in a state versus “conceding” it, as to vote percentage? In any event, if Obama’s overall popularity ends up good enough to win IN or NC, campaigning or not, his election wasn’t in doubt.

I think your conceptual framework is logical, but your numbers are off.
“almost impossible” should read “difficult but doable”
“still pretty tough” should read “not at all unlikely.”

If Obama wins only PA among the big four, he will probably need all of Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire.

If the only state he wins among the big four is smaller than PA, i.e. VA or OH, Obama will probably lose.

(ETA: By “big four” I mean the four large swing states Jas09 identified. I do know CA, NY and TX are larger. :slight_smile: )

In 2000, all that Gore needed was to educate the people of Palm Beach County in how to fill out their ballots. That “butterfly” design caused needless confustion and provided well more than the margin required. That, and if Gore had demanded a statewide manual recount. Or pick someone besides Liebermann- seriously what did Joe deliver?

Fair enough. I think the big swing comes at 2 of those 4. At only 1 (likely PA) it’s a razor’s edge recount-likely scenario. At 2 it becomes a more comfortable night waiting for western returns. At 3 it’s game over.

It’s hard to say whether the candidates mistargeted states, particularly in the closing days of a campaign, or whether they just ran out of money at a crucial point when a little more budget could’ve swayed voters in a swing state. But here’s a few might-have-beens.

1968 – Nixon won five states by less than 3%, (Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, Missouri, Alaska.) Shift either Illinois or Ohio and one other state and the election goes to the House of Representatives, thanks to third-party candidate George Wallce.

1976 – Carter won five states by less than 3%. Shift Mississippi and Ohio or Pennsylvania and Ford wins.

1992 – Ross Perot was a big wild card in several states. Who knows what would have happened in a state like Colorado, where Clinton got about 60,000 votes more than GHW Bush, but Perot drew 366,0000 votes?

My assumption is that there is no “running out of money.” If someone needs another million to get over the top in one state, I assume there’s another state that he ended up winning comfortably from which he could have diverted the needed $$$$, unless you can show otherwise.

I’m given to understand that he was picked to deliver inoculation from the v. clintonis adulterosi virus.

I hardly think Aetna Joe was the only one with that qualification. Suppose he had picked Joe Biden? I think he would have won. It would have helped with working class whites and Catholics.

That probably depends a lot on which state we’re talking about. Montana, for instance, is used to getting ignored at the national level, so when Obama actually visited the state multiple times, it got people to say “Hey, he actually cares about us”. It turned out to not be enough to completely flip the state, but it did go a long way. By comparison, California, say, or Texas, is used to having their voice heard: They already know that the candidates care about them, because everyone cares about them.

Of course, in actual practice, candidates do still campaign in states like California and Texas, just for a different purpose: In the solid-<color> states, they’re looking for dollars, not votes.