Fighting for the Exurbs

While much will be made today on political blogs and cable news channels of long lines at urban polling places, some of the most important battles in this presidential election have been fought in the nation’s exurbs. Exurbs, typically the areas painted red beyond the purple of the suburbs, are places the Obama campaign is fighting in hard, sometimes to win, but much of the time to lose by less than Kerry lost to Bush in 2004. (The New Politics Institute, and NDN affiliate, studied the exurbs extensively in 2006.)

Yesterday, Alec MacGillis wrote about these efforts in Ohio on the front page of the Washington Post, saying:

Obama has mounted an ambitious effort to correct the mistakes of Kerry's campaign, which boosted turnout in cities but lost the state by ceding exurban counties and rural areas. Obama has scattered dozens of offices and scores of paid organizers across central, southern and western Ohio, hoping to find enough pockets of support to put him over the top.

Indeed, should Obama win Ohio today, these efforts will have been crucial to that victory. But, these exurbs, which were recently some of the fastest growing areas of the country, have been hard hit by both the troubled economy and high energy prices. Over the summer, as gas flew past $4 per gallon, it was no coincidence that John McCain campaigned for a gas tax holiday, a move targeted at the Republican exurban and rural base that he needed (and perhaps still needs) to consolidate. The housing market cave-in has also not been kind to the exurbs, and this array of factors means politics of these regions could likely decay in coming elections.

Tonight, as early returns come in, savvy election watchers will be sure to look not just at urban centers for high turnout, but also crucial exurban and rural areas for the size of McCain’s margins. If Obama outperforms Kerry in these regions, look for a big night.