“Giuliani’s dead zone advantage,” or “Son of Jimmy Carter”

Jimmy Carter won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976 with great help from early victories in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, but what clinched things for him was the fact that he was the only candidate to compete in every contested primary that year. While his base was in the South, he won delegates in practically every state. He had the fewest "dead zones," or states in which his support was practically nonexistent, of all the candidates running that year. The same phenomenon helped Michael Dukakis win the Democratic nomination in 1988. (Overall, he ran poorly in the South, but even in that region he had pockets of strength in affluent suburban areas, while Al Gore and other candidates faced complete wipeouts outside of their home regions.)

The "dead zone" theory of politics provides an answer to the question "How can Rudy Giuliani, a pro-choice New Yorker, possibly win the Republican nomination in 2008?" He can do it by getting more votes in the states most hostile to him (red states, especially in the South) than any of his rivals can get in his friendliest states (blue states, especially in the Northeast). In other words, if he can shut out his rivals on his home turf, he can pick up one-quarter to one-third of the delegates in the South and win the nomination. (I’m generally skeptical of predictions that a nomination struggle will last all the way into the late spring, but this time I’m not sure that Republican voters in blue states will fall in line behind a Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee, especially if one of them wins Iowa by running hard to the right on social issues.)

[UPDATE: As one reader points out, many Republican primaries are winner-take-all affairs, meaning that Giuliani could win, say, 40 percent of the popular vote and still get no delegates from a particular state. I do think, however, that if Giuliani leads in the polls and can say that he’s winning the most votes cast in the primaries, he will be able to win at least a few of the more moderate red states (Florida, perhaps Virginia) outright and take the lead in delegates.]
Giuliani has already made the most progress in erasing his dead zones. The map below is based on the latest presidential primary polls in 35 states, as compiled on the Web site USA Election Polls. (There are no polls available for Alaska, the District of Columbia, or Hawaii.) Giuliani is currently polling below 15 percent in only three states: Huckabee’s Arkansas, Romney’s second home of Utah, and Iowa, where the caucus system is thought to favor religious right candidates. Outside of those states, he has a base of voters large enough so that if a single conservative rival does emerge, he will have to work hard to defeat Giuiliani, and he probably won’t have enough money to challenge Giuiliani in the Northeast.


Below are comparable maps for Giuliani’s three main rivals. Thompson and Romney’s strength may be understated because some of the polls are several months old, but the maps do show how much work it will be to catch up to Giuliani in getting rid of their dead zone states.

Thompsondeadzones_2 Romneydeadzones Mccaindeadzones

For the sake of completeness, below are comparable maps for the current poll numbers of the three Democratic candidates in their respective primaries. Note that Hillary Clinton has a 15 percent base in every state that has been polled. Obama comes close to being a national candidate (see "Obama’s geography lesson"), but Edwards is being hobbled by his inability to get in the game even in his home region of the South.

Clintondeadzones Obamadeadzones Edwardsdeadzones_2