There are seven or 12 states that actually elect the President of the United States, not 50 states and the District of Columbia.
That is because there are two distinct Americas and this year's Presidential run-up and Republican primary underscores its "bi-cultural" political architecture. Regions matter and it's surprising that the talk shows, pundits, and news coverage rarely examine this. Once understood, the strategies are to comprehend, or dismiss, as the case may be.
Between 1992 and 2008, or five Presidential elections, the same 21 states, and the District of Columbia, have overwhelmingly voted Democrat and are "blue" states; and the same 22 states have voted Republican and are "red" states. So elections are won by wooing as many of the swing, or "purple" states as possible and this election cycle there are 12 "swings" identified or traditionally "purple" and others that are too close to call yet.
That's what the President is focused on. The Republicans, by contrast, must campaign in primaries in every state including the 22 jurisdictions that are Democratic. This is why the pressure is on for straggling Republicans to drop out soon. The party wants to use its money and time to target the 12 states. But faced with having to continue, the Republicans posture as though their primary victories, even in Democratic states, are somehow steps closer to the White House.
A case in point was this week when Mitt Romney made a victory speech in Illinois after he won the Republican primary there.
"Thanks, you guys," he said. "So many great friends in this room and across Illinois. What a night. Thank you, Illinois. What a night. Wow... And this movement began on a small farm in New Hampshire on a sunny June day."
He was talking to his Republican workers but in general election terms that's silly. Illinois, for instance, has never voted for a Republican Presidential candidate since 1992 and neither has New Hampshire.
In 1992, Illinois voted 48.5 per cent for the Democrat (Perot split the Republican vote); in 1996 54 per cent Democrat; in 2000, 55 per cent ; in 2004, 55 per cent and in 2008, 62 per cent.
In New Hampshire in 1992 the Democrats won with 38.9 per cent (Perot split the vote); in 1996, 49 per cent; in 2000, 47 per cent; in 2004, 50 per cent and in 2008, 54 per cent.
Likewise, Romney has also "won" meaningless primaries in other Democratic strongholds such as Michigan, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Hawaii. These wins may rack up delegate votes in the Republican convention, but won't translate into election votes in November. The Democrats could run a donkey in these states for President and still win.
Similarly, it's meaningless for Gingrich to point to his victories in South Carolina or Georgia as indications of his electability. This is because the Republicans always win there.
So while the Republicans labor away at a pretend march to Washington, the sitting President Barack Obama concentrates on key states, or issues, to win re-election. This week's energy tour underscored his strategy. It began in Nevada ("purple" and Democratic last time) where the country's biggest solar farm is operating. Next was New Mexico ("purple" and Democratic last time) where he appeared at an oil field where new drilling activity has created jobs on federally owned land. Then on to Oklahoma (a bedrock "red" or Republican state) in order to undermine Republican criticism of him for postponing the oil sands pipeline by announcing approval of one leg of that line. It was a hint that it will be built and that is good news for Canada's oil sands and shale oil in Saskatchewan.
Finally, he went to Ohio ("purple" and Democratic last time) to visit one of the country's advanced energy research centers at Ohio State.
So political junkies -- in the US and Canada -- should concentrate only on activities and polling in these 12 states. This week, a pollster called Purple Strategies, polled in 12 states where the vote could go either way. These are Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia.
Results showed the President with enormous leads against Romney and Santorum in these 12 states. Obama has 48 per cent versus Romney's 40 per cent and Obama has 50 per cent versus Santorum's 39 per cent.
This poll is significant because this was also a week when high gasoline prices were a hot button issue and are often blamed on the incumbent. But counteracting that, was a contraceptive controversy and gave Democrats a 10 per cent gender gap benefit nationally with females.
So once it gets really rolling, the two protagonists and their vice presidential sidekicks will be whistle stopping in 12 battlegrounds where the next President will be elected. The rest of us, including Americans in the other 37 jurisdictions, will simply be spectators.