President-elect Barack Obama was able to win his historic presidential victory by capturing a handful of key states, known as swing states, which in different election cycles sometimes go for Republican and sometimes for Democratic candidates. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine looks at the pivotal role played by states such as Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Pennsylvania.
Candidates Barack Obama and John McCain spent the final weeks of their long campaign holding rallies in towns and cities in a relatively small number of states.
Author and analyst Scot Faulkner explains the role of swing states.
"Swing states have a very important impact on a presidential election, because a presidential election is really about winning states," he said. "It is not about winning the popular vote."
Each of the 50 U.S. states has a certain number of electoral votes based on the number of Senate and House members who represent that state in Congress. A presidential candidate has to win the magic number of 270 electoral votes out of a total of 538 to clinch the race for the White House. In the 2000 election, Democrat Al Gore won more popular votes than his Republican opponent, then Texas Governor George Bush. Mr. Bush won the election because of the electoral vote tally.
As each new election campaign begins, the candidates know there are a number of states that are almost certain to back them, states that are reliably Democratic or Republican, for example. The campaigns make a conscious decision not to spend much of their precious time or resources there, but to go after the swing states, as Scot Faulkner explains.
"We are going to put our money, we are going to put our rallies, we are going to put our television ad buys into those states that are definitely in play," he said. "And each election cycle, you have a mixture, of states. Florida, because it is a very complex state, with many immigrants."
Republican candidates tend to do well in the deep South and in the Plains states. Democrats traditionally do well in the Northeast, along the West coast and in the upper Midwest.
This year, Barack Obama was able to turn several traditionally reliable Republican states, such as Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina into closely-contested swing states.
Political analyst Julie Germany of George Washington University says his campaign's grassroots efforts to reach out to voters from the very beginning made it possible.
"We know one thing about Barack Obama. And that is that his supporters in a lot of these swing states were using the Internet to mobilize themselves before the Obama campaign actually sent paid campaign staffers into the states to mobilize," she said. "So they were leaps and bounds ahead of all of the other candidates in the primaries. And the very long, drawn-out primary between Obama and Clinton really allowed the Obama campaign to solidify their strength in many of those states."
McCain faced an uphill battle for the swing states in a challenging year for Republicans, with a deeply unpopular Republican president, and the country immersed in an economic crisis.