Blue is Back … maybe

“Blue is Back!” That was the Kentucky Democratic Party chairman’s message to a throng of thousands celebrating election victory Tuesday night. As well as taking back the governor’s office, Democrats claimed several other statewide offices: attorney general, auditor, and treasurer. The newly elected treasurer said that he recently told a voter that this is a good year to be a Democrat, and the response was “Young man, any year is a good year to be a Democrat.” While agreeing with that sentiment, I also feel that this is definitely a good year, and it looks like we’re on a roll for next year to be just as good. So is blue really back?

This year’s victory was definitely an adrenaline-raising one. The victorious governor racked up an impressive margin (roughly 60-40) over an incumbent, in spite of having to face the usual Republican arsenal of dirty tricks. When all else failed, they dragged out their standard homophobia campaign, hiring Pat Boone to record a smear message that was delivered via telephone. This got them national attention, but not many votes. Another even viler message, for which nobody would claim credit, didn’t work either, but at least the messages helped set up a joke.

After all the speechifying, applause, and handshaking in the Convention Center, some well-connected friends smuggled escorted me through security to a hotel suite where the newly-elected governor’s family and friends were partying. When he slipped into the room through a door from the adjacent room, I said “Well, Steve, after all those phone calls, here you are coming out of the closet.”

So, after fending off all the mud that the Republicans could sling, is there any question that blue is definitely back? Well, I guess that depends on what blue is.

As the media, and the public, constantly use the popular “red state, blue state” vernacular, I’ve been wondering about something I thought I remembered. Red hasn’t always meant Republican, and might not mean that in the future. Digging around for some references to back up my memory, I found this on Wikipedia. Ronald Reagan’s 49-state landslide was described as a “sea of blue”. We certainly don’t want that kind of blue to come back!

But now it seems like the media have changed course and settled on Red=Republican. Or have they? I thought I remembered some scheme that seemed like it was designed to be confusing, and with a little more searching, I found this article which describes what I remembered:

Finally, in 1976, the TV networks agreed to a formula to avoid any implication of favoritism in color selections. The color of the incumbent party, initially set as blue for Gerald Ford’s Republican ticket in that year, would flip every four years. Consequently, a successful challenger runs again in four years, as the incumbent, under the same color. So in 1992, the challenger Clinton was red on the maps, and in 1996, incumbent Clinton was also red. Challenger Bush, red in 2000, was red again as an incumbent in 2004. But perhaps because the pundits decreed 2000 to be a watershed election, the “red/blue” divide has assumed a broader political significance (at least to pundits), and although the formula dictates that the Republicans should be carrying the blue flag in 2008, it will be interesting to see how the networks color their maps.

So using red to represent Republicans in both 2000 and 2004 actually did fit this formula of flipping the incumbent party’s color each time, since blue represented the incumbent (Democrat) in 2000, and red represented the incumbent (Republican) in 2004. So, if the networks really do stick to this, it’s blue’s turn to represent the incumbent party in 2008. And, if that’s the case, I hope blue isn’t back. But maybe the red-blue divide has become such an ingrained part of political lingo that the media will abandon the rotation to avoid confusion, in which case, hell yes, blue is back.

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