Why don’t we start by being honest? If I told you 12 months ago, that the election for President of The United States would feature a race between John McCain and Barack Obama, most people with any common sense would have laughed. John McCain was so broke that he was carrying his own luggage in airports, while Barack Obama looked like a lightweight who would be eaten alive by the Democratic life form known as the Clintons. Yet, here we are with the primary marathon (at least for the Democrats) finally behind us with an election that will pit John McCain versus Barack Obama.

For the record and in full disclosure, 12 months ago, I was predicting a general election contest between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Unlike Dick Morris, I can admit my mistakes. Now with my confession out of the way, and with the full knowledge that I may prove to be wrong at least once more in the future, let’s take a look at some of the key factors that will affect the McCain versus Obama race. Bear in mind the old saying that we “don’t know what we don’t know”, so there will inevitably be a few wildcards that come into play. This could be something akin to John Kerry’s less than pleasurable interaction with the Swift Boat Veterans or George W. Bush’s issue with driving after enjoying a few cocktails. In all likelihood though, it will be something completely unpredictable that will completely change the tenor of the election.

The Reagan Democrats

There is no question that Barack Obama severely under performed with this huge block of voters in the Democratic primaries. There seems to be a misalignment of values between Obama and the Reagan Democrats that came to light in full force during the Jeremiah Wright fiasco. He needs to address the concerns that the Reagan Democrats have on the issue of values if he hopes to win the election. Normally, I don’t place much stock in the selection of a Vice-President, but for Obama, he must select someone who can help allay these concerns. He may not be able to do it by himself. Can anyone think of a Democrat who appealed to Reagan Democrats? Think pantsuits combined with a shrill laugh and a penchant for sniper fantasies.

As for John McCain, the good news is that his maverick streak plays well with this group and his military service and heroism appeal greatly to their patriotism. Acting as a counter balance is the economy and George W. Bush. Unemployed, angry union workers generally do not vote for Republican candidates unless a Democrat was the occupant of the White House during their time of trouble. Despite George W. Bush’s proclivity to act like a liberal Democrat with his domestic spending initiatives, the last time I checked he was still a member in standing of the GOP. Since the economy is clearly weak (perhaps in a recession), the voters will take out their angst on the party that controls the White House. This greatly favors Barack Obama. That may not be fair to John McCain but it is reality.

The key states with significant Reagan Democrats that are also realistically in play include Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. McCain will probably take Ohio due to the huge influence of the ex-burbs and Obama’s duplicity on the issue of NAFTA. Still, it could be very close in the end. The odds are that Obama will win Pennsylvania due to the fact that the southeastern part of the state, which is the most populated part of Pennsylvania, is clearly trending blue. Just by happenstance, that is where I was raised and still live to this day. In the past, Philadelphia was dark blue and the suburbs were light to dark red. That dynamic has gradually changed in the last 16 years with the Democrats gaining a foothold in places that were once dominated by the GOP. The Reagan Democrats, especially in the working class areas of Delaware and Buck counties, are fearful of losing their jobs and despise George Bush. Pennsylvania has traditionally been compared, in terms of political demographics, to Ohio. In the future, it looks as though the more apt comparison may be to New Jersey. Also, the entire political apparatus will be working for Barack Obama. I cannot see him losing Pennsylvania.

That brings us to the wildcard of Michigan. Just 4 weeks ago, if anyone had told me that the Democratic rules committee would come up with an idiotic solution that counted Democratic primary voters as half a human being, I would have placed this state squarely into John McCain’s camp. Unfortunately for John McCain, the economy will probably prevent him from winning Michigan. The skyrocketing price of oil has resulted in the big 3 car makers announcing that they would be reducing the production of SUV’s and trucks. Plants are going to close with union workers losing their jobs, at least temporarily. This will allow the Democrats to easily exploit the issue of trade, which should keep the majority of Reagan Democrats from voting for a GOP candidate that favors free trade. Again, that may not be fair and while I personally believe that trade is a plus for this country, that is NOT what the Reagan Democrats believe. The rural areas of Michigan will keep this contest close but Obama should prevail in the end.

The Hispanic/Latino Voters

While most of us combine these communities together as one, in reality they are a collection of multiple factions whose interests are not entirely monolithic. That is why George W. Bush was able to win 40% of the vote from these groups. The problem for the Democrats is that a significant portion of this block of voters competes for jobs with African Americans who obviously represent another huge block of voters for the Democrats. This has created a natural discord between the groups and is the main reason why, in my opinion, Obama did poorly in primary states with significant Latino/Hispanic populations. Contrast that with John McCain who comes from a state with many Latino/Hispanic voters and one would naturally assume that McCain would hold the advantage in the key swing states of New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. That may yet prove to be true and each state has other factors in play, but I think it would be a mistake for McCain supporters to think that he can win these states with ease.

The irony is that the Democrats will attempt to use the issue of immigration to their favor. It is ironic because the 2 biggest supporters of immigration reform were John McCain and George W. Bush. In the end, that may not matter since the vitriol of the far right on this issue has stained the entire GOP, and McCain may not be able to overcome the lingering resentment. Furthermore, with the economy weak and perhaps getting weaker, the issue of immigration is way down on the list of concerns for most Americans, except for those directly affected. Unfortunately for the GOP, the tendency for Hispanic and Latino voters will be to align themselves with the party that favors immigration reform (or amnesty if you prefer), despite the fact that John McCain himself is more liberal on this issue than most Democrats in Congress.

The issue of the selection of an appealing Vice-President, contrary to what I normally believe, could be very important in these states. Does this mean that Obama should select Bill Richardson and McCain should at least think about Mel Martinez? Maybe, but those selections could potentially hurt them in other swing states. Should Obama consider the paitsuit wonder, Hillary Clinton, since she did well with this group in the primaries? He should only if he believes that the Latino and Hispanic communities affirmatively supported her and were not just casting votes against an African-American candidate for reasons discussed above. The issue of Hillary for Vice-President will be addressed in full in a future article.

While I have studied these states, there are so many conflicting elements at work that I am having a hard time coming up with predictions on who will win these states. However, when I take a step back and look at things from a macro point of view, it is not good news for the GOP to be heading into this election with a weak economy while the occupant of the White House is a Republican. Bush’s success (yes, success) in the War on Terror has caused that issue to be placed onto the back burner, while the issue of the economy and healthcare are out front. Americans have a tendency to want a “mommy” figure in office when those concerns are paramount versus a “daddy” figure when issues of war and security are the main areas of focus. Again, the advantage is to Barack Obama. This is not to say that Obama is a lock to win. There is simply too much that can happen between then and now that could change the entire scenario. For instance, Jeremiah Wright could go on a tour of the swing states and completely blow the election for Obama or McCain could have one of his famous meltdowns in public.

The good news for the GOP is that I can see John McCain winning 264 electoral votes. The bad news for GOP supporters is that I have a very hard time finding any additional electoral votes for him beyond this amount. Yes, Barack Obama is a leftist but that may not matter in a McCain versus Obama election, especially since both candidates agree on numerous issues. The GOP needs to understand that Barack Obama is not just a reincarnation of George McGovern. He is a strong candidate who is challenging a damaged Republican brand. The GOP will crash and burn if they take Obama lightly. Even if they take him seriously, it may not be enough to defeat Obama. Still, Obama has major obstacles in his path to the White House and the Democrats should hold off on any premature celebrations.

In the coming weeks and months, we will examine many other issues and factors that could affect the McCain versus Obama race but I think the Reagan Democrats and the Latino/Hispanic voters will prove to be the 2 most important factors in this election. I would be grateful to see the opinions of those who read this post whether you consider yourself a Republican or Democrat. No matter what your point of view is on the election, it is clear that there is historical significance to the McCain versus Obama race that could change America forever.