The 4 Point Play

“That’s a four point play. The two they got and the two we didn’t get.” That was my old high school basketball coach back in the 1960s yelling at us for committing a turnover in practice. He was slightly incorrect in that it was statistically unlikely (and he was a math teacher) that we or our opponents would have scored on either possession but his point was still well taken. I remembered it during my coaching days and it is also applicable to the Electoral College. Today I want to incompletely explore that last part.


Along with my old coach, Jane Kleeb and her 2020 book, Harvest the Vote: How Democrats Can Win Again in Rural America, was the catalyst for my thinking along these lines. While I don’t agree with every point she makes in this very good and worth reading book, just writing off “flyover country” is not the smartest move Democrats can make. There is a lot of common ground and many of those voters can be reached and persuaded to vote Democratic.

The argument against spending funds in small, rural, red states is that the same dollars can be spent in a purple sate with a much better chance of success. A few electoral votes can make the difference between success and failure in a presidential race. We’ve seen example of that over several of the most recent presidential elections. My theory is that you have to take the number of electoral votes a red state has and double it if you want to appraise its “flip value”. (Can you see how the four point play comes into play here?)

I have identified seven red states with five or fewer electoral votes (Alabama 3, Idaho 4, Montana 3, North Dakota 3, South Dakota 3, West Virginia 5 and Wyoming 3) that would be relatively inexpensive targets. The chances of success are not great and certainly wouldn’t be realized in a single campaign but the effort could pay off longer term. One of the problems I have identified with Democratic presidential campaigns (and I assume it is much the same on the GOP side) is that the presidential campaigns in particular (where all the big dollars are) are short term focused. Not enough money is spent on 24/7/365 state and local party structure along with voter outreach. We can’t helicopter in a few troops months before a quadrennial election only to have them leave before Thanksgiving of that year and expect to build loyal voter and volunteer bases.

To help illustrate how small the states (think of them as markets) are, here is the population of their respective largest cities (in that same order: 215,006, 228,790, 116,827, 124,844, 181,883, 47,215 and 63,957). A long term advertising blitz supplemented with a very few on the ground outreach people would not be that expensive. You might need a lot of gas cards but you wouldn’t need a lot of people.

Now here are their “flip values” (again in that same order) 6,8,6,6,6,10 and 6. Any combination of two flips would result in a net difference of at minimum 12 electoral votes. In electoral votes that is the state of Washington. Nothing to sneeze at and more than enough to flip many close elections.

I’m not politically naive. Do you look at my list of states and say, “No way!”. Consider recent Senator Doug Jones of Alabama and current Senator Jon Tester of Montana. It’s far from easy but a Democrat can win in at least some of the seven states I used to illustrate my point. (Note: the right person, although they will not guarantee success, will be necessary for any chance of it.) GOTV will still be concentrated on getting out the base and reluctant voters who lean our way. The bulk of the money will be spent where it has the greatest chance of almost immediate return in investment.

However, there is unexplored common ground and neglecting an investment opportunity is simply very, very bad management.
Remember the theory of the four point play!

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