I'm an admirer of Jonathan Bernstein -- he's got a great new piece up on our home page endeavoring to explain why this year's GOP primary field is so kook-heavy -- but I'm slightly perplexed by his counter to my post yesterday arguing that pundits' stories about battleground states such as North Carolina ought to at least acknowledge state-specific factors such as Art Pope, who has poured millions into dragging the Tar Heel state to the right. I'm willing to grant one point that I should have made clearer: without a doubt, the millions of Art Pope will matter less in determining who wins North Carolina in the presidential election than did the $2 million he spent last fall in helping flip the state legislature to full Republican control for the first time since 1870. The money being thrown at the state by both sides next year will dwarf Pope's spending.
But Jonathan goes on to argue more generally against overemphasizing state-by-state factors in assessing the political landscape:
No, what you want to do right now if you want to guess at the winner of the presidential election is to pay attention to national trends (and reasonable projections), and ignore the state-by-state factors. Yes, it's possible that an election can come down to tactics in a single state or a small handful of states, but in reality that's very unlikely, and even then it's hard to know exactly which factors will turn out to be important. The national picture really is the best we can do, and this sort of specificity is far more likely to mislead than to illuminate.
(If, that is, we're interested in who will win. If the question is about the texture of the campaign or the state of the GOP or North Carolina state politics or perhaps some other questions, then looking at Pope's role in North Carolina is quite reasonable).
I don't know. It seems to me that in two of the last three presidential elections, tactics or specific circumstances in a small handful of states mattered an awful lot. Forget Florida in 2000, and consider New Hampshire -- if the Gore campaign had not ignored and bungled its operation in that state as much as it did, failing to recognize Bill Bradley's close-second finish in the primary there as a sign of just how soft Gore's support was in the state, then he might have carried the state (which he lost by 1.27 percent) and thereby rendered the Florida fiasco moot. And if Art Pope is spending millions in North Carolina to put in place a Republican-controlled legislature that can push to severely restrict ballot access in the 2012 election (which Democratic Governor Bev Perdue has so far largely prevented), then that seems relevant as well. My point was not so much to argue for state by state assessments this early in the game as to suggest that reporters and pundits doing state by state assessments, as they inevitably will, do so in a way that takes actual state particulars into account, instead of relying only on the latest state polling data. When Republicans swept the state legislature in North Carolina last fall, I assumed it was just part of the national GOP wave. It was only after reading Jane Mayer's great New Yorker dispatch on Art Pope that I realized there was one person who'd played an outsized role in making it happen, state senator by state senator, brutal ad by brutal ad.
One more thing: agree or disagree on the above, follow me tonight on Twitter, when I'll be live-tweeting the latest Republican debate (sans Huntsman!) on TNR's account.