The American public has the long-term memory of a fruit fly desperately trying to escape from a blazing bong. It is also, as we are all aware, light on facts. These two things, combined with a healthy dose of denial among half the population, leads to some very curious interpretations of what is or is not plausible in the context of this election.
It has become very fashionable lately for polling numbers to be rejected out of hand because, well, obviously the results are ridiculous. Montana? North Carolina? Georgia? North Dakota? Pffffft. That's retarded. Anything which puts Obama ahead, or even competitive, in those states surrenders credibility immediately.
When did the 2000/2004 incarnation of the electoral map become the alpha and omega of American political geography? Maybe, just maybe, there was a constant in those races (Our Leader) and two opponents who had limited appeal. In 1996 – as if ancient history like twelve years ago could ever be relevant! – Clinton/Gore won states in the deep south and 51% of the vote in West Virginia, where Obama's recent polling competitiveness has been the subject of mockery. The Democrats also carried Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico in that race, proving more than competitive in the mountain west. Bob Dole won South Dakota that year – by 3%. Raise your hand if you realized any of this. The point is that it wasn't all that long ago that the states we now definitively classify as "red" or "blue" were competitive – not quite the Verdun-like fortresses of partisanship they are now made out to be.
Montana? Can Obama really be competitive in Montana? Well, Montana has a Democratic Governor (Brian Schweitzer, a finalist in the VP search), two Democratic Senators (Max Baucus and future leadership-appointee Jon Tester), and a Democratic majority in the State Senate. Frankly, I'd be more suspicious if the polls indicated that Obama had no shot. Is he the favorite? No. Are polls showing the state to be competitive completely off base? Up to you, but it does not appear to be an outlandish idea.
North Dakota? Two Democratic Senators and a Democrat in its At-Large House district. Bill Clinton had some traction there. Again, you'd be foolish to call Vegas and put money on Obama, but a poll indicating competitiveness shouldn't be rejected out of hand.
North Carolina and Virginia both have huge African-American populations and young, growing populations overall. Northern Virginia and the Research Triangle aren't exactly backwoods GOP country. Warner is winning his VA Senate race in a laugher (after a narrow win by Jim Webb in 2006). It's not much of a stretch to see a weak GOP Presidential candidate struggling, or even trailing, in these environments.
We will know the outcome of this election for certain in just 11 days, but pieces of data suggesting that our electoral map won't look like 2004 aren't cause for skepticism. The Bush years are over. Anyone who lived through them is likely to have a hard time believing that. But it's true. We respond differently as a nation to different candidates and, as McCain is quick to remind you, George W. Bush isn't running. Compare 1984 to 1996, 1996 to 2000. You'll see significant differences. Hell, 20 years ago California was GOP country and West Virginia was one of the mere eight states that Michael Fucking Dukakis won. What you see in 2008 simply isn't going to look like 2004, regardless of who wins. Different times, different issues, different voters, and different candidates. If a Democrat can get elected to Congress in rural Utah and Hawaii chooses a female Jewish Republican Governor, there aren't too many things that should be considered geographically implausible in American politics.