How did it happen that Democrats are associated with the color blue and Republicans are associated with the color red?
— John M., Medford
We thought the answer to this was simple, John, and in some ways it is. But there's also an interesting history involving red, blue, Republicans and Democrats.
Credit for identifying R-leaning and D-leaning states as red states and blue states is widely given to now-deceased political commentator Tim Russert, who was discussing the 2000 presidential election while on air with NBC's Today Show host Matt Lauer about a week before election day. (You remember that race, don't you, John? George W. Bush, Al Gore, hanging chads, Florida, the Supreme Court, et al.)
According to a 2004 article in The Washington Post, Lauer and Russert were discussing the projections for the various states, using a map with red or blue states that had first shown up a few days earlier on NBC's sister network, MSNBC.
In discussing what it would take for the Republican to win, Russert asked, "So how does (Bush) get those remaining ... red states, if you will?"
And so it began, although Russert opined later that he believed the phrase had been uttered before. Nevertheless, he is credited as the originator (It helps if tens of millions of people are watching when you say something important).
Use of the colors red and blue to designate political affiliation of states was hardly new in 2000, although the color scheme was flipped.
According to the Post, in 1976, NBC identified states won by Republican Gerald Ford in blue and Jimmy Carter's states in red. In 1980, ABC News highlighted states going to Ronald Reagan with blue lights and Carter's states in red. Time magazine used red for Democrats and blue for Republicans in its election maps in every presidential election from 1988 to 2000. The Washington Post's election graphics for the 2000 election were Republican-blue, Democratic-red.
While Russert gets credit as father of the phrases, some also give a nod to David Letterman, who in the midst of the post-election controversy in 2000 suggested that a compromise would "make George W. Bush president of the red states and Al Gore head of the blue ones."
Given what's gone on in our nation's capital lately, it makes sense that a comedian should get some of the credit.
Send questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.