After the exhilaration of the Republican tsunami, here is a reality check that Republicans must heed if the GOP is to take back the White House in 2012 and keep Obama a one-term president.
The 2010 victory of Republican candidates in solid blue or battleground states does not mean the state has turned red for the 2012 presidential election. Any Republican who thinks otherwise needs to examine historical political trends.
For the 2010 midterms, voters were older, whiter, richer, and more conservative — and in 2012 their votes could once again be diluted by younger, liberal, blue-collar, and non-white Democratic voters showing up en masse. Further thinning the stew from the 2010 midterm voter groups will be millions of 18-year-olds voting for the first time, and quite likely Democratic.
According to the 2010 CNN national exit poll, here are the ideological and party data that yielded such large Republican victories:
- Liberals comprised 20% of the electorate and voted 90% Democrat.
- Conservatives comprised 42% of the electorate and voted 84% Republican.
- Moderates comprised 38% of the electorate and voted 42% Republican and 55% Democrat.
Here is the breakdown by party identification:
- Democrats comprised 35% of the electorate and voted 91% Democrat.
- Republicans comprised 35% of the electorate and voted 94% Republican.
- Independents comprised 29% of the electorate and voted 37% Democrat and 56% Republican.
Obviously, moderates and Independents turned out to supplement Republican conservatives in 2010.
The most important question for the 2012 election: can Republicans count on this fickle group of moderates and Independents to vote for the GOP presidential candidate in 2012 and turn Obama’s 2008 blue states red? For without their support in key states, the GOP will not be able to put together the winning coalition of 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House.
So with all this is mind, here are just five examples of electorally rich 2008 blue states that turned “red” in 2010: Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Jersey (which actually turned “red” in 2009). All these states, even with a current of red running through them, have strong historical odds of staying presidential blue in 2012 unless Republicans nominate a remarkable candidate who can break through.
(Ohio was not included in this group, for it is a traditional red state now back to trending red even though it went Obama blue in 2008. However, it will be an important battleground state in 2012.)
Republican wishful thinking is that Florida went red in 2010 will stay red for 2012 with the election of both a Republican governor and Republican U.S. senator.
This is not a safe assumption.
The stakes are unbelievably high, for if the GOP presidential candidate loses Florida’s 29 electoral votes (up from 27 in 2008), he or she could lose the 2012 presidential election.
But since life is unfair, Obama could win re-election without Florida.
Here are the numbers to ponder.
Governor Rick Scott was elected with a small margin of 48.9% vs. 47.7% against Alex Sink, his Democratic opponent. Senator Marco Rubio was elected by winning 48.9% of the vote in a quirky three-way race against Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who jumped ship, ran as an Independent, and garnered 29.7% of the vote, and against Democrat Congressman Kendrick Meek, who received 20.1% of the vote. Crist and Meek earned 49.8% to Rubio’s 48.9%.
The very small margins of these victories should be warning signs to Republicans in the next general election, because the 2010 midterms had a conservative voter base; prevailing sentiment was extremely favorable to Republicans, and Independent voters also jumped on board. Thus, Florida in 2011 can hardly be considered a red state.
Also, Florida in 2012 will be the most fiercely contested state because Obama knows a win there could guarantee his chances of re-election.
Remember how Obama won Florida in 2008 by 50.9% to McCain’s 48.4%. Very close by Obama’s 2008 standards, with so many lopsided victories in other states.
In 2004, Bush won Florida by a more comfortable margin, 52% to 47.1 %. And we know what happened in the 2000 presidential election. See the HBO movie Recount if you don’t.
Will history repeat itself in 2012? There is a good chance of that happening, but this time with no hanging chads.
One of Obama’s Florida political consultants recently wrote an interesting piece titled “So Just How Close is Florida?” Recommended reading for paranoid Republicans concerned about 2012.
Here is a wonderful example of a big red wave in a solid blue state.
Republican Tom Corbett was elected governor, defeating his Democratic opponent Dan Onorato 54.5% to 45.5%. Corbett replaced Democrat Governor Ed Rendell, who was term limited.
For the Senate, Republican Pat Toomey defeated Joe Sestak in a close 51% to 49% race. Given the older demographic composition of Pennsylvania, does this state have a good chance of turning presidential red? Or I am just desperately hunting for new red states?
The state has not gone red since 1988. Obama won it 54.7% to 44.3% for McCain. Pennsylvania has 20 big juicy electoral votes in 2012, down from 21 in 2008. Unemployment at 8.6% is below the national average, and we know those people are clinging to their guns and religion.
So here is a litmus test I would recommend for voters in every 2012 GOP presidential primary: could my candidate really win Pennsylvania? Your answer will be the key to a White House victory or defeat.
Michigan just elected Rick Snyder its first Republican governor since John Engler in 1998, but the state has been solid presidential blue since 2000. The last time Michigan went presidential red was in 1988 for Bush. Sure, it could change back to red in 2012; anything is possible — especially with the government takeover of the auto industry, the state’s 12.4% unemployment (the nation’s second highest), and the general malaise that is “pure” Michigan.
All these factors certainly contributed to Governor Snyder’s whopping 15% margin of victory.
However, do not bet on Michigan, which went 57% for Obama vs. 41% for McCain in 2008, to be a key battleground state in 2012 — although the good news is one less electoral vote (16 instead of 17) goes kerplunk into Obama’s solid blue column.
If Michigan turns presidential red in 2012, there will be only one word to describe the entire election: “landslide.”
As part of the 2010 wave, Wisconsin elected a Republican governor named Scott Walker with 52.3% of the vote, and in the Senate race Ron Johnson defeated one of the nation’s most liberal senators, Democrat Russ Feingold, by a 51.9% to 47% margin.
Did these two victories turn Wisconsin into a ripe red presidential state?
Probably not, for history tells us that while, since 1987, three of the last four Wisconsin governors have been Republican, the last time the state turned presidential red was for Reagan in 1984.
That means 24 years of presidential blue would have to be vaporized.
Wisconsin has 10 electoral votes that could sure come in handy for the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 trying to get to 270. But in 2008, Obama triumphed over McCain by 56% to 42%.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is 7.6%, well below the national average, so expect Obama to spin that handily as part of his “back from the brink” campaign theme that you can assume campaign guru David Axelrod is concocting right about now.
New Jersey currently has a “popular” Republican governor in Chris Christie, who was elected in the first Republican wave of November 2009. The last time New Jersey Republican governor was Christie Todd Whitman, who served from 1994 – 2001. (Wondering if New Jersey Republican governors need a Christie in their name?) Even with an occasional Republican governor, the state has not turned presidential red since 1988. Obama won it 56% over McCain’s 42% in 2008.
For the 2012 election New Jersey has lost an electoral vote, going from 15 to 14, which is a little bit of good news for the next GOP presidential candidate, but going “governor red” in 2009 does not necessarily translate into presidential red in 2012. Especially now, since Governor Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey is on the decline. Whether Christie is popular or not, New Jersey is a very unlikely battle ground state for the GOP in 2012.
So what do these five states tell us?
The answer is Republicans must nominate a presidential candidate who can appeal to moderates and Independents, but given the current conservative climate in the Republican Party and Tea Party movement, that may not be possible. For there are too many kamikaze Republicans at the primary level who would rather nominate a doctrinaire conservative and lose in 2012 than a conservative who can win a state like Pennsylvania and a “must win” state like Florida.
Please, heed my warnings and do not shoot the messenger. But if you do, I will be clinging to my guns and religion.