The Obama Campaign Team's Electoral College Obsession

The GOP nominating process is more than half a year away from the first in the nation Iowa caucuses.  There could be several late entries into a field that already includes or is likely to include Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Gary Johnson, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and John Huntsman.  Rick Perry seems likely to get into the race, and Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan,  Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani are all possible late entries.  

The Obama campaign team is not waiting around for an opponent to be nominated. They are hoping to have raised $60 million by the end of June, and are providing early signals on the states where they think the 2012 contest will be decided.    

From every indication the Obama team believes the 2012 race will be much more like the 2000 and 2004 Presidential contests that were won very narrowly by George Bush than the 2008 election won decisively by Obama.  George Bush won 31 states and 286 Electoral College votes in 2004.   Those Bush 2004 states now represent 292 Electoral College votes.  For Obama to win in 2012, he needs to hold all of the Kerry states from 2004 and then pick off enough Bush 2004 states to net at least 24 Electoral College votes to get to 270.  In 2008, Obama won 9 of the Bush 2004 states: Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio and Indiana. Obama made a major effort in Missouri but lost the state by 4,000 votes.  The Obama campaign team has made comments that suggest that they think Indiana and Missouri may be beyond their reach in 2012. This is telling because it hints at some misdirection by Obama campaign spokesmen last week, who talked about making a major effort to pick off Georgia (16 Electoral College votes) and Arizona (11 Electoral College votes).  John McCain won Georgia by 5% in 2008, and Arizona by 9%.  Are these states really better targets for Obama in 2012 than Missouri, which was practically a tie in 2008, or Indiana, which he carried by 1%?  I think not, but if Obama can get the GOP  to spread more  of its money, time, and manpower across two states they are likely to carry, it means less of all these things for the truly competitive states -- Ohio, Florida,  Virginia, and Colorado, most prominently.   

In 2008, the McCain team played defense in many Bush 2004 states, and made a major effort in only one Kerry state, Pennsylvania (20 Electoral College votes) , which Obama won by 10%.  Obama has a weak approval number in Pennsylvania at the moment (low 40s) but even with GOP victories in the Governor's race,  Senate race, and pickups of several U.S.  House seats in 2010, Obama remains the favorite to carry the state in 2012.  The Keystone State is typically about 5% more Democratic leaning in a Presidential  year than Ohio, and with Ohio as a tossup, Pennsylvania starts as a lean Democratic state.

One other Kerry state from 2004 may have moved further away from the Democrats. That state is New Hampshire (4 Electoral College votes), where Kerry won by 1%, and Obama by 9%. In 2010 the GOP decisively won the open Senate seat (Kelly Ayotte winning by over 20%), won back both U.S. House seats, and won  large majorities in the state legislature.   If New Hampshire goes for the GOP in 2012, then Obama would fall short in the Electoral College at 270-268, even if he swept Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.  All but New Mexico are tossup states for 2012, though Obama might be slightly favored in all of them. 

The Obama team's strategy for 2012 will be to work on turnout among minority groups that gave big margins to Obama in 2008, and to accumulate a large enough war chest so as to overwhelm the GOP nominee in the general election season on all major media, as occurred in 2008.   The Mediscare campaign, successfully trotted out in the New York 26 special election, will be a regular feature of ads in states with large percentage elderly populations , such as Florida and Pennsylvania -- and Arizona, if the Obama team sees a real opening.  

Much of the money will be spent earlier than in  the general election months, attempting to create a toxic image of the eventual GOP nominee, before that candidate has had a chance to create a strong impression on the electorate on his or her own. The eventual GOP nominee can expect to be "Palinized" both by the official Obama campaign, and its surrogates in the national media (the major networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the newsweeklies).  

A largely negative campaign by the President's team is easy enough to understand.  It will be hard for Obama to run on his record in 2012.  The  weak economy, the high jobless rate, the enormous annual deficits and accumulated debt, are all going to be tough to defend for the party in power.  Most voters think the $850 billion stimulus was a failure.  Outside of Michigan, most people opposed the auto bailout and still do.  By 2012, the blame for the current economy will be on Obama's shoulders and the  attempt to shift blame to George Bush for the "mess he inherited" will have less resonance.  ObamaCare, the signature "achievement" of the Administration, remains deeply unpopular, and may not survive court challenges.  

In foreign policy, the Arab Spring has turned into a nightmare scenario where the three largest Muslim majority states in the region, Turkey, Iran and Egypt, may all soon be in the grip of Islamists, hostile to the United States and the West. Obama started a third unpopular war in Libya, while waving at  mass murder committed by Syria, and Iran may become a nuclear nation on his disinterested watch.   

The president has managed to alienate some members of  one of the most loyal Democratic constituencies,  Jewish voters and contributors, with his obsessive pressure on Israel on settlements and by badgering Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority (which now includes Hamas) on terms that remove any leverage Israel might have in the negotiating process before it begins.

The Obama team is committed to creating or preserving two jobs: Obama's and Joe Biden's, and if the electoral calculus in the spring of 2012  suggests that a new VP may help more in a difficult race, Biden will be jettisoned, too.   

The generic ballot tests suggest an unnamed Republican runs about even with Obama at this point.  Obama's bin Laden bounce has disappeared, and he now has an average approval score in the high 40s again, down from the low 50s. Obama wins virtually every head to head pairing with potential GOP nominees  at this point, which does not mean much for many of the candidates, since they are not nationally known.  The head to head tests are more important indicators of electability for candidates who are better  known, and can do less to re-establish their national image, such as Romney, Palin and Gingrich.  On this score, Romney looks competitive, and the other two are not.

In any case, the GOP would be well advised to look for  a team that can run well in the states that will determine the outcome.  Obama won Virginia by just over 6% , North Carolina by 0.3% last time, and Florida by 2.8%. North Carolina leans to the GOP this time around, and Virginia and Florida will be fiercely contested by the Obama team.  The Obama camp believes that the growing Hispanic percentage of the voting population in several Southwest states moves  Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico  in their direction.  Democrat incumbents hung on to win two hard fought Senate battles in Colorado and Nevada in a good GOP year in 2010, though in each state the GOP nominee may not have been the strongest general election candidate of those who sought the nomination.  The Midwest states  -- Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and possibly Minnesota, if Pawlenty is on the ticket --  will all be getting a lot of attention.  Michigan looks stronger for Obama, and Pennsylvania may be the blue state he  has to work hardest to defend.  Only New Hampshire in the Northeast is competitive.  

A Republican candidate who can demonstrate successful experience in governing, and successful experience in the business world, will have a better shot at winning the independent votes needed to supplement the core conservative base, which may be large enough to win some Southern states and Rocky Mountain states, but not enough to win the tossup states.  It  may also be the case that that after the Clinton, Bush and Obama years, the electorate may look kindly on someone a bit duller this time around, who projects competence and problem solving ability, but does not win the charisma derby.   

Odd as it may seem, it is easier at this point to identify potential Vice Presidential candidates to run with the eventual GOP nominee, who would help in the states just mentioned.  Senator Marco Rubio of Florida would be a big plus in Florida and probably in the Southwest as well.  Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire might lock up her state for the GOP, and have appeal to suburban women in many of the tossup Midwestern and "New South" (Virginia, North Carolina) states where there is still a significant gender gap.   

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.

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