The 13 Reasons Why Election Day 2012 Happened
The 13 Reasons Election Day 2012 Happened
By Evan Tanner
Let’s be honest — Election Day 2012 was an unmitigated disaster for the country and the Republican Party. During the past four years, a mountain of debt, regulations and taxes buried America. The President’s policies drove up unemployment to levels beyond the elites wildest expectations, yet President Obama is now the second president to win re-election with an unemployment rate above 7.5%. That leaves most conservative pundits scratching their heads asking “How did this happen?”
The Buck Stops With Mitt — Mitt Romney and his campaign deserve most of the blame. They ran an issueless, play it safe race relying on historical factors to deliver victory. In fact, I would argue the campaign was never prepared to be competitive. The Obama ground game buried Romney. Obama built a campaign infrastructure beginning with their local field offices.
In the key swing states of this election the numbers are stark:
In Ohio, 122 Obama local HQs compared to 40 for Romney.
In Florida, the Obama campaign has 102 local HQs versus 48 for Romney.
In Virginia, 47 for Obama compared to 29 for Romney.
Obama had 786 field offices compared to Romney’s 284 (roughly 2.75 times as many). Here is a map of the two sets of field offices:
The disparity is not related to budget. The Los Angeles Times reported the Obama campaign had 901 people on its payroll in August, and paid them a median salary of $3,074 a month, or $36,886 a year. The Romney campaign, in contrast, had 403 people on its payroll, and paid them a median salary of $6,437 in August, which would mean $77,250 a year.
As the Times reported: “The disparity in the two campaigns’ compensation packages underscores a key difference in their strategic approach. Much of Obama’s campaign staff consists of on-the-ground organizers deployed around the country early this year as part of a field program designed to identify and register Obama voters, and ultimately get them to cast ballots. The Romney campaign has taken a different tack. It is relying on the Republican National Committee for the bulk of its voter registration and mobilization program this fall.”
These boots on the ground paid dividends for Obama. In Florida’s Hillsborough County, home to Tampa, the Obama campaign outpaced their final 2008 tally by almost 6,000 votes. In Nevada’s vote-rich Clark County, Obama forces scrounged up almost 9,000 more votes than they did four years ago.
One Romney bundler commented this week, “They ran a 20th century campaign in the 21st century,” said one Romney bundler, frustrated that the campaign made assumptions about the youth vote and voter intensity that didn’t pan out. “The anger is that they were entrusted to do certain things. It’s not like they were paid a $5,000 retainer to get a few dozen articles in an inside-the-Beltway paper. This is the major leagues.”
One Debate an Election Does Not Make — The Democrats received a major and sustained bounce from their convention. Prior to the first debate, the Romney campaign appeared stuck in the mud. Romney’s only real momentum boost came from the first debate. After the first debate, Romney held a lead but that lead disappeared after the third debate where Romney ceded all the issues to the president agreeing with him on most foreign policy aspects of the Obama presidency. The Huffington Post’s average of polls tells the story:
Democrats Win Issueless Campaigns — Using a football analogy, one can say the Romney campaign played “prevent defense.” There were no clear lines. No great issues differentiating the candidates. Romney was the gentleman and Obama and his team were the street fighters. The street fighters won. Obama used wedge issues to key demographics — immigration, gay rights, abortion and the war on women. Romney ceded those issues to Obama and the results speak for themselves. Using these issues, Obama was able to cobble together a 51% majority and four more years in the White House.
One other critical issue fell by the wayside — ObamaCare. When the GOP nominated a supporter and often a defender of government-run health care to the top of the ticket, they took away their number one issue for 2012. According to Dave Wasserman of Cook Report, turnout in OK, KS, MO, TN, WV, IN, was likely down at least 5% from 08. There simply was no GOP enthusiasm. Republicans lose issueless races.
Without a reason to vote, Romney’s potential voters didn’t. Whites made up 74% of the electorate in 2008. But white voters, especially blue collar whites, did not show up on Tuesday, and accounted for only 72% of the electorate in 2012. Romney won 59% and Obama won 39%, but this was not enough for overall victory, especially in states like Ohio and Virginia.
Tactics — Conservative pundits mocked the president for his appearances on black radio and interviews with talk radio hosts like DJ Laz, aka “The Pimp with a Limp.” But these appearances served a specific and tactical purpose. They were opportunities to energize Obama’s base. Using these tactics, Obama built a coalition to victory. Romney has similar opportunities and didn’t use them. Seniors, Catholics, Hispanics and the youth vote could have been targeted in similar fashion and they were not. As far as I am aware, Romney did not do any interviews with television or radio stations for the last 30 days of the race.
The results are clear. Amidst staggering unemployment rates and soaring debts, voters aged 18-29 made up a greater share of the electorate than in 2008. In 2008, 18-29 year olds made up 18% of the electorate. In 2012, they made up 19%, and Obama won 60% of their votes. The “Pimp with a Limp” Strategy worked.
Playing for Keeps — Team Obama was willing to throw any accusation against the wall. From calling Romney a felon to accusing him of killing workers, Obama systematically destroyed Romney. Romney seemed reluctant to use issues like ObamaCare’s rationing and even Benghazi to his advantage.
It’s the Economy Stupid — The one exit poll that tells the story of Election Day 2012 was the question who would be better suited to handle the economy for the next four years: Romney 48% Obama 47%. No other question demonstrates the failure of the Romney campaign to define not only the president but the future. Obama was able to neutralize his weakest issue and Romney failed to take advantage of it. The same holds true for gas prices. Voters who were concerned about rising gas prices split their vote 47%-47%. Game. Set. Match.
Bush vs. Kerry Redo — Conservatives expected a massive turnout of frustrated voters. It never materialized. Obama, on the other hand, copied the George W. Bush re-election strategy of 2004 — identify your voters and drag them to the polls. The wave never materialized. The Obama voters were dragged to the polls. Perhaps the most startling statistic of 2012 — John McCain’s feckless 2008 presidential campaign received three million more votes than Romney did.
The Emperor Has No Ground Game — Karl Rove spent nearly half a billion dollars on television commercials with a 1% success rate. No effort was made with that money to build on the grassroots level. Rove’s machine was nothing more than an aerial bombardment with little regard to strategic targeting and zero regard to grassroots building. Had 25% of that money been spent going door to door in key counties, identifying voters and getting them to the polls, the outcome would have been different. That is the reason we urged the use of Internet to communicate to voters directly. In Columbus, Ohio, for instance, one local news show had 23 straight political commercials run in a 30-minute window. It was overkill and obviously ineffective.
Media Bias — There is no doubt Obama got away with murder, literally and figuratively. If a Republican had covered up the deaths of four Americans by blaming a YouTube video, the New York Times would have had him hung from a lamppost on 5th Avenue. Instead 60 Minutes covered up the president’s refusal to call Benghazi a terrorist attack, release video of the president on Election Day eve. Bias in the media is a fact of life. Republicans need to understand it and use the Internet as a mechanism to get around it.
Senate Implosion — Todd Akin and Richard Murdock’s implosion didn’t help matters but the fact that so many vulnerable Democrats were able to escape defeat in 2012 goes to a bigger question of Senate Republican Leadership. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been an advocate of doing nothing. He does not force vulnerable Senators to take tough votes. Without a paper trail of liberal votes, defeating an incumbent Senator is hard. McConnell needs to go.
Catholic Vote — Fearful that the “War on Women” argument was working, Romney and his team avoided the issue of government mandated abortion and contraceptive coverage for Catholic institutions. Having ignored the issue, are you surprised to discover that the president’s assault on the Catholic Church earned his the support of a majority of … Catholics?
Mormon Vote – According to the Pew Exit Polls in 2012: “A greater percentage of Mormons voted for George W. Bush in 2004 than voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, according to a new poll from the Pew Forum On Religious and Public Life. Some 80 percent of Mormons voted for Bush, while 78 percent voted for Romney, who is Mormon. (Pew says exit polling data for Mormons was not available in 2000 and 2008.)”
The Republican Party Establishment doesn’t get it — Mitt Romney was the establishment candidate of the Republican Party. They obviously cannot compete with the Democrats when it comes to politics. The Republican establishment was beaten on tactics, strategy, execution, messaging, ground game, and ultimately, political judgment.
Failure to launch does not even begin to describe the massive and systemic failure of the Romney campaign.
The Republican establishment’s judgment is, and therefore should be from now on, suspect.
Tanner is well known a Republican political operative who would rather not use his real name.