Saturday, February 25, 2012

President Obama's Reelection Strategy

For several months the focus has been on the tumultuous primary process. It is time to take a look at President Obama's strategy and where he stands for reelection at this stage of the game. I would characterize Obama's path to reelection as a three-pronged strategy:

Capitalize on the improving economy: Historically presidents take the credit - or blame when economic conditions change. As the economy appears to be in recovery albeit a tenuous one, expect the President to take credit for rescuing the US from the economic disaster that he inherited from the previous administration. He will argue that his policies must continue and that another Republican administration will turn us back to economic malaise

This can be a powerful argument as long as the public's perception is that things are indeed on the upswing. If the economic numbers look better as the year goes on this will undermine the Republican's main argument to keep him a one-term president. However the perception of the public cannot be understated. For example an unemployment rate of 7.8% is an improvement over the current 8.3%, but if the perception is that the nation continues to be in economic distress that improving figure alone won't change the national mood. Obama also needs to be concerned about higher energy prices stalling the recovery. He is not to blame for the increase in energy costs, but will have a hard time arguing that it isn't his fault. Packaging a 30 second TV ad labeling him responsible for the price of gasoline may be a very effective Republican tactic come this fall.

It seems that the public (so far) does perceive the economy as improving. President Obama will take full credit for this and his point that we cannot turn back to "failed policies" will be a centerpoint of the fall campaign.

Mobilize the Democratic Base: Obama enjoys broad support from minority groups and traditional liberal constituencies and this will help him in swing states with changing demographics. He is conducting a major outreach effort to Hispanics playing off perceptions that the Republicans are anti-immigrant. He is focusing on suburban women especially on women's issues (e.g. the battle with the Catholic Church over contracetive coverage). Expect a renewed push for younger voters who are socially libertarian and and favorable to a more regulated economy. He is likely to work to pull together a similar coalition that elected him in 2008 using the a mix of touting his achievements and warning these groups of the consequence of a Republican victory.

Populism will be another tool in crafting a winning coalition. Last year's Occupy Movement although not specifically endorsed by the White House refocused public perceptions on the excesses of the capitalist system and corporate greed. This plays well for Obama to mount a populist campaign that will make a stark contrast with a candidate like Mitt Romney.

Obama’s campaign is raising a lot of money and is well organized to repeat the turnout machine that got many new voters to the polls. Expect the President to be aggressive and even move to the political left in the coming months to excite his base before swing back to the middle for the fall campaign.

One advantage of being an incumbent president is that Obama can command and manage the news cycle. Note that he struck preemptively and aggressively at Republicans this week on energy prices. Unlike other candidates (John Kerry for example) the President and his surrogates will engage in a very energetic attack and spin machine.

Exploit a divided Republican Party: Napoleon was quoted as saying "Never interfere with the enemy when he's in the process of destroying himself." The longer this contentious primary process continues the better for the President. The eventual nominee will have spent campaign resources and will need to replenish them. The Republican Party may be divided and unenthusiastic. The primary process has driven the party so far right (especially on social issues) that large swaths of moderates may be alienated and turned off. Although many independent voters are more conservative on economic issues, extreme social conservatism (or the perception of it) will be a potential death knell to the GOP in states like VA, FL, and WI.

A contested or brokered convention would be a Democrat's dream scenario. The Democrats will be unified regardless. A weak and divided GOP may also pay dividends with the Republicans suffering losses at the Congressional level as well.

As of now, eight months before the election President Obama's poll numbers are rebounding and state by state polling shows him winning a majority of swing states and to be close in traditional Republican states such as AZ and MT. His team should be cautiously optimistic, but it is far too early to be truly confident as much can happen in eight months and we have yet to even know who the Republican nominee will be. Economic conditions can change and at any time a crisis can erupt that changes the direction of this election. However, if I had to bet, it would be that President Obama may pull off what incumbent presidents often do - four more years.


The Prof

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Electoral College Scenarios

Thought it would be a good time to test some Electoral College scenarios that will be adjusted a great deal as 2012 goes forward.

Full disclaimer - although many Americans would approve of doing away with the Electoral College, the Prof supports retaining this archaic, flawed, and yet uniquely American institution.  In fact, unless the US Constitution is amended it is here to stay.  Besides it's so much fun running all of these maps...

All of the color coded maps are generated from and are courtesy of

Below is a map of the states generally thought to be safe for either President Obama (in blue) or his eventual Republican opponent (in red). This is based upon the past electoral history of each state and current polling.

Red and Blue States
As you can see, the President can count on 196 electoral votes and the Republicans (assuming they nominate a mainstream candidate) can count on 181 electoral votes.  This leaves 161 outstanding. BTW electoral votes are henceforth to be referred to as EV's as I am too damn impatient to keep typing "electoral votes"!

Now there is room for disagreement on this map, especially from partisans and those with outlandish thoughts that President Obama may contest Texas or a Republican could take Connecticut.  Both are highly unlikely and until they become likely based upon evidence not fantasy they will stay in their respective blue and red. 

However an argument can be made that AZ is a possible Democratic pickup with its ever-increasing Hispanic voting population.  I don't see any indications of that as of yet, but this map is a base and as the campaign evolves it will become clearer as to where some of these states will actually lean.

For some historical perspective here are the EC maps for the two most recent elections.


2004 was a very close election with the swing states splitting fairly evenly.  FL, OH, MO, NM, NV all went to Bush giving him 286 EV.  The swing states of MI, PA, WI, and NH were in Kerry's column for a total of 252 EV.  Well 251 actually, there was a faithless elctor in MN who cast their vote for John  Reilly Edwards...


In contrast, 2008 is a wipe out with the Democrats capturing all but one swing state (MO) along with IN and NC, historically relatively safe Republican states.  Obama garnered 365 EV (including one from NB where the EV is split based on congressional districts) and McCain ended up with 173 - about as poorly as a candidate can do these days.

 Below are a few of the possible scenarios that we may see in 2012.

Close Election - Obama Victory

The scenario on the left shows a close presidential election with President Obama prevailing 281-257.  However, switch just one state - Virginia and its 13 EV, and you have a razor thin 270-268 victory for the Republican candidate.  In a close election every vote does count, at least in a swing state (sorry my Bay State Republican friends, you can't help out Mitt!)

Solid Obama Victory

Of course if the economy improves in the eyes of the voters and the eventual Republican nominee is battered due to the divisive primary season, the map may look more like this...

Solid Republican Victory

But if the economy goes back into recession, war drums in the Middle East cause gas to go to over $5 a gallon, and the Republican Party is unified the electoral map may look more like more like this.

Republican Heartland, Democratic Coasts

This is one possible snapshot in which the Republicans successfully appeal to socially conservative rural "fly-over country" picking up states such as PA and MI. The Democrats counter by appealing to wealthier and more culturally liberal coastal interests thus adding states like VA and FL to their total.

And to finish this off we have a real fun-filled time if the final map appears as below!

Tie 269-269

As the year goes on there will be more maps with predictions based on real data.  Today's material was mostly educated conjecture and fun - the President's 2012 challenger is not even settled yet.


The Prof

Crisis in Romney Country

Well, we are in a sort of primary limbo until February 28...

Santorum appears to have coalesced as the "anti-Romney" since his wins in the MN, MO, and CO earlier in the month. He is leading in national GOP polls. This is somewhat meaningless as national polls do not produce the 1,144 delegates necessary to capture the nomination, but does confirm the trend that the majority of the Republican electorate is looking to a tangible Romney alternative.

Much more relevant - Michigan polling shows Santorum with a small, but significant lead. As one of Mitt's home states a loss here would be truly crippling. Romney's main argument for the nomination has been the issue of electability in November. But losing in a state where he should cruise in coupled with national polling showing him now losing to President Obama by a 48-42 margin may well cause a massive rethink among both the GOP electorate and party elders.

How can Romney's campaign be in such serious trouble after having such an advantage on paper? He has party backing, money, a nationwide organization, and is a Washington Outsider. But evidently he still isn’t cutting the mustard.

Romney has long had the backing of the Republican Party establishment in terms of donations, organization, and endorsements. Much of this was based upon Romney spending the last several years building this base of support. In an ordinary year, the Republican Party establishment usually backs a moderate and "electable" candidate, eschewing the insurgent challenger. I would point to the McCain, Bush (both of them), and Dole nominations. I would also include the 1976 Ford nomination over Reagan in this capacity as well. Traditionally, safe candidates such as Romney have at least an even shot at winning in November. Had the economy not fallen apart in the fall of 2008, McCain would have had a shot to make it a close race. Recall the polling had him and Obama virtually tied until the markets crashed in September of that year.

Insurgent candidacies (Buchannan in 92 and 96 and Newt in 2012) are typically frowned upon by traditional Republican primary electorate. But in 2012 the establishment candidate has proven himself unable to motivate any real passion among a very passionate (in a "red meat" conservative sense) electorate. The 2012 Republican voter is certainly more conservative and committed than in previous elections and simply is not happy with Romney and his perceived heresies - healthcare reform in Massachusetts, flip-flopping on key issues, a detached and non-personal campaign style, and a failure to ignite any sense of enthusiasm.

Ronald Reagan was arguably the last national candidate to ignite real enthusiasm among the base and the resurgent Republican right wing is desperately searching for a new candidate to inspire them. So far, none of the 2012 contenders have been that candidate and ironically, this unable to coalesce has benefitted Romney up to now. With a split vote capturing a quarter to a third is enough to win over the long haul. But that split electorate may be coming to an end.

This year has been truly remarkable in that we have seen the rise and fall of Bachman, Perry, Cain, and Newt. Now it is Santorum’s turn as the last man standing. He is the real deal in terms of conservative values and philosophy. As I have said before, his stances on social issues are likely to cripple his candidacy in November. But as a primary candidate he has the advantages of being an acceptable alternative to Romney (with Newt’s apparent demise) and Santorum has presented himself well to the GOP electorate for the most part. If Gingrich leaves the race before Super Tuesday on March 6 and makes it effectively a two man race it will undoubtedly benefit Santorum.

What happens in Michigan and beyond will be the proof if he has the stuff to go the distance.

Next post - brokered convention? Unlikely, but possible...


The Prof

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Topsy Turvey!

Here we are again..the Republican electorate simply cannot settle on any one candidate thus far...

After the debacle in South Carolina, Mitt Romney convincingly wins Florida (although loses many rural counties, a danger sign in some respects) and rolls as expected in Nevada.  The Mittster is back on track for a day.

However two days later, Rick Santorum wins a stunning trifecta in Colorado (where a Romney win was expected), Missouri (55% of the vote, alas no delegates as it was just a "beauty contest") and Minnesota (you betcha!) where Mitt end up third behind Ron Paul.  Mitt is back on his heals once again as he just can't close the deal with social conservatives who now appear to be flocking to the very culturally conservative (but probably unelectable) Santorum.

Oops, almost forgot about Newt.  His campaign is nearly out of money and he placed badly in the last four contests.  Does he have another resurrection?  We shall see.

At the end of the day the delegate count is what matters.  To win the GOP nomination a candidate must amass at least 1,144 delegates for a simple majority.  To date, this is where the delegate count stands (courtesy of the Washington Post: Feb. 11, 2012).

Mitt              112
Santorum       72
Newt              32
Paul                 9

Maine (24 del) is going to releasing its caucus results later today. On February 28 Michigan (30 del) and Arizona (29 del) are voting.  Michigan has proportional delegate allocation and Arizona is winner-take all.  On March 3 the Washington State Caucus (43 del) will occur.  And then ten states (438 delegates at stake) (including the Prof's home state of Massachusetts) are voting on March 6 aka Super Tuesday.

So...this race is still Romney's to lose.  He has more money and a much stronger organization than either Santorum of Newt.  But he keeps stumbling and literally can't go for more than 48 hours without a gaffe of some sort.  Mitt should win in the large state like NY and CA and accumulate many delegates in April. He will likely limp across the finish line at some point, but unless he cleans up his act will have a divided party to contend with (much to President Obama's advantage).

Santorum seems to have found new life and made a connection with social conservatives who make up a large block of voters especially in the Midwest and South where he may win if Newt continues to fade.  His problem is going to be a lack of appeal to moderate voters who don't go to primaries, but who will vote in November.  This issue with electability will be difficult for him to overcome.  But he has a chance, albeit a slight one to at least gain enough delegates to deny a majority to Mitt.

Newt has had a, terrible few weeks, but vows to stay in until the bitter end.  His hope now is to do well in states like the southern states that vote on Super Tuesday.  Too bad he failed to make the ballot in Virginia (thus conceding it to Romney).  Poor organization strikes yet again!

Ron Paul continues to excite young folks and will go to the convention with enough delegates to have some influence.  And may announce for 2016 while he is at it...

There is now a break until February 28 - in the next few weeks I will post about the general election and where things may stand come November.  Additionally, we will look at the likely reelection strategy of the President and watch closely as things evolve.


The Prof