Politics & Policy

The Machine Beat the Manager

President Obama waves to supporters following his victory speech, November 7, 2012.
The numbers beat the numbers guy.

‘In 2008, Obama rode the energy of hope and change into the White House,” says Andrew Bouchet, former national political director for Rick Santorum. “This year, he had no energy but he had spent the intervening years building an awesome Machine. Last night, he rode the Machine back into the White House.”

The Machine indeed won. “Starting months ago, Democrats began spending $350 million building a get-out-the-vote infrastructure that swamped us,” Ed Rollins, who served as campaign manager for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection bid, told me yesterday. “Then they demonized Romney in the swing states, and by the time he responded his image was set with too many voters — especially blue-collar whites.”

Mitt Romney won white voters by 20 points nationwide, but in the swing states he dramatically underperformed. He won only 46 percent of whites in New Hampshire, 51 percent in Wisconsin, 47 percent in Iowa, and 54 percent in Colorado. Karlyn Keene of the American Enterprise Institute says it looks as if blue-collar whites disproportionately stayed home. Exit polls showed that Americans with only some college education were outnumbered at the polls by those who were college graduates — something that rarely happens in national elections. The brazenness of the Obama ads was breathtaking. One spot featured Romney as a heartless vulture capitalist who was responsible for killing the wife of a steelworker during his time at Bain Capital. Not only was the story false, but Team Obama denied responsibility for the ad only days after they had put the former steelworker on a conference call with reporters to convince them to write about his tale.

#ad#Of course, Mitt Romney had his own misleading ads, but they were tame in comparison — one accused the Obama auto bailout of shipping car production to China. The fact is that the Machine played for keeps, while Mitt Romney — the quintessential corporate Manager — didn’t.

The Obama Machine built a firewall of swing states whose electoral votes it had to hold no matter how many millions of popular votes the Machine was going to lose. In the end, it appears to have won every swing state but North Carolina (and, perhaps, Florida). The turnout operation it ran in the swing states and elsewhere spilled over into Senate races. Republicans won only eight of the 33 Senate races up for grabs on Tuesday, the fewest number of Senate races won by a major party since the Lyndon Johnson landslide over Barry Goldwater in 1964. If had not been for skillful redistricting, Republicans could have come close to losing the House.

It’s become a cliché since Tuesday to say that Republicans dropped the ball on courting the Hispanic vote this year. But it needs to be resaid. Mitt Romney did not have to move so far to the right of Governor Rick Perry of Texas and other candidates on the immigration issue in the primaries. There are ways to address both the desperate need for better border control and the need for long-term solutions to the demand for immigrant labor. Hispanics, despite holding many conservative values, do not see Republicans connecting with them in terms they understand, or with arguments that convince them that liberal policies will undermine the economic future of their families.

#page#

The battle for Hispanic voters saw Romney and Republicans routed. John McCain won only 31 percent of Hispanics in 2008 — down from George W. Bush’s high-water mark of 43 percent in 2004. Mitt Romney won only 27 percent this election, and Hispanics were a tenth of the electorate.

Romney did just as badly with Asian voters, who were 3 percent of all voters. As recently as 1996, Bob Dole won a majority of Asian voters, John McCain still won 35 percent in 2008. But this year, Mitt Romney picked up only 26 percent of Asian-Americans. Republican politicians who have reached out to Hispanics and Asians successfully should be recruited to teach seminars on just how their approach worked for them. Topping that list would be Representative Ed Royce of California, former congressman Tom Davis of Virginia, and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.

#ad#Joe Trippi, who was the manager of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, says he realized on Monday afternoon that Romney had lost the election. He was reading Scott Rasmussen’s final tracking poll, which showed Obama and Romney essentially tied. But in a footnote, Rasmussen warned that only 67 percent of voters who had cast ballots already were white. He said that meant Romney would have to have an electorate on Election Day that was 77 percent white — a demographic bridge too far.

On top of all of the errors and missed opportunities, Republicans were also the victims of simple bad luck: an October surprise in the form of Hurricane Sandy. As Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon of Real Clear Politics note, Sandy “temporarily stopped the campaign in its tracks, and any residual momentum Romney still had, while affording Obama the opportunity of acting like a president, which he did effectively, at a time the electorate realized it was sick and tired of attack ads and empty rhetoric.”

On Election Day, an astounding 41 percent of people answering the CBS exit poll said the hurricane was an important factor in their vote. A full 15 percent said it was the most important factor. That explains why late deciders broke for the incumbent president, when traditionally they have gone to the challenger.

Some on the left freely acknowledged Sandy’s last-minute assist. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews went so far as to say on Election Night that he was glad the storm hit because it provided a boost for Obama’s reelection. “I’m so glad we had that storm last week because I think the storm was one of those things,” he blurted out. “No, politically I should say, not in terms of hurting people. The storm brought in possibilities for good politics,” he rushed to say after his MSNBC colleagues stared at him.

I’m sure the victims of Sandy will be pleased to know their sacrifices are appreciated on the left because they will bring in “good politics.” After all, they helped return to power the party that proclaims itself to be compassionate and caring. The disaster-recovery loan they may get isn’t a real substitute for a full-time job, but in the Age of Obama you just have to be grateful for government’ s small favors.

— John by Text-Enhance”>Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO and a co-author of the newly released Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk (Encounter Books).

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