Five paths to victory, but only one Obama
posted at 11:05 am on December 15, 2011 by Karl
From Sam Stein at HuffPo:
At a briefing with reporters on Tuesday morning, top officials in the Obama campaign outlined five distinct paths that they can pursue to help the president win reelection.
Speaking at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, chief strategist David Axelrod and campaign manager Jim Messina pledged to take the same numbers-based approach to the 2012 campaign that former campaign manager David Plouffe famously used in 2008. And in surveying the electoral map, they have gamed out several regional strategies to help them clear the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes.
The regional strategies are likely familiar to political junkies — the states Kerry won in 2004 plus Florida, or Ohio and Iowa, or North Carolina and Virginia, or Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, or some combination of these if Obama loses a state like Pennsylvania or Michigan. Team Obama’s problem is that Gallup currently has Obama losing to either Romney or Gingrich in swing states like Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Granted, head-to-head polling is not predictive this far from Election Day, but Obama is at 43-45%, which says something about Obama’s weak position.
Moreover, Team Obama’s paths to victory are problematic. To lapse into Newt-speak for a moment, these paths are not strategies, but projects in service of a strategy.
You win the presidency by winning states, but as Jay Cost notes, the Obama campaign has a national strategy for winning them: (1) Do as well with the non-white vote as Obama did in 2008, with the expectation that it continues to increase as a share of the total electorate; (2) Hold steady with upscale white voters, who tend to be more focused on quality of life issues like environmentalism; and (3) Mitigate losses among the white working class.
Jay — and Sean Trende and D.P. Kuhn — have identified the likely flaws in this plan. First, the Hispanic vote may not grow commensurate with the increase in the Hispanic voting-age population, and has not maintained a level of support for Obama to the degree African-Americans have. Second, Obama is faring badly with the white vote generally, including white professionals, particularly if a bad economy takes their minds off issues like the environment. Third, Obama will have difficulty holding his losses among the white working class, which were a significant part of Obama’s 2008 coalition in the Midwest. As Kuhn notes:
Obama’s gains with whites in 2008 were limited to men. Obama performed as well with white women as Al Gore did in 2000. He even won the same share of college-educated white women as Gore. Obama did surpass Kerry’s performance with these so-called “soccer moms” by a couple points, but he negated those gains by underperforming among the so-called “waitress moms.” And that was with historic winds at his back.
Critically, Obama’s gains with downscale and upscale white men occurred after the market crashed. Today, Obama’s approval rating with white men (31 percent) resembles his standing before Lehman Brothers brought Wall Street down and the American economy with it.
This means that Obama is not on track to emulate Kerry’s performance with whites. Obama is, instead, heading in the direction of Walter Mondale. And there’s no route to re-election if he even modestly out-performs Mondale with whites, partly due to the disproportionate influence of rural states in the Electoral College.
Fourth, as Trende notes (and Jay has on other occasions), it is just plain difficult to maintain a broad political coalition, e.g.,when Obama panders to upscale environmentalists, he alienates bitter clingers in the Rust Belt. Fifth, as USA Today notes:
The demographic groups who provided his highest levels of support in 2008 are the same ones who have been hit hardest by the nation’s slow economic recovery.
While the nation’s overall unemployment rate dropped to 8.6% in November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that African-American unemployment actually rose from October to 15.5%. For those 20-24, it was up to 14.2%. The jobless rate for Hispanics was unchanged at 11.4%.
Last, and related to some of the prior points, Barack Obama is no longer “a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views,” as it was put in The Audacity of Hope. His advisers can dream up many paths to victory, but they have only one candidate now, one with a record.
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