Just a few weeks ago, the media thought that Mitt Romney would have so much difficulty uniting Republicans that he’d have little time or resources to attempt to expand the GOP reach. Today, though, two pieces from the Washington Post suggest that Team Romney feels strong enough to go after the most loyal demographic of the Democratic Party. First, their latest poll results show that Romney has solidified support among white working- and middle-class voters, especially those who feel left out of the economy:
In an election year in which the economy ranks as Americans’ top concern, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney holds significant advantages over President Obama among white voters who are struggling financially and buffeted by job loss, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Asked which candidate would do more to advance their families’ economic interests, middle-class white voters who say they are struggling to maintain their financial positions chose Romney over Obama by a large margin — 58 percent to 32 percent.
The former Massachusetts governor has a similar advantage on this question among white voters who have lost a job in recent years, or who have seen a family member or close friend face unemployment. …
The results underscore a continuing challenge for Obama and the Democratic Party with white voters, and particularly those without college degrees — who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are significantly more likely to be unemployed than those with higher education.
Don’t forget that this is the same poll with the ridiculous D+10 split in its sample from earlier this week. The 26-point gap might well have been wider in a sample with a more predictive model. Obama lost this segment by 18 points in 2008, and he’s not likely to do better this time around. However, he can’t afford to do much worse if he wants to hang onto the White House, especially given where this vote tends to concentrate — in key swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as Wisconsin, Indiana, and even Virginia, all states Obama won in 2008.
With that base looking strong for Romney, the campaign has decided to extend its focus to the core of Obama’s support:
Mitt Romney’s campaign team has been quietly laying plans for an outreach effort to President Obama’s most loyal supporters — black voters — not just to chip away at the huge Democratic margins but also as a way to reassure independent swing voters that Romney can be inclusive and tolerant in his thinking and approach. …
Romney took his campaign to the Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philadelphia aiming to highlight his education agenda but also to connect with voters who were not part of his political calculus during the primary campaign. “I come to learn, obviously, from people who are having experiences that are unique and instructive,” he said.
Despite the obvious difficulties, Romney’s outreach to black voters could reap dividends even if he is unable to significantly chip into Obama’s support. “Suburban voters will be a real battleground, and upscale white voters like to think of themselves as tolerant and they won’t vote for a candidate that is seen as exclusionary, and the Romney folks must be aware of that,” said Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “He has to persuade suburban voters that he isn’t Rick Santorum. He could break the mold a little bit and do some campaigning in African American communities. It would get people talking, and it would be all gain and very little pain.”
Obviously, no one expects Romney to seriously compete with Democrats for the majority or even a significant portion of black votes in 2012. This bloc routinely casts more than 90% of its votes for the Democratic Party, regardless of whether Barack Obama is at the top of the ticket or not. That kind of loyalty doesn’t just disappear or even erode much in one cycle.
That doesn’t mean Romney should let it go unchallenged, either. Republicans need to engage more with black voters in urban areas, even when (as the Post reports) city officials show up to heckle Republicans who do so. Thanks to Obama’s dishonest flip-flop on gay marriage, Romney has an entree to engagement on family values, and school choice is another area in which Romney and other Republicans can score some points. It may not switch many votes in this cycle, but it’s important to lay the groundwork for later conversions; you can’t get votes without showing up and asking for them, as anyone who has done retail politicking will attest. Besides, it won’t take too many of those conversions to seriously damage Obama’s chances in November.
The fact that Romney feels strong enough to put resources into this strategy is telling. So, too, is the frightened reaction of Mayor Michael Nutter and DA Seth Williams in Philadelphia. Apparently, Democrats didn’t expect to play defense in this election, and they’re not prepared for it.