Did Roberts just give the GOP a winning issue in November?

While debates will continue for years on what the Supreme Court’s decision on Healthcare means for the future of the country it is worth it to take a moment, sit back, and look at what this means for the election in November.  And the implications are far from rosy for the administration and Democrats come November.

The Supreme Court allowed the Individual Mandate to survive.  But as a tax.  The administration has been busy since yesterday saying we should move on and that it is a victory for the law’s supporters.  I would ask how?  Moving on from a law that has not even been enacted yet is just silly, regardless of its Constitutionality.  And how is it not perfectly reasonable to campaign against the law based on the fact the Mandate and dozens of other provisions in the law are taxes?

Before we go on it is important to keep in mind here that the administration and key leaders of Congress in 2009 and 2010 tried to sell the law to the public based on the fact it was not a tax. It was a fee that would lower premiums and give 40 million new people coverage.  Yet when it went before the Supreme Court the Solicitor General argued for it partly on Congress’s power to tax.

Here in lies the rub for Democrats on the law.  Every Democratic Senator up for reelection this year (minus Manchin in WV and open seat races) voted for this bill.  Ditto for a solid majority of all House Democrats.  Many of the Democratic Senators and Congresspeople who are facing tough races this cycle are trying to tout their independence from the administration and fiscal prudence.  This brings back front and center at their core they are partisan Democrats and will back a law a majority of the state’s populace do not.

I bring to people’s attention Exhibit A, Claire McCaskill (MO) and John Tester (MT).  Both of these Senators in 2009 backed the bill and never backed down from supporting it.  They never waffled and helped it pass with 60 votes right before Christmas.  They cannot run away from the law and can only distract from it so much.  If anything, the wave elections of 2006, 2008 and 2010 showed that voters are willing to overlook a politician’s charisma or work on local issues if they are dissatisfied enough on national issues.  If this Mandate/tax does not I do not know what will.

Democrats contend however that the public does not just want to hear about just Healthcare.  True, to an extent.  But Romney’s statements from yesterday on the law and several Republican Senate candidates, including Rehburg in MT showed that they are willing and able to tie the issue to the broader economy.  And right now it shows no signs of substantial improvement.  If anything, it is likely to stay stagnant to get slightly worse before November.  For the president and Democrats that will be an albatross around their necks in November.

It can also plausibly be argued that the GOP argument the “President spent time on Healthcare instead of the economy,” is not derailed by this law.  It certainly does not appear so.  The law remains unpopular and when poll respondents are asked, regardless of repeal, whether they like or dislike the law a solid majority do not.  So why would the GOP argument about Obama spending time on a secondary issue in 2009 not resonate?

The ruling also gives the GOP and conservatives another advantage come November.  A fired up base and ever more corporate donations.

It seems most pundits and pollsters had written off the Tea Party since 2010.  In fact most of Obama’s current lead in swing state polls can be attributed not to an actual lead but because a majority of pollsters (PPP (D), CNN, NBC/WashPo, Fox, etc.), minus Gallup and Rasmussen, are predicting an even browner electorate come 2012 than 2008.  That year minorities were a significant 26% of the electorate and the youth vote was 18%.  Most pollsters are predicting an electorate made up of 28% to 30% of minorities and only 70% to 72% white.

Yet when the enthusiasm gap is tested Republicans are more interested if a little less excited.  Among Tea Partiers over 90% according to some surveys are very interested in November’s results. Among minorities and the young that number is far less.  Whites, majority Republican, are more interested than any other group.  If minorities do not turn out for the president, let alone the young, he is in deep trouble.  Polls have shown he is unlikely to win independents and his job approval hovers at 46-49%.  Among independents it is far lower.

Romney has consistently had issues uniting the GOP base behind him.  This ruling assures he will not have that problem.  The Tea Party is sure to be galvanized as will middle of the road independents who do not like the law.

Since 2010 the Tea Party has continued to organize at the grassroots and develop a massive fundraising network.  They now have hundreds of county chairs, at least 3 dozen state chairs and thousands of precinct committeemen across the country working with the GOP.  The Tea Party has also gone nationwide in the Tea Party Express.  This organization helped elect Richard Murdock in the GOP Indiana Senate primary over Senator Richard Lugar.  They helped get elected in the Nebraska Senate primary little known state Senator Deb Fischer.  Lastly, they most recently helped Ted Cruz in TX get into a run-off with Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.

The organizational and voting power of the Tea Party should not be discounted.  Many of the voters that swell the movement’s ranks are the same voters who stayed home in 2008.  They came out in 2010 in protest to government run amuck.  It is unlikely after this ruling they will stay home in 2012.

The President and Democrats can laud their victory for the next few days.  But over time they may come to realize how much of a burden its Constitutionality is.  The GOP campaign slogan is already written on the wall, “Backroom deals, higher taxes, and higher premiums.  Welcome to Obamacare.”

Purple North Carolina no, leans Republican yes

I now want to take a look at North Carolina in my two-part series on the New South.  The first article focused on the changes occurring in VA and its new-found status of being a swing state.  This article will focus on North Carolina’s changes, suburban growth and possible purple instead of red leaning.

Much as Virginia had done before 2008 North Carolina had not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.  In all the GOP presidential campaigns, good and bad, the state stuck with the GOP.  That is until 2008.  That year Barack Obama won the state by a mere 10,000 or so votes.  Democrats knocked off incumbent US Senator Elizabeth Dole (R), wife of former Kansas Senator and presidential nominee Bob Dole, and claimed the open governor’s mansion.

Like in Virginia Obama and the Democrats victories were fueled by substantial minority and youth turnout centered in the Research Triangle, including the counties of Wake, Durham and Orange (Raleigh).  Senate victor Kay Hagen actually ran ahead of the president in Southeastern North Carolina, padding her victory margins.  But even with the wind at his back the president failed to convincingly win the state, unlike Virginia.

Though no exit polls were taken in the 2010 US Senate race or legislative races it is easy to see the state swing back to the GOP, just like Virginia did.  In 2010 both chambers of the legislature (the House for the first time since Reconstruction) swung to the GOP.  Incumbent Republican Senator Richard Burr easily dispatched his challenger, state Attorney General Elaine Marshall, 56%-43%.  Burr and the GOP’s strength came in predominately rural areas of the state but it is worth noting the GOP that year also took an US House seat back based in the suburbs of Raleigh and Durham.

North Carolina has seen rapid demographic changes just like Virginia and unlike the rest of the South.  Skilled immigrants have moved into the suburbs and urban counties of Wake, Orange and Durham.  Each county boasts a large urban population and major university.  In turn young voters increased leanings to Democrats has exponentially increased Democrats vote-share in the three counties.  Democrats also have taken heart from the growth of the Hispanic population in the state.  They have been able to add this onto the large African-American population in the state.

North Carolina’s rural areas are far more conservative and Southern than most of Virginia’s.  White voters in the state from Appalachia have turned to the GOP in significant enough numbers to off-set Democratic gains in the urban and suburban counties of the Northeast.  However, like Virginia, the GOP has advantages in suburban areas of the state, mainly around Greensboro and its ex-urbs.

Democrats hopes of North Carolina turning purple after 2008 might be exaggerated.  North Carolina’s rural share of the vote is greater than that of Virginia.  Unlike in the DC suburbs the Democrats do not have a built-in substantial advantage in the suburbs around Raleigh and Durham.  And unlike in VA where Democrats do not  need to rely on the youth vote to turn out to win in North Carolina statewide races they do.

Consider some numbers.  In 2008 Barack Obama won the youth vote in the state with 74%.  Hagen came in with similarly substantial margins.  The youth vote was 18% of the electorate that year.  Every other age group went for McCain by decent margins.  Obama’s winning 10,000 vote margin can be attributed solely to the youth vote.

In Orange (Raleigh), Durham and Wake counties, then candidate Obama buoyed by the youth vote won each by 70% or so.  Helped by large minority turnout the president dominated the East of the state. Everywhere else McCain dominated.  Combined Raleigh/Durham and the East made up 38% of the electorate, Obama’s dominating performances in each fueled his victory.  Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, also gave Obama 62% of the vote.

But Obama struggled with a key constituency in North Carolina.  One he did not in Virginia, white independents.  In Virginia, McCain won about 60% of these voters support.  In North Carolina McCain won 84% of them.  That is astonishing and shows Obama’s historic margins were almost overshadowed by weakness among this group.  Hagen and Beverly Perdue, the Democratic candidate for Governor, performed much better among these voters.

Though no exit polls were taken of the 2010 race we can look at Democratic US Senate candidate Elaine Marshall’s margins in Orange, Durham and Wake to see how she fared to Obama’s performance from 2008.  The answer, not well.  Not only did they make up a substantially smaller chunk of the overall electorate compared to 2008 Marshall ONLY won Orange (Raleigh) and Durham counties.  Burr actually narrowly won Wake County by about 3,000 votes.  It is not hard to assume he did well because of the conservative leanings of many white independents in the state.  In Mcklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, Burr almost ran even with Marshall, helping hold down any winning margin she could take from the county.  She was crushed in the Charlotte and Greensboro suburbs.

These numbers paint a stark contrast between North Carolina and Virginia.  Democrats do much worse among white independents in North Carolina as opposed to Virginia.  They are substantially weaker in rural and ex-urban areas.  And they do not perform strongly enough in urban areas to overcome these shortcomings. In short North Carolina’s new purple leanings might have been exaggerated.

Going into 2012 Democrats were still optimistic about their chances to hold the governorship, retake the legislature and win the state’s 15 electoral votes.  Democrats even have their presidential convention in Charlotte.  But maybe they were a little to optimistic.

Internal events have fractured the state Democratic party.  The state party Chair was accused of laundering money.  He has vowed to stay on as Chair but the damage to his party is deep.  Republicans solidified their hold on the state legislature through redistricting, merging many suburban and rural counties to become GOP leaning.  Governor Beverly Perdue (D) was so unpopular and polling so poorly against her likely GOP challenger that she decided to not run for reelection.  National polls have shown the president performing poorly in the state with his base and independents.

And that excludes the 2012 vote on gay marriage.  In May the state voted to add an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage.  The full power of the state’s socially conservative leanings (among blacks as well) was brought forward.  It passed with over 60% of the vote.  Obama had just recently announced he supported gay marriage.  That won’t play well with an electorate that is heavily socially conservative and is increasingly voting that way. Even in the state’s expanding suburbs these issues hold sway with voters.

2008 was supposed to show that North Carolina was on the map for Democrats.  But subsequent elections have shown it still leans red.  This cycle the GOP is likely to win back the Governor’s mansion, hold the legislature and win two to three new Congressional districts (due to redistricting).  Mitt Romney is likely to perform well in the rural areas of the state and suburbs.  His moderate persona and business bonafides are likely to play well with young business people and women in Charlotte, Durham and Wake.

Beyond 2012 the state’s changing demographics are likely to be a draw.  As Hispanics and young people grow as a share of the vote in the state older white voters are increasingly joining the GOP.  Suburban voters remain evenly divided between the parties even around strong urban Democratic counties.  For the next decade North Carolina could either become a purple state or start leaning even more heavily to the GOP.  But if 2008 was an aberration than 2010 was the correction.  North Carolina is no purple state, regardless of its New South potential, for it leans Republican still.

In Virginia GOP win begins in the suburbs

America’s changing demographics and evolving culture has changed presidential politics.  No longer are states like Michigan and Wisconsin solidly Democratic.  Likewise states like Virginia and North Carolina are no longer solidly Republican.  In the future this will force campaigns to make decisions never made before in presidential politics.

For this post (Virginia) and the following article (North Carolina) I want to focus on two of the newest battleground states, formerly GOP strongholds, Virginia and North Carolina.  Both share many similarities.  They have emerging battleground suburbs, large rural pockets of conservatism and a culture that is rapidly evolving on a whole host of issues.

Until 2008 Virginia had not voted Democratic for president since 1964.  That year Lyndon Johnson won almost everywhere against libertarian GOP candidate Barry Goldwater.  But in subsequent elections the state stuck with multiple GOP presidential candidates. Even in 1996 the state stuck with Bob Dole and by a fairly substantial margin.  That was then.  This is now.  The state has rapidly evolved.

The growth of the Northern suburbs combined with an influx of Democratic friendly immigrants has made the state competitive.  A significant chunk of the state’s population now lives in the Northern suburbs and for the GOP to take the state back this November they need to at least remain competitive in the region.  This is not to say this region is reliably Democratic.

In 2008 the North only made up 26% of the electorate.  But that number is deceiving.  Virginia’s suburbs extend beyond just the North and into the East.  Obama easily won the North of the state 64%-35% but narrowly lost the East 50%-48%.  The East in 2008 made up a larger slice of the electorate (37%) but was far more competitive that year.  The solidly GOP Southwest of the state backed McCain by 59%-40% but made up its smallest share of the electorate (17%) in history.

Fast forward to the 2009 gubernatorial race and the results were vastly different.  The electorate was far more conservative and whiter.  In 2008 only 70% of the electorate was white and they backed McCain by 21 points.  But in 2009 78% of the populace was white and only 22% were minorities (mirrors the 2010 midterms electorate perfectly).  Even more McDonnell, the GOP nominee, beat Democrat Creigh Deeds among these voters by a whopping 67%-32% margin.  McDonnell dominated among males 62%-37% and even managed to win women 54%-46%.

McDonnell’s winning margins by region is also significant.  The only area in the state McDonnell lost was the DC suburbs 54%-46%.  But this was a smaller share of the electorate (18%) than 2008.  McDonnell ran away with GOP leaning DC exurbs (14%) 36%-63%, the Richmond area (26%) 58%-41%, Central and Western VA (23%) 66%-34% and the Tidewater region (18%) 54%-46%.  McDonnell racked up huge margins among all age groups and education levels as well.  By comparison in 2008 McCain lose both voters with and without college degrees.

It is likely that the electorate of 2012 will more closely resemble 2008.  More minorities and African-Americans are certain to come out and cast ballots.  That presents a dilemma for both Mitt Romney and former Governor and Senate candidate George Allen.  Both have followed the 2009 McDonnell playbook.  They have largely avoided social issues and immigration and remained ardent fiscal hawks.  But the electorate may not be receptive to either.

Virginia’s population growth is largely consolidated in two areas, the DC suburbs and DC exurbs.  In a year like 2009 the GOP got the better of the results but in 2008 Democrats most assuredly did and we saw the statewide results for both.  This means Romney and Allen have to at least be competitive in the region.  Neither can afford to let Obama or Kaine, the Democratic former Governor and Senate candidate, to run up the margins in the region.

But courting these new voters is not as easy for Republicans as Democrats.  The DC suburbs, and to a lesser extent the DC exurbs, are full of government employees and minorities.  Neither has been receptive to the GOP in recent memory.  This means Romney and Allen must walk a delicate tightrope.  They must energize GOP turnout in Central and Western Virginia while holding down the margins in the DC suburbs.  They also must rack up a big victory in the DC exurbs and remain competitive in the East/Richmond area of the state.

Holding down the left’s victory in the DC suburbs relies on winning big among independents.  In 2009 McDonnell won 66% of independent votes and they made up 30% of the electorate.  In 2008 Obama won independents 49%-48% and they made up 27% of the electorate.   That year Democrats were buoyed by an electorate that was 39% Democratic and only 33% Republican as opposed to the 2009 electorate of 37% Republican and 33% Democrat.

Maximizing turnout in heavily GOP regions means the electorate must be more conservative than 2008 for Romney and Allen to win.  In 2008 the electorate was only 33% conservative as opposed to 21% liberal and 46% moderate.  In 2009 the electorate was 40% conservative to 42% moderate and 18% liberal.  McDonnell even ran strongly among moderates and won moderate independents.  If Romney and Allen repeat McDonnell’s feat conservative turnout might not matter.

But it is unlikely the electorate will be 40% conservative in 2012.  It will be browner.  This does not mean Romney and Allen cannot win.  Certainly both Romney and Allen are attractive candidates with business and political experience.  But demographic trends in the state favor Democrats.  An electorate that is only 70% or less white would be hard for the GOP to win.  An electorate that is 78% white would be hard for Obama to win in.  Turnout will be crucial in this key battleground state that has long evolved from its Southern GOP roots.

Electoral demographics could determine 2012

It is no secret that in 2008 the electorate favored Barack Obama.  Young voters came out in massive numbers, African-Americans and Asian-Americans voted at historically high levels. Hispanics represented their largest share of the electorate in history.  Considering the president’s standing with white voters repeating this kind of demographic turnout could be crucial.

The latest Gallup survey illustrates the president’s struggle.  In the latest round of three-day averages the president is at 45% approval and 48% disapproval. It is noticeable to find where the president’s strongest pockets of support are.  Among African-Americans the president has a 90% approval rating, among Hispanics and the young it hangs at slightly above 50%.  In partisan support the president is over 80% approval among Democrats, below 20% with Republicans and most noticeably under 40% (once again) with independents.  Among white voters the president is barely at 40% (largely held up by high approval among single white women).

These numbers are important to keep in mind because whites made up 74% of the electorate in 2008 and Obama won 43% of them.  Similarly, independents made up 29% of the electorate in 2008 and Obama won 53% of them.  Needless to say his numbers among whites, especially white independents, have eroded. But Obama’s drop in approval among other key constituencies of his 2008 coalition is just as worrisome.  In 2008 the youth vote, 18-29 years old, turned out in massive numbers.  They made up a record 18% of the electorate and gave the president 66% of their vote.  Hispanics made up 8% of the electorate and Obama won 68% of their votes.

The erosion in the president’s numbers point to some irrefutable facts for the Obama campaign to confront. First, it is all but guaranteed the president will lose independents.  You don’t maintain a 40% approval rating among any group and expect to win a majority of their votes on election day.  Second, considering the loss of independent voters it is even more important the president turn out the most solid parts of his base.  Considering 2008 results and current Gallup tracking data this would be Democrats, single women, African-Americans, Hispanics and the youth vote.

But so far the only groups that seems to be showing significant motivation to go out and vote on election day are Republicans, whites and conservatives.  According to the latest Pew survey the GOP holds a 7 point edge in this regard. In 2008 conservatives made up only 34% of the electorate and Obama won 20% of their votes.  Liberals and moderates made up the rest of the electorate and went overwhelmingly for Obama.  However in 2010 conservatives made up over 42% of the electorate and they overwhelmingly backed GOP candidates, 83%-14%.  Likewise, in 208 Republicans were only 32% of the electorate compared to 39% of Democrats.  In 2010 Republicans and Democrats were both 35% of the electorate.  Considering in recent years both the left and right have shed partisan members we could see more than 30% of independents cast ballots in 2012 (though not many will really behave like true independents).

The economic downturn has hit both Republican and Democratic constituencies.  African-Americans and Hispanics continue to have a higher unemployment rate than the national average.  White working class voters without college degrees also have a higher unemployment than the national average.  Yet in 2010 all three groups stuck with their partisan inclinations.  The difference was turnout.  In 2010 only 22% of the electorate was made up of minorities as opposed to 78% white.  The GOP’s winning margins among whites with college degrees (43%) and whites without college degrees (35%) even more favored GOP candidates then they did in 2008.  According to Gallup’s latest numbers these trends have not gotten better for Democrats and the president.  They have gotten worse.

Thus demographic turnout may be the only thing that saves the president in November.  Considering the president is unlikely to match his 2008 performance of 43% support among whites in 2012 he must see increased turnout among Hispanics, blacks and Asian-Americans.  This would as a result shrink the white share of the electorate in 2012.  He also must maintain his 2008 margins among these groups, especially if the president wins only 45% or so of independent support.  Seeing this turnout however will not be a sure thing.

The nation’s demographics are changing but that does not mean subsequent elections will match the changing demographics of the country.  Hispanic representation in the electorate has held steady since 2000 even as they have grown in population.  African-Americans did not grow as a percentage of the populace between 2000 and 2010.  Yet their share of the electorate has been increasing since 2000.  Yet in 2008 they all but maximized their vote share.  It is hard to see African-Americans making up more than 12% of the electorate this November.  And that was when the economy had yet to directly affect them and they had an outgoing GOP administration to blame.  The youth vote was huge in 2008 but just as among African-Americans it seemed to max out in 2008.  In 2010 the youth vote only made up 12% of the electorate and was more friendly to the GOP.

Even turnout will not guarantee a Democratic victory.  Many of the nation’s minorities are located in states that are already decided.  Many African-Americans are located in strongly GOP Southern states or Northeastern Democratic states.  Asian-Americans are to spread out to determine a state unless the election is extremely close (perhaps Virginia).  Hispanics make up only a double-digit percentage of the populace in seven states.  Of these only Pennsylvania, Nevada, Florida and Colorado can really be called swing states.  Texas is solidly Republican, California solidly Democratic and New Mexico leans left.  But even then Florida’s Hispanic populace is Cuban-American and thus more conservative than other Hispanics.  So in truth only three swing states have a substantial number of Democratic leaning Hispanics.

Winning these states could surely help the president get to 270 electoral votes.  But electoral politics is usually a zero-sum game.  To court a certain group of voters you must alienate another group.  Obama’s recent decision to end deportations for 16-30 year old Hispanics who qualify is meant to short up his left flank.  While it may work to win Mexican-Hispanics it likely comes at the expense of Cuban-American Hispanics and white, blue-collar workers who until recently were a key part of the Democratic coalition.

President Obama may be holding leads in most national surveys today but those surveys largely reflect expectations of a bigger minority electorate in 2012 than we saw in 2008.  Interestingly liberals seem to not like when pollsters do not reflect this certain bias (or assumption).  If this increased minority turnout does not materialize on election day (along with young voters) and whites and independents vote more Republican than 2008  or even stay at their 2010 levels the president could be a lame duck far sooner than he anticipated.

Caveat: It is extremely unlikely 56% of independents vote for Mitt Romney in 2012.  In 2010 56% of independents backed the Republican candidate for Congress.  Likewise it is unlikely 20% of conservatives vote to reelect President Obama in 2012.

Demographics may not be Democrat’s best friend

Democrats are positively giddy that the GOP is on its way to demographic extinction.  The reported growth of Hispanics, Asians and other minorities in the 2010 Census indicates the GOP is soon to a party on the out.  Minorities have been a lock-step part of the Democratic coalition and in 2008 they gave Democrats almost 80% of their vote.  But Democrats would be wise to remember that demographics is not political destiny.

American politics is littered with the corpses of demographic/political coalitions.  The GOP coalition of Southern blacks and Northern whites from 1860-1890 is gone.  The FDR coalition of Northern urban and working class whites and Southern blacks and whites has disappeared. Most recently the Bush coalition of affluent minorities, Hispanics, and whites has faded.  Both parties current coalitions of voters are just as unstable as any of the other coalitions that litter the dustbin of American political history.

The current Democratic demographic coalition mirrors the changing nature of the country.  The 2010 Census showed significant growth in the numbers of Hispanics, Asians, single women and urban residents as well as showing a sharp drop for married couples and whites as a total of the population. According to the Census as late as 2050 whites would be less than 50% of the total population.  For the GOP this presents a problem.  Short of 2004 the GOP has continually failed to win anything close to a majority of the minority vote.  Bush’s 10% and 44% showing among blacks and Hispanics was the best they had done among the two groups since 1988. But the GOP has never failed to carry a majority of the white vote since 1968.

For Democrats the changing demographics of the country supposedly ensure that they can stop trying to win a majority of the white vote and just focus on a smaller and smaller percentage of it each election.  For example in 2004 John Kerry won 41% of the white vote while Barack Obama won 43% in 2008.  However, minorities only made up 22% of the electorate in 2004 and Bush ran rather strongly with them.  In 2008 minorities made up 26% of the electorate and Obama performed substantially better with them than Kerry.  In fact those minorities gave Obama the election.  The growth of minorities is supposed to ensure Democrats a lock on the electoral college for decades to come.

But political coalitions litter the American landscape.  In the 40’s nobody expected the FDR coalition to fall apart.  Most recently in 2004 Democrats lamented the fact that George Bush’s unusual coalition of socially conservative Hispanics, whites affluent voters and middle class blacks looked likely to last until the end of the decade.  By 2006 it was called dead. Similarly, Democratic claims their coalition will endure for decades raises the same skepticism.

Just as all coalitions are somewhat unwieldy the current Democratic coalition is as well.  The one advantage the Democrats have with maintaining their coalition going forward is none of them are hostile to activist government.  However many of them have different views on issues than the party they consistently vote for.  Take Hispanics for example.  Many are Democrats and vote that way but on social issues, even fiscal issues, they diverge sharply with the Democratic Party.  They also have sharply different views on race relations in the country than blacks do within the party.

Thus the major stumbling block for the current Democratic coalition is the Hispanic vote.  The current Democratic coalition relies on a solid majority of Hispanics sticking with the party.  It will need them even more going forward.  But the 2004 and 2008 elections showed that may not continue to last.  In 2004 Bush forged a coalition with Hispanic voters over the very issues they have divisions with the Democratic Party, taxes and social issues.  Bush connected with affluent Hispanics worried about taxes.  Bush also ardently defended gay marriage and stood against abortion appealing to downscale Hispanics.

In 2008 John McCain could not appeal to Hispanics on social issues.  But he did again appeal to affluent Hispanics on taxes and the economy.  Here in lies the rub for Democrats with the Hispanic vote.  Numerous state exit polls from 2004 and 2008 show that third-generation or Hispanics living in the suburbs voted for Bush or McCain then they did Kerry or Obama.

As Hispanics more fully integrate into US society and thus economically and culturally assimilate better the Democrats current appeal to them may fade.  Furthermore current issues that divide the GOP from Hispanics, mainly governmental action and the border, may fade.  On taxes Hispanics have shown they are far more willing to act like whites than blacks in terms of their vote.

Hispanics or even Asians views changing over time is not the only reason one should be skeptical of the idea of a solid Democratic majority in the future.

Political parties do not just stand still when demographics or the political context changes.  In 2004 the GOP nominated in Florida Cuban-American Mel Martinez for an open Senate seat.  When Martinez resigned in 2009 the GOP initially lined up behind moderate Governor Charlie Crist.  However as soon as it became clear the party grassroots had lined up behind another Cuban-American, House Speaker Marco Rubio, the party backed him.  This paid big dividends in both elections as a solid majority of the Hispanic Cuban-American electorate in Florida backed Martinez and Rubio.

This is not the only change the GOP has made in recent cycles.  In two majority-minority Hispanic districts in Texas due to the 2010 election both are represented by Republicans.  In Nevada and New Mexico the GOP nominated and saw Hispanic Governors Brian Sandoval (NV) and Susana Martinez (NM) win their races easily.

Faces like these are being elevated by the party establishment as the harbingers of the GOP’s future.  The GOP is also elevating female candidates.  Washington GOP Congresswoman Cathy McMorris is moving up in the party’s echelon and they continue to have her speak for the GOP on women’s issues.  In Utah’s 4th Congressional District the GOP nominated its first ever Mormon, black female candidate, Mia Love.

All those shows the GOP is not standing still nor not reacting to the changing demographics of the country.  The GOP is not just taking women’s related issues to heart but also minority related issues.  Until President Obama’s recent Executive Order ending deportations for illegals who are between 16-30 (with other requirements), Florida Senator Marco Rubio was working on a similar measure.  Considering how dependent the modern Democratic Party has become on minority votes there is no doubt the Democrats did it to upend Rubio’s plans.

The Democratic coalition is also ripe with internal divisions.  Some of these divisions have already led to mass defections from the party.  White working class voters used to be a significant chunk of the Democratic Party’s base.  But as the party moved further away from them ideologically to cater to other interests these voters have largely turned to the GOP.

Ideologically both parties are closer to ideological cohesiveness then ever before.  But that does not mean their supporters are issue-wise.  Democrats continue to anger AFL-CIO and other manufacturing/construction union  members (not leadership however) on their destructive environmental policies.  Unionized oil and coal workers, largely white,  are starting to leave the party as well over these policies.  Democrats insistence on providing contraception to every women, a feminist movement dream, has riled socially conservative Hispanics.  Public sector unions demanding of increased benefits for their work and the president’s acceptance of more Stimulus spending, largely targeted to these unions, has started to rankle moderate, fiscally conservative voters in the suburbs.

Political parties can usually ride these divisions with the power of incumbency.  George Bush’s coalition had divisions all the way back to 2002 but he added to his coalition to 2004.  But at some point the parties lose the incumbent in the White House and the divisions show.  The GOP in 2008 showed deep divisions on economic issues and even social issues.

Perhaps the best reason to doubt Democratic dreams about a lasting electoral majority is that the future is always in flux.  Nobody can say what outside events will affect voters views and ideologies.  In 2001 9/11 turned Americas away from a policeman foreign policy to an active defender of liberty.  In 2008 the economic collapse persuaded many fiscally conservative voters to back government intervention and spending on the economy.  Who is to say something like these events cannot happen again?

Consider the following thought experiment.  In 2013 Barack Obama remains president but Republicans control both chamber of Congress.  Then the EU collapses and China goes into a recession.  The economic ramifications hit the US’s shores.  China decides to take the opportunity to call in US debt and the president refuses.  Republicans claim their worries about the debt were justified.  The US economic nose-dives into a second deep recession.   How are voters to react to this in the 2014 midterms and beyond?

Democrats dream of a majority-minority country and a control of government that is permanent.  After all, political parties exist to win.  But demographics is but one part of politics and elections.  Cultural, social, economic, political party and the prevalent issues all also play into politics and elections.  They would be wise to remember this important factoid and not just count on demographics to usher in a Democratic majority for decades to come.

How 2008 could put Romney over the top in 2012

In 2008 Barack Obama won the largest popular and electoral vote victory for a Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1996.  But Clinton’s and Obama’s coalitions were quite different.  Clinton’s coalition was far whiter, older, rural and moderate.  Barack Obama’s coalition was much younger, diverse, urban and liberal.  The difference in these coalitions could spell the difference between victory and defeat for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

To explain this phenomenon one need look no further than Washington County, PA.  The county is rural, economically populist, old and solidly white.  It voted for Bill Clinton twice and in fact had not voted for Republican for president since Reagan.  That is until 2008.  Amid Barack Obama crushing John McCain in Pennsylvania Washington County backed a Republican for president for the first time in two decades.  In fact, almost every county in SW PA backed John McCain.  There are numerous, majority white rural counties just like Greene County that are ripe for the picking for Mitt Romney in 2012.

The divide between the Dixiecrats, heirs to Andrew Jackson’s rural and populist Democratic Party, and the modern liberal and urban Democratic party’s base was on display in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.  Barack Obama captured the heart of the modern Democratic party, winning blacks, urban whites, single women and affluent suburban liberals.  Hillary Clinton’s base of support came from Hispanics, rural whites that dominate in Appalachia, taking in parts of WV, PA, VA, OH and TN up in the East and portions of NC, SC, KY, GA and AL in the South, and certain moderate suburbs.  Obama’s vote was unusually young and Hillary’s was unusually old.

The way Obama and Hillary ran their campaigns in 2008 also illustrates why these voters backed John McCain in 2008 and will probably back Romney in 2012.  Barack Obama ran on a moderately wrapped up liberal agenda based on hitting issues such as gay marriage, taxes, HC Reform and foreign intervention.  Hillary’s campaign focused on hitting issues appealing to older, rural Democrats such as a strong national defense, fiscal responsibility and experience.

The modern Democratic party has begun to shed these Dixiecrats in droves (especially in 2010) because of its sharp move left on social and economic issues.  The Democratic party now largely focuses on minority and suburban/urban issues leaving rural issues on the back burner.  The Democratic party gives far more heed to feminists, Wal Street and the environmental movement then to rural farmers or counties like Washington that could benefit from new permits to allow drilling to exploit the shale deposits under their soil.

For Republicans and Romney this creates an opportunity.  Much has been made of the demographic changes that are hitting the country that could favor Democrats.  Fewer Americans getting married, a growing Hispanic and Asian population, more people congregating in urban areas where govt services are needed more, etc.  But all those changes have forced the Democratic Party to move left on a host of issues that matter to these voters.  In turn, they have alienated the more moderate and conservative rural base of their party.

Republicans can and should pounce on this.  In 2008 in rural counties running all across Appalachia we saw these voters turning to the GOP for the first time since Reagan.  In 2010 many of these same voters returned to the polls to repudiate the agenda of a liberal controlled Democratic Congress.  In 2012 it is likely they will do so again.

In Wisconsin they have.  In GOP Governor Scott Walker’s historic recall election on June 5th the Governor ran way with the usually swing Wisconsin rural electorate.  The issue at stake, union wages and benefits being slashed by Walker, did not faze them and they overwhelmingly backed Walker.  Democratic interests are intertwined with unions but rural voters (many not even conservative but moderate independents) are not.

Romney’s Midwest, rural bus tour reflects his campaign may finally be realizing this.  The rural vote of the country has always leaned Republican.  That lean however has been overemphasized nationally because in the South and West the rural vote is far more conservative than the Northeast or the upper Midwest.

The upper Midwest’s rural vote, especially in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan is far less right leaning then the national rural vote.  This despite the fact that the majority of voters in these counties are older, white and thus should favor the GOP.  At least on paper.  But the upper Midwest has dynamics that have played into its elections that separate it from the rest of the nation.

In both Wisconsin and Michigan the rural vote is more moderate because of the power of the unions.  However 2010 and the 2012 WI recall gubernatorial results show that even the rural vote in these counties is echoing the national movement of rural, majority-white counties to the GOP.  Even in Ohio the power of unions allows them to limit their losses in rural areas.  The dynamics of these three states can be summed up thusly.  In WI, MI and OH the GOP’s base is not the rural but the suburban vote.  The Democratic base is urban areas and the swing vote is moderate rural and suburban voters.

In Appalachian Pennsylvanian counties, as well as other states counties that share cultural affinity to Appalachia these voters have always shared a partisan identification with the Democratic party.  Appalachian voters in Pennsylvania have been slower than their Democratic counterparts in the South to move to the GOP but now the issues and the party’s shifting coalitions are moving them faster into the GOP fold.  The suburbs in PA are where the battle for statewide races are decided.  Only in a few large rural counties do the unions have a substantial presence.

Minnesota and Iowa do not share the same union presence of WI, MI, OH or Appalachian cultural dynamics as the rest of the Upper Midwest.  But they both have hugely conservative and liberal contingents.  In Iowa, a continual swing state the conservative vote is the rural evangelical vote.  In Minnesota the liberal vote is consolidated in both the urban and suburban areas while the rural vote is fairly moderate.  This explains why the GOP has not won Minnesota since 1972.  The swing vote in Iowa is the suburban vote which is centered almost solely around Des Moines.

But upper Midwest aside there are other counties that could help Romney.  In the possible battleground state of North Carolina, John McCain beat Bush’s 2004 margins in many rural counties.  But just like in many other states Obama’s turnout among suburban and urban voters overshadowed this fact.  McCain particularly under-performed in Ohio’s and Iowa’s rural areas, something Romney is unlikely to do.

It is ironic that Romney’s greatest strength and electoral key to victory may come from the rural, socially conservative and moderate voters the media said he would struggle with in November because he did in the primary.  But these counties are spread all across a number of battleground states and their voters appear fed up with the President and a liberal agenda (Wisconsin anybody).  These voters helped fuel the Tea Party’s victory in 2010.  In Wisconsin on June 5th they fueled Scott Walker’s recall victory.  In November 2012 if Romney can successfully court their concerns over the economy he can ride the wave they create for him to the presidency.

Thoughts on AZ-8

Last Tuesday voters in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District voted to replace Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) with her long-time aid, Ron Barber.  The election was marked by heavy outside spending, intense partisanship and sympathetic feelings to Giffords and her hand-picked successor.

In early 2011 the political world, not to mention America’s world, was shocked to learn that Giffords had been shot outside a Tuscon supermarket meeting with constituents.  Barber was also shot but not as severely as the Congresswoman.  Giffords suffered substantial brain damage after being shot in the head and it is a miracle she survived.  However for six others, including a retired federal judge and a little girl, they were not so lucky.

Democrats needed the victory after Scott Walker’s substantial win in the WI gubernatorial recall the previous Tuesday.  With the victory Democrats can now claim they have stalled, or at least slowed the GOP’s momentum heading into November.  But this race was far more unique than the prior two special election races since 2010.

Republicans lost a Republican leaning seat in NY early in 2011 after the sitting Congressman resigned to avoid a scandal.  Republicans fielded a poor candidate and Democrats pounced.  The connection between the two races largely centers around the message.  The GOP nominee was crucified over the recently passed Paul Ryan Budget which was said to cut entitlements.  The district, overwhelmingly old, rejected the budget and the nominee.

Later in 2011 Democrats faced losing their own seat in NYC.  Congressman Anthony Wiener was embroiled in a scandal and resigned.  His district, solidly Democratic looked safe.  But the GOP nominated a moderate businessman and Democrats a horrid city councilman as their nominee.  Combined with the issues circulating in the district, including Obama’s remarks against Israel taking a strong stand against Iran’s nuclear weapons program the GOP nominee, Bob Turner, coasted to an easy 8 point win in a district that backed Obama by 10 points in 2008.

Both of these prior special elections were hailed as harbingers of 2012 yet the polls have not moved heavily one way or the other.  The generic ballot leans Democratic to neutral and the Senate playing field slightly favors the GOP.

AZ-8’s race was not even as fiery as the prior two special elections.  Nor even the 2010 race between Kelly and Giffords.  Kelly’s ads were more down to earth while Barber hit Kelly on comments he has made about entitlements.

Both sides were roughly equal in spending on the race.  Outside groups also spent some but the Democrats had the edge.  Apparently the GOP and its affiliated Super PACs felt they could win elsewhere.

Perhaps the one big takeaway from the race relates to turnout.  In 2010 Giffords won the absentee vote while Kelly won the actual election day vote.  In 2012 Barber won the absentee vote and Kelly the actual day vote again.  The one thing AZ-8 could point to is that both sides in races across the country should focus on early voting as soon as possible.  AZ-8 shows it swings elections.

The district is changing due to redistricting.  It will be renumbered AZ-2 and will take in less of Tuscon and more rural AZ.  The district on paper also looks more friendly to Democrats as the GOP’s registration edge drops to less than 2,000.  However, the district expands to take in quite a few new voters who do not know Giffords, Barber or even Kelly from prior races.

The 2012 race for barber’s 1st term should be quite competitive.  Republicans were relieved when Kelly announced he would not run for a third straight time and they could begin to line up behind another nominee.  The sympathy vote Barber MAY have received also will not be as prevalent as in the AZ-8 special.  All this adds up to another competitive race in the new district in 2012.