If somebody had said to a Republican strategist before election day that in Ohio Romney would receive fewer votes than John McCain they likely would have been met with a blank stare. Also, if one had said Obama would increase turnout in metro Cincinnati and Cleveland beyond 2008 levels they likely would have been laughed out of the room. Yet it happened and it shows that the mechanics of this election overcame the fundamentals.
The basic fundamentals of this election, high unemployment, declining wages, massive debt, should have heralded an easy Romney victory. In fact, the lower turnout that manifested itself this election should have done the same. Instead, thanks to a four-year, billion dollar reelection effort by the President and his team the fundamentals of this election did not matter.
Obama’s team since 2009 systematically targeted and classified certain groups in a number of ways. By the time 2012 had rolled around Democrats had identified their key soft partisans in key swing states. These soft partisans, many who had defected in 2010 when Obama was not on the ballot, still wanted the President to succeed and trusted him. In swing states such as CO and NV, single suburban women and Hispanics had helped keep Democratic Senators in office in 2010. The mechanics of this election were turning out these voters in massive numbers and the Obama campaign succeeded.
Mitt Romney’s campaign certainly tried to match the President’s campaign on the mechanics front while stressing the fundamentals of the election. Project ORCA, the Romney campaign’s ambitious election day information system, was an attempt to match the President’s ground game and election day ops. But the Project crashed and it remains uncertain if it affected the race or was just an early election day precursor to a Obama victory.
Mitt Romney’s campaign like a laser tried to focus the election on the economy. Afterall, it contained the key fundamentals in the election. But fundamentals only got the Romney campaign so far. Even as Romney was making inroads with new white voters on the debt and spending he was losing potential constituencies such as Hispanics and younger voters by not talking to them about the issues they cared about. Instead, the Obama campaign was able to target these voters with messages specific to their demographic and region.
Obama’s campaign was criticized early on in the election for the way they burned through their cash reserves. But on November 6th it paid off. It is an open question whether if the fundamentals of the election had matched the mechanics Obama would have won. For example, in Southern Ohio exit polls showed Romney winning many counties by 20 points or more. But when all the votes were counted his margins were smaller than McCain’s in 08 because of lighter turnout. This devastated Romney’s chances in the state while droves of voters in Cleveland and Cincinnati were turnout out for the president. In this election mechanics mattered more than the fundamentals.
This concludes my four part series on the Presidential election. Democrats and Republicans alike are trying to learn what this election means. On the surface the face of the country is changing and that makes Democrats giddy. But on the other hand Republicans recognize this and already are starting to craft new policies and ideas from the plethora of resources they possess. This election the GOP focused on one issue, blind to the fact that many other issues voters cared about influenced their votes. In closing, a changing nation poses challenges not just to Republicans, but to Democrats. Even more importamtly however, it poses a challenge to those who govern.