Over at 538, David Wasserman has an interesting piece on why rich suburbs cannot save Democrats. A quick recap. In 2013 Terry McAuliffe became Governor of Virginia by not only turning out the base but also winning ultra-wealthy suburban voters that traditionally lean GOP. It helped that he faced a populist and more importantly social conservative in Ken Cuccinelli who rubbed these voters the wrong way. Wasserman goes onto point out though that 2012 turnout for Democrats was still much better than 2013’s and that Democrats won’t have much luck replicating the 2013 Virginia electorate, let alone their voting habits, in key races nationwide in 2014.
I want to take it one step further and look at what it means for Republicans in 2014 and beyond with a special emphasis on 2016. Republican strategy for 2014 has been baked in the cake since October 2013. Hit Obamacare over and over and over. Even the President’s gloating fest in the Rose Garden last week when more than 7.1 million enrolled does not change the GOP strategy. Because, let’s be honest, the law’s other onerous provisions are what is irking voters of all persuasions.
So, on the surface, Republican plans for 2014 are not directly or indirectly related to what SuperZips (wealthy suburban voters) do. Only one Congressional race where many of these voters reside, VA-10, is even close to competitive this cycle. But moving beyond 2014 the Democratic strategy could be an issue for the party. Hillary Clinton is likely to be the Democratic nominee and McAuliffe behaves exactly like her and Bill. Thus, the wealthy and many business interests who lean Republican might not have a problem voting for her. This could be particularly true depending on the GOP nominee. Yes, I am looking mostly at Rand Paul and Scott Walker
Rand Paul has telegraphed his 2016 campaign strategy. He will run as a moderate conservative but his moderate conservatism will be to play a populist, libertarian tone that he hopes can get his campaign traction among non-traditional voters. This seems a high-risk strategy even considering 2008 and 2012 GOP performances among the young and minorities. Even if Paul wins some new voters the cost may be far to high. SuperZips are far more likely to vote in massive numbers (see 40% of the 2013 VA Governor’s race electorate) and these voters are not going to look fondly on a candidate who calls for spending less on the defense industry, separating government from big business and going through the budget line by line. You can be sure somebody in the Democratic camp will note this and make it an issue.
Scott Walker would suffer a similar fate. While he is likely to run a more traditional campaign than Paul he also has shown a populist streak that has irked big business. His policy speeches and what stances he has taken on national issues hint he might follow Paul’s lead, to a degree of course. Indeed, of all the likely GOP nominees, only two stand out to run traditional GOP campaigns with old party positions. Embattled Chris Christie and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Neither is a sure bet to make it out of the primary and both will likely base their campaigns on their background (Christie, a moderate, and Rubio, a Hispanic).
This presents an incredible dilemma for the party. Mitt Romney won voters earning over $100K nationwide by a substantial margin but lost those below $50K. Paul’s and Walker’s theme might improve the party performance among low income voters but as a result they might lose the “uppercrust” Country Club Republican that the party still needs to win nationwide elections. So the party can turn one way only to lose somewhere else.
However, it is important to keep in mind that those making $100K and above were a mere 28% of the electorate in 2012. Romney’s 10% win among these voters was easily cancelled out by the fact he lost the other 72% of voters by the same margin. So, if GOP performance was improved significantly enough among lower-income voters the trade-off could be worth it.
There are other factors to consider though. A GOP nominee that rubs rich donors the wrong way would not allow the candidate or party to get its message to non-traditional voters. Further, disenfranchised donors might run to the other candidate and spend on her/his behalf to court favor for their term/s. There is also the electoral college to consider.
While most states are polarized in their voting habits a number of swing states with a high number of wealthy individuals stand out. Beyond Virginia, these states include Colorado. Nevada and Florida. In 2012, 26% of voters in CO identified as earning over $100K and they backed Romney by 5%. In Nevada these voters made up 22% of the electorate but they gave Romney a whopping 24% margin. Florida saw 24% of its electorate earn $100K and give Romney 57% of its vote.
All these states are crucial for a Republican to win the White House in 2016. Considering Republicans have ground to make up in the electoral college it is easy to see why giving up any of these states is a problem for the party. But perhaps the party does not. Voters base their judgments on many different things and if Obamacare and the economy are still issues in 2016, Rand Paul or the eventual GOP nominee might be able to downplay their libertarian, populist leanings to the wealthy and woo them on traditional issues (low taxes and less regulation) and non-traditional issues (education primarily).
Regardless, the GOP needs to come to terms with the fact that for the near future the party’s road-map to the White House will likely be very narrow.