Yesterday the GOP field got a little bigger, officially, as former Sen. Rick Santorum entered the race. His entry prompted many to ask the “does he have a shot?” question – a question that is at best a silly conceit to answer some seven months before primary season and 17 months before a general election.
Anything can still happen if we look only at individuals – but the larger question is valid: does the GOP have a shot? That is easy to answer: yes.
Conventional wisdom disagrees, and I admit it is highly unlikely that ANY of the current candidates would beat Obama – just like there was “no way” a young first term junior Senator from Illinois was going to beat the Clinton machine in 2007. With that example fresh in our minds, I offer a few reasons for the GOP – and Rick – to have hope.
Re-election is about the incumbent, not the challenger. Take it from a man who got whipped by an incumbent that most voters (60% of them) really didn’t mind – partisanship matters to the flanks, but the middle makes case by case decisions on candidates, especially in national races. And in the case of a re-election effort, the questions always start with “am I happy with this guy?” If the answer is “no” the incumbent is usually in deep trouble, regardless of who is opposing him. The 2006 and 2010 Midterm elections provide recent evidence, complete with the warning that the challenger must be credible.
There are many who think Rick would be another Christine O’Donnell. They are very, very wrong. Yes, he has some quotes and opinions that are absolute liabilities, but he also has a policy wonk’s head, a lawyer’s training, and 16 years in the crucible to rely on. He will be a formidable debate opponent and will have the ability to match Obama’s pace, energy, and command. In fact, he likely is more versed on some of the foreign policy issues, as, unlike the POTUS , he had more than a cup of coffee in the Senate.
Regardless of who the GOP nominates, the fact is the President’s own performance will matter most of all to the people who really decide elections – the middle. It is this fact that makes the next issue so worrisome for BHO ’12.
“It’s the economy, stupid.” These famous 1992 words from the Ragin’ Cajun could be the most effective attack ad of 2012. As I sit here today, some 16 months after we passed ARRA to prevent unemployment from topping 8%, the number is actually climbing again, to 9.1%. Food prices are at global record highs, a factor both in domestic economic instability and international unrest. Current gas prices – a significant driver of food costs – average more than twice what they were on January 20, 2009 ($1.86 vs. $3.77).
It doesn’t take John Brabender to imagine an ad in 12 months that has footage of the President advising people to buy smaller cars if gas is too expensive – and the damage that “let them eat cake” attitude will do. And that ad will run until it’s replaced with ads showcasing the President – in his own voice – saying higher gas prices are good and he wants to double the cost of electricity. Such ads will be devastating now that there is an actual record of failure to use – and an economy showing weak signs of recovery at best.
The eventual GOP nominee will be able to point to the demonstrable failure of the President’s economic policies to spur either significant job growth or economic expansion – a tack that is in line with making the election about BHO.
We’re a Republic, not a Democracy. Just over 10 years removed from “Bush v. Gore,” you would think we would all remember that the Presidency is decided by the electoral college. This is a major advantage for the GOP in this particular cycle, where popular vote losses in places like California could be staggering depending on the ticket. Which is why we have the electoral college: to serve as a buffer against regional tyranny. So, when assessing prospects, we must start and finish in the EC.
To begin, it is almost impossible to conceive the President picking up any states that went against him in 2008. With the additional seats these states picked up in the census (a net gain of 6 electoral college votes), the 2008 tally would have been 179 EC votes for the GOP. To get the additional 91 votes, the GOP needs to win a few key highly competitive states:
Florida (29), North Carolina (15) and Virginia (13) get you more than halfway home and all went for the GOP in 2000 and 2004 and all recently elected significant GOP leaders. The same is true in Ohio (18) and Indiana (11); win those two states – where the economy is still weak and where strong GOP governors will help the ticket – and now the race is 273-265. Now all the GOP needs is New Hampshire (4) for a tie or Iowa (6) for a win – and a tie goes to the House of Representatives, a win for the GOP.
Think it improbable? Maybe. Impossible? Nope.
There is a reason why so many people want the GOP nomination. Turns out, it just might be worth having.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
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