March 12, 2013

Aftermath!.....and the challenges ahead

by Charles Schott

The 2012 Presidential election is now long over and the votes have been counted.

President Obama won another four year term and, as anticipated, this outcome comes with continued gridlock due to the Republicans keeping control of the House of Representatives.

It is worth remembering, that for much of last year, this was seen as the most likely 2012 election outcome, at least until the first debate seemed to even things up in the final weeks. See

The President became the 10th of 14 presidents since 1900 to win re-election, picking up two senate seats for his party; two more than the historical average. See

The two Senate seat pick-up was, at the end of the day, due to Republicans fumbling the Indiana and MO.

The R senate election loss in ND was unimpressive, but within the realm of bad luck (balanced by a close win in NV).

The larger point, however, is that the D's won 25 out of 33 senate seats that were up for election (including all D open seats except Nebraska). Not one incumbent D running for re-election was defeated.

Clearly, the R's need to re-think their approach to winning Senate elections.

In the Presidential race, the R's did slightly better in 2012 than they did in 2008,...but it was not enough. In terms of the electoral vote, President Obama carried 26 states and the District of Columbia for a total of 332 electoral votes (33 fewer electoral votes than in 2008, but still 62 more than the 270 needed to win).

In the popular vote, President Obama received 65.9 million votes (51.1%), while Gov. Romney received 60.9 million (47.2%); a margin of 5 million votes (3.9%). This compares with the 69.5 million votes (52.9%) Senator Obama received in 2008 and the 59.9 million votes (45.7%) received that year by Senator McCain: a margin of 9.6 million votes (7.2%).

Other points worth mentioning:
  • Barack Obama received 3.6 million fewer votes in 2012.
  • Mitt Romney received roughly one million more votes than John McCain.
  • President Obama's 2008 popular vote margin of victory was effectively cut in half (by 4.5 million votes) in 2012.
  • Many former Obama voters (including independents and moderate Republicans) cast their votes for Romney in 2012.
  • The missing 2012 voters appear to include many of the people who voted in 2008 for Sen. McCain.
  • Although 2012 was a much closer election than 2008 in terms of the popular vote, that does not take away from the President's electoral achievement in difficult economic times.

The case of the missing voters. The most striking thing about this election is that two million fewer Americans voted than in 2008. This presents an interesting parallel to the large number of workers who, for purposes of calculating the unemployment rate, are listed as having left the work force. See

A negative campaign that won the election. The key development in the campaign was the early negative advertising (in June) that appears to have successfully defined Mitt Romney as a "vulture capitalist."

The ad that unfairly sought to blame Romney and Bain Capital for the death of a worker's spouse due to lack of health coverage was particularly noteworthy. See

But as is often said, life isn't fair.....and "politics ain't beanbag!"

Interestingly, it appears that the missing 2008 McCain voters were mostly rural voters. These would appear to include many of the people who got the most fired up with the 2008 selection of Sarah Palin.

For those voters, whether R's, D's or independents, those and similar ads put Romney in the same category as the new boss who lives in another city and who makes decisions on paper that negatively affect ordinary workers lives.

That he appeared to have the ability to fix the problems in the economy didn't matter.

Romney was painted as someone who wouldn't care about these rural voters, didn't know them and would not consider their pain and suffering in the current environment.

This was in addition to the late-campaign targeted "Romney is way out there on a woman's right to choose" radio advertising that helped fire up the D base in several metropolitan areas.

"I'm Barack Obama...and I approved this message."

This legacy of such a negative election has already had some spill-over into the post-election world of a re-elected President attempting to govern. Just as it is difficult to claim a popular mandate having received 3.6 million fewer votes than last time, such a profoundly negative campaign provides much less goodwill for the President with those he needs to work with in the aftermath of the election.

With help from the Mainstream Media. The other thing revealed in the course of the election was the degree to which the mainstream media is instinctively in the Obama camp. See,

CNN's Candy Crowley's performance in the second debate, stepping outside her role as a moderator to call a point she later backed away from, was particularly egregious, but only serves as one of the more blatant examples of the mainstream media take on the election as it unfolded. See

In fairness, this bias is often unintended (the result of a particular world view that the White House shares), but it was a critical factor in terms of what was covered, emphasized or ignored.

Republicans must make things right with Hispanic voters. The most obvious thing the R's need to do in the long term is to get right with Hispanic voters. President Obama's failure to keep his promises to Hispanic voters gave the R's an opportunity (see but at the end of the day, these voters stuck with the President because they did not believe that Mitt Romney and the R's would be helpful to them on the issues they care about.

R's will never be able to out-promise the D's when it comes to providing government benefits or responding to special pleading, but there are many areas where R's and Hispanic voters share common ground. President George W Bush had the right approach. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, as well as R Gov.'s Susana Martinez (NM) and Brian Sandoval (NV) have been leading the way in this regard. A recruitment dialogue needs to develop based on shared values.

Perhaps most importantly, Republicans need to substantially improve their ground game (and bring it into the 21st century). The Chicago D voter "turnout machine" (and it's associated software and systems design) needs to be better understood. Romney's election turnout software crashed (see while President Obama's election turnout and tracking software performed exceptionally well (for the second time).

There were other factors...some of which are overrated. It has been said that Hurricane Sandy froze the campaign and allowed President Obama to play the role of leader in a national crisis. Some faulted NJ Governor Chris Christie for embracing the President during the crisis, although in fairness most think he was simply doing his job for the people of his state in a major weather-related emergency. the post mortem! Republicans are already engaged in serious soul-searching (and, to some extent, recriminations) about what happened, where things went wrong and what lessons to take away. This is normal when a party loses.

There is a current (some might say traditional) ongoing debate between the "professionals" (those engaged in politics in DC) and the "grass roots" around the country over how the party should position itself.

When all is said and done, however, it is hard to imagine the R's nominating anyone in 2012 with a better chance to win than Mitt Romney. Only Romney had the ability among the major R presidential candidates to seriously contest the states of the upper-Midwest that Obama carried in 2008.

Surprisingly, it's the "nuts and bolts" political failures of the R's 2012 campaign that appear to have the greatest need to be addressed. If the R's are unable to do a better job of contesting elections, both strategically and tactically, they will face a possible upset in the mid-term elections in two years.

President Obama clearly thinks that is the case. The Obama campaign team has not disbanded, but unlike 2010, it is now focused on "moving the dial" in the 2014 mid-term Congressional races. See

The first rule of games, as is often said, is to know you are in one.

For the first time in many years, the R's are on the unfavorable end of developments relating to the latest marketing tools and technology.

It is this new technology-driven marketing effectiveness that ranges from detecting voter attitudes affecting strategy at the top level down to campaign workers using iPads and databases to identify and turn out voters that made the outcome of the 2012 election such a surprise to many experts.

At the moment, given what they are arguing about, the R's do not seem to appreciate that they are in a high-tech direct marketing arms race; one that impacts the effectiveness of both delivering their message and getting out their that they are losing.

A major source of this disadvantage is that the capacity to perform effectively in this arms race sits with young adults (who understand the technology) working in high-tech marketing jobs in the large cities in the bluest states (e.g., CA, NY, IL).

Incumbent Presidents usually suffer losses in the mid-terms during their sixth year in office. That said, Bill Clinton showed that winning additional House seats in your sixth year in office is a possibility. See,_1998.

Republicans may pick up seats in the Senate in 2014, but they now need a net gain of six seats to take a majority (even though the D's will defending 21 out of 35 senate seats up for election). 2014 will be a quite different election....unless President Obama loses substantial public support, it will be about the House.

Charles Schott served in the last three Republican administrations and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the George W. Bush Administration. Earlier articles appear at He can be reached at



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