Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2012 presidential election

GOP Opposition to 2010 DREAM Act Still Haunting the Party

In the emerging postmortems on the Romney campaign, many reasons are being adduced for his defeat, but one point is generally consistently acknowledged–the Republicans paid a heavy price for alienating Latino voters. As Fox News notes:

Obama garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote nationwide compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, according to the exit polls. Romney’s showing among Latinos in 2012 is the worst for a GOP candidate since Bob Dole won 21 percent of the Latino vote in 1996. When President George W. Bush won in 2000, he received 44 percent of the Latino vote, and in 2008 John McCain won 31 percent of the vote….

The importance of the Latino vote can especially be underscored in states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado, where the Latino electorate makes a significant portion of the electorate at 18, 17, and 14 percent, respectively.

It is not a coincidence, of course, that Romney lost all of those states. In retrospect, President Obama pulled off a masterstroke when in June he issued an executive order stopping the potential deportation of some 800,000 young people who arrived here as undocumented immigrants. He thus seized the initiative by depicting himself as the champion of immigrants and the GOP–which loudly denounced his move–as the party of nativism.

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In the emerging postmortems on the Romney campaign, many reasons are being adduced for his defeat, but one point is generally consistently acknowledged–the Republicans paid a heavy price for alienating Latino voters. As Fox News notes:

Obama garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote nationwide compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, according to the exit polls. Romney’s showing among Latinos in 2012 is the worst for a GOP candidate since Bob Dole won 21 percent of the Latino vote in 1996. When President George W. Bush won in 2000, he received 44 percent of the Latino vote, and in 2008 John McCain won 31 percent of the vote….

The importance of the Latino vote can especially be underscored in states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado, where the Latino electorate makes a significant portion of the electorate at 18, 17, and 14 percent, respectively.

It is not a coincidence, of course, that Romney lost all of those states. In retrospect, President Obama pulled off a masterstroke when in June he issued an executive order stopping the potential deportation of some 800,000 young people who arrived here as undocumented immigrants. He thus seized the initiative by depicting himself as the champion of immigrants and the GOP–which loudly denounced his move–as the party of nativism.

It did not need to have happened. Republicans could have grabbed immigration as their own issue by passing the DREAM Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation originally introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch, that would allow young illegal immigrants to become legal residents of the U.S. by either going to school or serving in the armed forces and staying out of trouble. The idea is an excellent one, because those who would benefit from the DREAM Act were brought here by their parents. It makes no sense to try to punish them for what others may have done wrong, and it makes a lot of sense to provide them a path to legality so as to keep them from being consigned to the grey economy and possibly even criminal activity. Republicans ought to be in favor of “earning” citizenship, but it is their opposition which has consistently blocked the DREAM Act from becoming law.

For instance, in 2010 the Senate defeated the DREAM Act 55 to 41 on a mostly party-line vote. Five conservative Democrats voted no along with all but three Republican senators (Bob Bennett, Richard Lugar and Lisa Murkowski). It is striking that, of those three, the first two are no longer in the Senate because they lost primary challenges to Tea Party candidates. Murkowski managed to stay in the Senate only by winning a write-in campaign.

Obviously immigration was not the only reason these GOP officeholders were abandoned by their own party. But it was certainly part of the reason—and that shows what a formidable obstacle Republicans will face in winning over Latino votes. But if the GOP is not to be consigned to indefinite minority status, it desperately needs to rethink its stance on immigration. It can start by passing the DREAM Act.

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Conservatives and Foreign Policy After the Election

Although exit polling showed just how few voters cared much about foreign policy in yesterday’s presidential election, the right should put it on the list of subjects that pose a new challenge for the Republican Party and conservative movement going forward. It is not only because of the president’s successful ordering of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. It is also because of something Micah Zenko, in a thoughtful piece for Foreign Policy, talks about: the idea that we will never again have a peacetime president.

Zenko seems to suggest that this is because of lack of understanding in Washington about the threats this country faces around the globe, thus leading to an overreaction in many cases. I think it’s because there has been a recognition, after 9/11, that prevention, and thus vigilance, is key to protecting the homeland. Either way, there is a consensus in American policymaking. Here’s Zenko:

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Although exit polling showed just how few voters cared much about foreign policy in yesterday’s presidential election, the right should put it on the list of subjects that pose a new challenge for the Republican Party and conservative movement going forward. It is not only because of the president’s successful ordering of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. It is also because of something Micah Zenko, in a thoughtful piece for Foreign Policy, talks about: the idea that we will never again have a peacetime president.

Zenko seems to suggest that this is because of lack of understanding in Washington about the threats this country faces around the globe, thus leading to an overreaction in many cases. I think it’s because there has been a recognition, after 9/11, that prevention, and thus vigilance, is key to protecting the homeland. Either way, there is a consensus in American policymaking. Here’s Zenko:

Though both of the presidential candidates claim to want a peaceful world (Mitt Romney used some version of “peace” 12 times in the final presidential debate), it is unlikely that the United States will ever have a peacetime president again.

The primary reason for this stems from how policymakers in Washington perceive the world — a perception that bridges partisan divisions. According to most officials, the international security environment is best characterized by limitless, complex, and imminent threats facing the United States. Those threats require the military to be perpetually on a wartime footing and the president to frequently authorize the use of lethal force. As a Pentagon strategy document first noted in 2010, the United States has entered “a period of persistent conflict.”

I don’t think there is quite as much “news” here as would seem. The public knowledge of the American military’s efforts to fight threats worldwide is now much greater than it ever was. But the system of persistent conflict still hews to what formed in the administration of Harry Truman on the ruins of FDR’s great power politics. After the end of World War II–or, rather, after the defeat of Germany in WWII–the United States for the first time faced a very different world. This was one in which the U.S. could not simply disengage when a specific threat was defeated.

Suddenly, the U.S. found itself, through its armed forces and later through international organizations such as NATO, formally responsible for the co-defense of the European continent, while at the same time fighting an enemy–Communist radicalism–both at home and abroad. A national security infrastructure bloomed. Washington, D.C. looked very different than it once had and because of the nature of the ideological conflict, the disagreement between leftists and conservatives grew into a broad distrust between the two groups, soon reflected by their representatives in the Congress.

Democrats seen as insufficiently opposed to Communism were construed as weak–a label that was, over the course of the next few decades, successfully applied to the party as a whole.

Eventually, the Democrats basically became the “peace” party, while Republican foreign policy successes, such as those during the Reagan and first Bush administrations, won the right a reputation as the party you could trust when push came to shove. Bill Clinton ran on the theme not that the Democrats were tougher than Republicans but essentially that the “peace dividend” made such toughness quite unnecessary. That peace proved illusory, and the Democrats were later unable to unseat George W. Bush, who was seen as a resolute commander-in-chief, even when he was commanding unpopular wars.

But if there is truly a recognition in Washington that there is no such thing as a peacetime president, then there is also going to be recognition that there is no such thing as a “peace party.” The Democrats–and it seems President Obama realizes this–cannot run indefinitely on “getting our troops out of” wherever they happen to be at the time, because of the perceived necessity of military engagement, even if limited in scope. Obama may have opposed the way Republicans conducted the war in Iraq, but it was not because he refuses to ever contemplate military intervention in the Middle East. Indeed, he spent the one foreign policy debate last month hammering Mitt Romney for being insufficiently bloodthirsty in Libya–a military engagement for which the president did not seek congressional authorization.

Obama has not wholly rescued his party’s national security credentials. There is, after all, quite loud chatter that his second-term secretary of state will be the dour, unprincipled antiwar agitator John Kerry, a man with such comically obtuse strategic sense that he considered Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator currently murdering a large segment of his country, a reformer we could do business with. And his current vice president is a man who cannot seem to get a single foreign policy related issue right, despite spending decades in Washington.

Nonetheless, conservatives are set to spend two consecutive presidential terms out of the White House, and will have something of a clean slate now as they regroup. If Zenko is right, and there will never be another peacetime president, they cannot afford take foreign policy for granted, no matter what the exit polls say.

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America’s Vote For Federalism

Naturally, there will disappointment among Republicans, not only for the defeat in the presidential election, but also over the poor performance in several Senate contests and (for some) over the results of a handful of ballot initiatives. But the 2012 election was nevertheless a victory for federalism.

After all, with the Republican majority in the House resoundingly endorsed, the Democratic majority in the Senate affirmed, and the President returned to the White House in a close reelection (he is the first to win reelection by a smaller margin than his initial election) and therefore with a fairly weak mandate, Americans have voted for gridlock. And gridlock, despite all the problems it presents, is actually what the federal government is designed to produce, because government was not intended to be so intrusive at that level.

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Naturally, there will disappointment among Republicans, not only for the defeat in the presidential election, but also over the poor performance in several Senate contests and (for some) over the results of a handful of ballot initiatives. But the 2012 election was nevertheless a victory for federalism.

After all, with the Republican majority in the House resoundingly endorsed, the Democratic majority in the Senate affirmed, and the President returned to the White House in a close reelection (he is the first to win reelection by a smaller margin than his initial election) and therefore with a fairly weak mandate, Americans have voted for gridlock. And gridlock, despite all the problems it presents, is actually what the federal government is designed to produce, because government was not intended to be so intrusive at that level.

Moreover, with the presidential vote so close, national division is obvious. Indeed, both President Obama and Governor Romney barely scraped a third of the vote in some states, and in some cases not even that. And some of the ballot initiative results also confirmed disagreement state to state: gay marriage is constitutionally banned in a majority of states and until yesterday had failed on each of the thirty-two occasions it has been put to statewide popular vote (including in North Carolina earlier this year), but yesterday it was endorsed on the ballots in a handful of blue states. (Another state, Wisconsin, also elected the country’s first openly gay senator.) Marijuana usage had mixed results, and Obamacare fared poorly where voters were asked to limit its impact in their state. America is divided, but in crafting a federal system, that is what the Founders anticipated and embraced.

The United States may constitute one nation under God, but America remains fifty different states under the president, and the country will be well served when its leaders remember that.

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What Last Night Says About the Tea Party

Here come the inevitable arguments that the Republican Party’s problem was not nominating a True Conservative for president. U.S. News reports

The Tea Party Patriots, one of the most prominent organizations within the fiscally conservative tea party movement, says Mitt Romney lost the election because he was a “weak moderate” candidate that was “hand-picked” by the establishment GOP.

“For those of us who believe that America, as founded, is the greatest country in the history of the world – a ‘Shining city upon a hill’ – we wanted someone who would fight for us,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin wrote in an e-mail, quoting 40th president and conservative hero Ronald Reagan. “We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America’s founding principles… What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment.”

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Here come the inevitable arguments that the Republican Party’s problem was not nominating a True Conservative for president. U.S. News reports

The Tea Party Patriots, one of the most prominent organizations within the fiscally conservative tea party movement, says Mitt Romney lost the election because he was a “weak moderate” candidate that was “hand-picked” by the establishment GOP.

“For those of us who believe that America, as founded, is the greatest country in the history of the world – a ‘Shining city upon a hill’ – we wanted someone who would fight for us,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin wrote in an e-mail, quoting 40th president and conservative hero Ronald Reagan. “We wanted a fighter like Ronald Reagan who boldly championed America’s founding principles… What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment.”

The Tea Party is an important force within the conservative movement, but it needs to get a handle on its own limitations. Barack Obama didn’t win last night because Romney was too “establishment” and conservatives rebelled. Obama won because of high turnout among his base groups (Democrats, black and Hispanic voters, young people), and even though he lost support with independents, he was able to hold onto enough of them to close the gap.

Grassroots enthusiasm alone isn’t a substitute for a strong turnout operation. And even with a strong turnout operation, Republicans would have still needed to pick up more independent voters.

The point is, the Tea Party-rightblogger-grassroots on its own can’t trump Obama’s cobbled-together coalition. There were always going to be some independents who stuck with Obama because they strongly supported him in 2008 and wanted to give him another chance. But he was also able to hang on to wavering independents for a couple of reasons. One was freebies: birth control, auto bailouts and the assortment of giveaways under Obamacare. The other was fearmongering: convincing voters that abortion would be banned, the social safety net would be destroyed, and that Mitt Romney was a cartoon villain who couldn’t be trusted.

Republicans aren’t going to break up Obama’s coalition by choosing a Newt Gingrich or a Michele Bachmann. That would be a recipe for a spectacular defeat. The Tea Party is an element of a winning GOP coalition, but needs to realize that it’s just one.

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Where Did the Voters Go? Nowhere.

As the national vote total began to solidify last night, one question on the minds of Republicans was: Where are the missing voters? Last night it looked like Mitt Romney had received something like 10 to 15 percent fewer votes than John McCain had in 2008, even though his percentage of the overall vote was at least two points higher. What did this mean? Where did the voters go? They didn’t go to Barack Obama, because exit polls suggested he had basically turned out the same demographic support he had four years ago. So where are they? Did this suggest a significant element of the GOP base had stayed home? Perhaps evangelical voters quietly refusing to cast a ballot for a Mormon? Populist voters disgusted by the 47 percent tape?

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

So there are probably no missing voters. The idea offers a certain degree of cold comfort for conservatives and Republicans, because it would suggest the problem was with Romney’s candidacy in particular and not with the movement or the party. But it’s false, and they will not be spared the reckoning about the party’s future.

As the national vote total began to solidify last night, one question on the minds of Republicans was: Where are the missing voters? Last night it looked like Mitt Romney had received something like 10 to 15 percent fewer votes than John McCain had in 2008, even though his percentage of the overall vote was at least two points higher. What did this mean? Where did the voters go? They didn’t go to Barack Obama, because exit polls suggested he had basically turned out the same demographic support he had four years ago. So where are they? Did this suggest a significant element of the GOP base had stayed home? Perhaps evangelical voters quietly refusing to cast a ballot for a Mormon? Populist voters disgusted by the 47 percent tape?

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

So there are probably no missing voters. The idea offers a certain degree of cold comfort for conservatives and Republicans, because it would suggest the problem was with Romney’s candidacy in particular and not with the movement or the party. But it’s false, and they will not be spared the reckoning about the party’s future.

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Republican Future is Still Bright

Democrats have a right to crow this morning. President Obama won re-election with a narrow, yet decisive win in the popular vote and a large margin in the Electoral College, in which he won every tossup up state with the exception of North Carolina. Though they were expected to lose seats in the Senate, Democrats gained two. The Republicans did hold onto the House of Representatives, which means the status quo of the last two years in Washington is preserved. But those trying to diminish the scope of the Democrats’ victory are wasting their time. For an incumbent president to win re-election despite presiding over a poor economy and few accomplishments other than decidedly unpopular measures like ObamaCare, is an astonishing feat of political skill. It was also a reflection of the changing nature of the electorate that now skews more toward the Democrats than many of us thought. Liberal pundits like Nate Silver who insisted that the polls were right to show a Democratic advantage were right about that and I was wrong, as were most conservative writers.

But to assume, as some inevitably will, that this means the Republicans are more or less doomed to a cycle of unending defeats in the future is a mistake that neither party should make. Though talk about President Obama not having a mandate is meaningless since winning is the only mandate any president ever needs, Republicans are by no means painted into a corner from which they cannot extricate themselves in future contests. The 2012 election was about Barack Obama and preserving his historic legacy. Yet second terms are generally miserable affairs for presidents, and Obama will likely prove no exception, especially with a Republican House to investigate scandals. For all of the problems that this election revealed to the Republicans about Hispanics, women, and working class voters, they are still positioned to make a strong showing in the 2014 midterms and to take back the White House in 2016.

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Democrats have a right to crow this morning. President Obama won re-election with a narrow, yet decisive win in the popular vote and a large margin in the Electoral College, in which he won every tossup up state with the exception of North Carolina. Though they were expected to lose seats in the Senate, Democrats gained two. The Republicans did hold onto the House of Representatives, which means the status quo of the last two years in Washington is preserved. But those trying to diminish the scope of the Democrats’ victory are wasting their time. For an incumbent president to win re-election despite presiding over a poor economy and few accomplishments other than decidedly unpopular measures like ObamaCare, is an astonishing feat of political skill. It was also a reflection of the changing nature of the electorate that now skews more toward the Democrats than many of us thought. Liberal pundits like Nate Silver who insisted that the polls were right to show a Democratic advantage were right about that and I was wrong, as were most conservative writers.

But to assume, as some inevitably will, that this means the Republicans are more or less doomed to a cycle of unending defeats in the future is a mistake that neither party should make. Though talk about President Obama not having a mandate is meaningless since winning is the only mandate any president ever needs, Republicans are by no means painted into a corner from which they cannot extricate themselves in future contests. The 2012 election was about Barack Obama and preserving his historic legacy. Yet second terms are generally miserable affairs for presidents, and Obama will likely prove no exception, especially with a Republican House to investigate scandals. For all of the problems that this election revealed to the Republicans about Hispanics, women, and working class voters, they are still positioned to make a strong showing in the 2014 midterms and to take back the White House in 2016.

The big mistake most political analysts tend to make is to assume that the political landscape of one election will be much the same in future contests. It’s true that, much to the consternation of conservatives, the layout of the electorate this year was very similar to that of 2008. But the common denominator in those two elections was Barack Obama, and he won’t be on the ballot again. It bears repeating that many conservatives allowed their own dim view of his policies and personality to underestimate the president’s appeal to the voters. Americans were rightly pleased with themselves for electing an African-American and a clear majority was not prepared to make him a one-term president, in spite of his shortcomings. No possible Democratic successor will have the same hold on the public’s goodwill. Nor, despite the liberal tilt of the mainstream media, will any of them, including Hillary Clinton, be able to count on the kind of supportive press coverage that Obama got. Nor will they be able to run against the legacy of George W. Bush, the way only Obama could. At some point, even that well will run dry for the Democrats.

To state this is not to ignore the obvious problems that Republicans have with certain demographic groups.

As Seth wrote yesterday, the GOP has dug itself a hole with Hispanics from which it can’t completely extricate itself. Had the party embraced George W. Bush’s attempt to create a sensible program for immigration reform, that might have made things easier. But it wouldn’t change the fact that much of this community is solidly liberal on many issues. A candidate who would be able to make a credible appeal to Hispanics like Marco Rubio could undo a lot of the damage. That doesn’t mean the GOP is obligated to nominate a Hispanic in the next election cycle, but that it probably shouldn’t choose someone who chooses to make illegal immigration the issue on which they tack the farthest to the right, as Romney did.

It should also be pointed out that the Democratic effort to portray the GOP as the party of Tea Party extremism didn’t entirely succeed. The ideas of that movement are still powerful, but what Republicans must learn is to be more careful about the leaders it elevates from their ranks. More savvy operators like Marco Rubio will provide formidable opponents for the president and his successors. More Richard Mourdocks will produce more defeats. Ideological purity without common sense is a formula for political disaster.

For all the Democratic triumphalism that this election will produce, it will do the president’s party some good if they remember how close they came to losing, and that absent the president’s appeal they might not have prevailed. Though, as Ross Douthat wrote today in the New York Times, the Ronald Reagan coalition that led the GOP to victories in the past is no longer viable, the narrow margin for the Democrats in 2012 undermines any notion that a fundamental realignment has occurred. If Democrats tack to the left in the coming years, they will find that without a still charismatic and historic leader, their class warfare routine won’t play as well. Their party identification advantage will fade without Obama at the helm, as will the enthusiasm that only he can generate.

Just as important, in the coming years Democrats will be burdened by responsibility for all that the public doesn’t like about ObamaCare, which, thanks to the electorate and Chief Justice John Roberts’s cowardly vote switch, will now be implemented.

Fresh leadership (and the GOP has no shortage of bright young leaders) and the advantage of running against a Democratic Party that will have to take responsibility for the state of the country will put the Republicans in a good position to recoup their losses and to build on the nearly half of the country whose support they can already count on. Democrat who think yesterday’s results guarantee them anything in the future are setting up their party for a great fall. Any Republican inclined to despair today needs to take a deep breath and understand that the party’s future is actually quite bright.

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Obama Wins a Divided Country

It’s a cold and rainy morning in Washington. 

Last night, a few hundred supporters gathered outside the White House to celebrate Obama’s reelection. Driving through downtown D.C., an occasional group of revelers passed by on the sidewalk; others walked around them quietly. Obama won reelection last night, but the past four years have taken a toll. The country is deeply divided, maybe nowhere more so than the capital.

National Journal’s Ron Fournier reports:

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It’s a cold and rainy morning in Washington. 

Last night, a few hundred supporters gathered outside the White House to celebrate Obama’s reelection. Driving through downtown D.C., an occasional group of revelers passed by on the sidewalk; others walked around them quietly. Obama won reelection last night, but the past four years have taken a toll. The country is deeply divided, maybe nowhere more so than the capital.

National Journal’s Ron Fournier reports:

Barack Obama won a second term but no mandate. Thanks in part to his own small-bore and brutish campaign, victory guarantees the president nothing more than the headache of building consensus in a gridlocked capital on behalf of a polarized public.

If the president begins his second term under any delusion that voters rubber-stamped his agenda on Tuesday night, he is doomed to fail. …

“The mandate is a myth,” said John Altman, associate professor of political science at York College of Pennsylvania. “But even if there was such a thing as a mandate, this clearly isn’t an election that would produce one.”

He pointed to Obama’s small margin of victory and the fact that U.S. voters are divided deeply by race, gender, spirituality, and party affiliation. You can’t claim to be carrying out the will of the people when the populous has little shared will. 

Obama has no mandate. The latest numbers show Obama with a margin of 2.6 million votes nationally. In 2008, he won by nearly 10 million. He’ll still face a strong Republican House, which now has (at latest count) around 57 million Americans relying on it to keep the executive branch in check. He’ll also face the repercussions of his first-term policies: the unemployment that hasn’t waned, the economy that hasn’t recovered, the terrorists that haven’t been defeated, the Iranian mullahs that haven’t been dissuaded.

The best news for Obama is that, as his campaign kept reminding voters, this was his last election. Another such victory, and he would be undone.

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The Conservatives’ Obama Delusion

For most of the last two years, if not the last four, many conservatives and Republicans assumed that Barack Obama could not be re-elected. A poor economy, an unpopular liberal agenda shoved down the throat of the country, and a largely uninspiring presidential leadership style combined to create a widespread belief on the right that the 2012 election would be a layup for them. We now know what some of us suspected for a long time: Republicans drastically underestimated the president’s appeal as a historic figure.

The postmortem on the Republican failure to defeat the president will go on until 2016, but the finger pointing within the party will largely miss the point. Their big problem was not Romney’s moderation (likely to be the right wing’s favorite theory); the influence of the Tea Party (the standard liberal interpretation); the failure to do outreach to Hispanics (though they need to address this problem); Romney’s inability to run against ObamaCare; the GOP standard bearer’s decision not to talk more about himself and letting the Democrats define him; the decision not to hammer Obama more over the Benghazi fiasco or even Hurricane Sandy.

The main obstacle to a Republican victory was that they were seeking to defeat the first African-American president aided by a supportive mainstream media, buttressed by the power of incumbency and what turned out to be a tremendously efficient campaign organization. Contrary to the delusion that Obama was a loser waiting to be knocked off, beating him was always going to be a long shot. Though the GOP will spend much of the coming weeks, months and years beating each other up as they assign blame for the defeat, the fact is, Romney did well to come as close as he did. Rather than wonder about what Republicans could have done better, conservative analysts would do better to look at the president’s strengths.

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For most of the last two years, if not the last four, many conservatives and Republicans assumed that Barack Obama could not be re-elected. A poor economy, an unpopular liberal agenda shoved down the throat of the country, and a largely uninspiring presidential leadership style combined to create a widespread belief on the right that the 2012 election would be a layup for them. We now know what some of us suspected for a long time: Republicans drastically underestimated the president’s appeal as a historic figure.

The postmortem on the Republican failure to defeat the president will go on until 2016, but the finger pointing within the party will largely miss the point. Their big problem was not Romney’s moderation (likely to be the right wing’s favorite theory); the influence of the Tea Party (the standard liberal interpretation); the failure to do outreach to Hispanics (though they need to address this problem); Romney’s inability to run against ObamaCare; the GOP standard bearer’s decision not to talk more about himself and letting the Democrats define him; the decision not to hammer Obama more over the Benghazi fiasco or even Hurricane Sandy.

The main obstacle to a Republican victory was that they were seeking to defeat the first African-American president aided by a supportive mainstream media, buttressed by the power of incumbency and what turned out to be a tremendously efficient campaign organization. Contrary to the delusion that Obama was a loser waiting to be knocked off, beating him was always going to be a long shot. Though the GOP will spend much of the coming weeks, months and years beating each other up as they assign blame for the defeat, the fact is, Romney did well to come as close as he did. Rather than wonder about what Republicans could have done better, conservative analysts would do better to look at the president’s strengths.

Most conservatives were prepared to acknowledge that the majority of Americans were still pleased with the idea of righting some historic wrongs by electing an African-American in 2008. But they failed to understand that even though Obama’s administration was not widely viewed as a great success, at least half of the country was not prepared to toss him out of office after only one term.

As an incumbent, Obama was able to claim credit for things for which he did not deserve many plaudits, like the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the response to the hurricane in the last days before the election. He also could count on the unfailing support of much of the media even when he was embarrassed by events, such as in Libya.

These were strengths that many Republicans continually discounted or disregarded entirely.

The close nature of the loss at a time when the national economy is still stagnant will naturally cause many on the right to speculate on what Romney and his campaign could have done differently. They will be right when they point out he should have fought back immediately against the slurs against his character that were the focus of much of the Obama campaign’s early efforts. Maybe a perfect GOP effort could have gotten that extra one percent of the vote that would have turned a few close states and elected Romney. That’s something that will torment conservatives as ObamaCare is implemented and Obama continues to govern from the left.

But even his sternest critics must admit Romney ran quite a creditable campaign and was able to use the debates to make the race closer and even take a lead in some polls in the last month. They must also acknowledge that the conservative assumption that the electorate in 2012 would be very different than it was in 2008 was wrong.

The good news for the GOP is that contrary to those who will predict that there is a permanent Democratic majority, the circumstances of 2012 won’t be repeated in four years. Obama will be gone in 2016 and anyone who thinks that Joe Biden, Andrew  Cuomo or even Hillary Clinton will have an easy time against the deep Republican bench that is ready to run next time misunderstands the nature of American politics.

The bottom line is that Barack Obama won the 2012 election far more than the Republicans lost it. Obama may be a remarkably unsuccessful president (he’s the first to win re-election by a smaller margin) but he was never the patsy most conservatives imagined. Conservatives spent the last two years since their 2010 midterm victory operating under a serious delusion about the president’s political strengths. That’s a terrible indictment of their political acumen, but it won’t affect their chances in four years when Obama is no longer on the ballot.

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Warren Beats Brown in MA

Senator Scott Brown conceded to Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts:

Elizabeth Warren won a hard-fought race for the Senate on Tuesday, recapturing for the Democrats the seat held for almost half a century by the late Edward M. Kennedy.

Cheers filled the hotel ballroom here where Ms. Warren was holding her victory party as word of her win came out.

Nearly three-fourths of voters in Massachusetts went to the polls on Tuesday, a turnout higher than the 3.1 million who voted in the 2008 presidential race.

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Senator Scott Brown conceded to Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts:

Elizabeth Warren won a hard-fought race for the Senate on Tuesday, recapturing for the Democrats the seat held for almost half a century by the late Edward M. Kennedy.

Cheers filled the hotel ballroom here where Ms. Warren was holding her victory party as word of her win came out.

Nearly three-fourths of voters in Massachusetts went to the polls on Tuesday, a turnout higher than the 3.1 million who voted in the 2008 presidential race.

If a liberal Republican like Brown couldn’t hold onto Massachusetts, it’s hard to imagine any Republican can. There’s not much good news for the GOP tonight, at least not yet — Senate candidate Richard Mourdock lost to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, gaining Democrats another seat; Todd Akin lost to Senator Claire McCaskill in a race that was expected to be an easy win for the GOP before Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape”; and AP projected Josh Mandel lost his race to Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Republicans did pick up one Senate seat. NBC and CBS have called Nebraska for Republican Deb Fischer over former Sen. Bob Kerrey.

But overall, not a good trend for Republicans. It’s important to keep these races in mind if Romney’s loss is blamed on him being too moderate on social issues. Mourdock and Akin in particular are socially far to the right, and they still lost their races.

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There Goes Romney’s Plan B

Pennsylvania and Michigan were always longer-shots for Mitt Romney, but they were potential backup paths in case he lost the more likely route through Ohio or Iowa and a handful of other swing states. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have all been called for Obama, and Florida and Virginia (must-wins) are still too close to call. That means there’s a good chance it’s going to be a long night, and if Romney wins it’ll be down to the wire — no landslide for Republicans tonight.

Pennsylvania and Michigan were always longer-shots for Mitt Romney, but they were potential backup paths in case he lost the more likely route through Ohio or Iowa and a handful of other swing states. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have all been called for Obama, and Florida and Virginia (must-wins) are still too close to call. That means there’s a good chance it’s going to be a long night, and if Romney wins it’ll be down to the wire — no landslide for Republicans tonight.

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Dems Setting Narrative to Explain Loss

Democrats have been setting their narrative for a possible Obama loss early the last several days, as reports of “conservative voting machines” circulated throughout the liberal blogosphere. I first heard about the conspiracy for Romney’s victory on Sunday night while on a panel with several New York City liberals. They assured me that because Mitt Romney’s son owns stock in companies that manufacture voting machines used in Ohio, the groundwork has been laid for a fraudulent Romney victory there. Surprisingly, one of the best sources for debunking the story comes from NPR:

This conspiracy centers on voting machines in Ohio, a key battleground in this election. A couple of Ohio counties use voting machines made by a company called Hart InterCivic. According to the rumor, Tagg Romney owns part of Hart. So, goes the story, Tagg Romney could fix the election.

It turns out there is no direct financial interest, but there’s an appearance of a tenuous connection. Tagg Romney’s private equity firm, Solamere Capital, is invested in another private equity firm called H.I.G. Capital. A little over a year ago, H.I.G. invested heavily in Hart and took over its board.

But according to a letter Hart’s CEO, Phillip Braithwaite, sent to elections officials around the country, “Solamere has absolutely no interest in the specific H.I.G. fund that has invested in Hart InterCivic.” Also according to this letter, Solamere is just one of 350 institutional investors in H.I.G. “Hart InterCivic has never had any contact of any kind with Solamere.”

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Democrats have been setting their narrative for a possible Obama loss early the last several days, as reports of “conservative voting machines” circulated throughout the liberal blogosphere. I first heard about the conspiracy for Romney’s victory on Sunday night while on a panel with several New York City liberals. They assured me that because Mitt Romney’s son owns stock in companies that manufacture voting machines used in Ohio, the groundwork has been laid for a fraudulent Romney victory there. Surprisingly, one of the best sources for debunking the story comes from NPR:

This conspiracy centers on voting machines in Ohio, a key battleground in this election. A couple of Ohio counties use voting machines made by a company called Hart InterCivic. According to the rumor, Tagg Romney owns part of Hart. So, goes the story, Tagg Romney could fix the election.

It turns out there is no direct financial interest, but there’s an appearance of a tenuous connection. Tagg Romney’s private equity firm, Solamere Capital, is invested in another private equity firm called H.I.G. Capital. A little over a year ago, H.I.G. invested heavily in Hart and took over its board.

But according to a letter Hart’s CEO, Phillip Braithwaite, sent to elections officials around the country, “Solamere has absolutely no interest in the specific H.I.G. fund that has invested in Hart InterCivic.” Also according to this letter, Solamere is just one of 350 institutional investors in H.I.G. “Hart InterCivic has never had any contact of any kind with Solamere.”

That said, several top executives at H.I.G. are what’s known as bundlers for the Romney campaign, according to a database created by USA Today using data from the Sunlight Foundation. That means they have raised tons of money for Romney. There are also three H.I.G. executives on the board of Hart InterCivic, and two of them have donated to Mitt Romney’s campaign (though one gave to both Romney and President Obama in the last election cycle).

These executives surely want their candidate to win, but could they make it happen by changing votes in Ohio?

“If somebody was doing something funny, believe me everybody would know,” says Sally Krisel, deputy director of elections in Hamilton County.

A second conspiracy comes from the aggregation site Reddit. One user posted a video of a broken voting machine. When the user selected Barack Obama and Joe Biden, the machine refused to register the choice, instead highlighting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. The voter tried three times before contacting poll workers and the machine has since been taken offline. This has happened in other states as well, as faulty electronic machines registered the wrong selection when users chose their candidate.

There are other reports, less publicized by the mainstream media, from Ohio where voters were unable to initially cast a vote for Mitt Romney because the machines continued to register Barack Obama as their selection. Voters in North Carolina and Kansas have reported the problem as well, telling reporters that machines initially refused to allow ballots to be cast for Romney before machines were re-calibrated. The RNC’s lawyers have already sent a letter to six secretaries of state to ensure that electronic voting machines were properly calibrated in order to avoid further mix-ups. 

Democrats are already in damage-control mode, trying to convince themselves and their supporters that the only path to a Romney/Ryan victory is through fraud alone. This morning, the DNC’s former chairman and presidential candidate Howard Dean told Morning Joe, “Given the vote and the leading in the polls in Ohio, the only way [Obama] can lose is if people are prevented from casting their ballots. Either by voting machines that aren’t functioning right or other forms of harassment.”

There are serious concerns about possible voter intimidation in Philadelphia, and today Jonathan wrote about courts having to intervene in some cases to ensure GOP poll watchers would be allowed in precincts that they were denied entry to or ejected from. Democratic theories about secret right-wing conspiracies to rig voting machines, however, show just how desperately they appear to be trying to explain away a fair and legal possible Romney victory. If liberals really were as confident as Nate Silver assures them they should be, this hysterical story wouldn’t be making the rounds.

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Unions Boosting Obama in Ohio?

Politico reports on a new AFL-CIO (I know, I know) poll, which finds Obama up five percentage points with union voters compared to 2008. Alexander Burns writes: “If Obama wins reelection tonight, much of the postgame will focus on his suport (sic) among nonwhite voters, but his edge in the Electoral College has also long depended on overperforming with Ohio whites. The union vote is a big, big part of that — not only in Ohio, but also in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.”

From the poll:

By a 41-point margin, Ohio union members are voting for President Obama (70%) over Mitt Romney (29%) in the presidential race. The early vote among Ohio union members tilts even more heavily in President Obama’s favor (79% to 21%).

Obama’s support among Ohio union members has increased by five percentage points since 2008. Our Election Night and post-election polling in 2008 showed Obama winning 65% of the Ohio union vote, so even accounting for each poll’s margin of error, Obama currently is performing at least as well among Ohio members, if not better, than he did in 2008.

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Politico reports on a new AFL-CIO (I know, I know) poll, which finds Obama up five percentage points with union voters compared to 2008. Alexander Burns writes: “If Obama wins reelection tonight, much of the postgame will focus on his suport (sic) among nonwhite voters, but his edge in the Electoral College has also long depended on overperforming with Ohio whites. The union vote is a big, big part of that — not only in Ohio, but also in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.”

From the poll:

By a 41-point margin, Ohio union members are voting for President Obama (70%) over Mitt Romney (29%) in the presidential race. The early vote among Ohio union members tilts even more heavily in President Obama’s favor (79% to 21%).

Obama’s support among Ohio union members has increased by five percentage points since 2008. Our Election Night and post-election polling in 2008 showed Obama winning 65% of the Ohio union vote, so even accounting for each poll’s margin of error, Obama currently is performing at least as well among Ohio members, if not better, than he did in 2008.

What goes unmentioned is how much union membership has shrunk since Obama took office. In Ohio alone, the rolls dropped by 10 percent between 2008 and 2011 — from 716,000 members to 647,000. That doesn’t even include any drop that took place over the past year, since those numbers aren’t available yet on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Looking at the swing states beyond Ohio, those numbers aren’t much better. As the Christian Science Monitor reported over the summer:

Since Obama took office, the numbers for union membership have shrunk. Nationally between 2008 and 2011, public and private union membership dropped by 3.3 percent. The numbers in the Midwest are more dramatic: a 14.5 percent slide in Wisconsin, 13.9 percent in Indiana, 12.9 in Michigan, 9.7 in Ohio, 8.1 in Pennsylvania, and 6.7 in Illinois, according to UnionStats.com.

So while Obama’s numbers may be up slightly with union members, there are also fewer of them out there. That means fewer feet on the ground for the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote efforts (which unions often assist with) and fewer voters forced to listen to pro-Democrat propaganda as a consequence of their union membership.

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U.S. Election Disappoints Western Europe

Much has been discussed throughout the election season about the two presidential candidates’ European preferences: Barack Obama has always been more comfortable with Western Europe, while Mitt Romney made it a priority to emphasize the oft-forgotten NATO allies to the east. But perhaps no one underscores the wisdom of Romney’s approach better than A.A. Gill–though unintentionally.

Gill, writing from London, takes to the pages of the New York Times to lecture America on Europe’s lost love for Obama. They had such high hopes for the worldly leftist. But Gill unwittingly demonstrates why Obama was leading much of the pre-election polling, despite presiding over an unpopular first term and sluggish economy: Obama was smart enough not to do what Western Europeans wanted him to do. It’s not a bad road map, ironically, for how to win a U.S. presidential election. Here’s Gill on the breaking of European hearts:

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Much has been discussed throughout the election season about the two presidential candidates’ European preferences: Barack Obama has always been more comfortable with Western Europe, while Mitt Romney made it a priority to emphasize the oft-forgotten NATO allies to the east. But perhaps no one underscores the wisdom of Romney’s approach better than A.A. Gill–though unintentionally.

Gill, writing from London, takes to the pages of the New York Times to lecture America on Europe’s lost love for Obama. They had such high hopes for the worldly leftist. But Gill unwittingly demonstrates why Obama was leading much of the pre-election polling, despite presiding over an unpopular first term and sluggish economy: Obama was smart enough not to do what Western Europeans wanted him to do. It’s not a bad road map, ironically, for how to win a U.S. presidential election. Here’s Gill on the breaking of European hearts:

Then it happened. It, meaning nothing. The first thing that didn’t happen was the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Then, the cessation of drone strikes didn’t happen. Then, any serious movement on the Palestinian question or the attempt to curb the bellicosely right-wing Israeli government didn’t happen.

I think Gill is being unfair to Obama. Let’s give the president due credit: he tried to make some of the mistakes and blunders Gill was hoping for. But you can imagine how difficult it would be for the president to run for reelection if he were fighting hard for Gill’s support. Obama has had enough trouble already because of his inexperienced bungling in the Middle East and his bizarrely belligerent treatment of Benjamin Netanyahu. But Gill wanted more, somehow. Gill–speaking for Western Europe, apparently–wanted public humiliation and suffering from the Israeli prime minister.

Obama also wanted to close Guantanamo Bay, before he learned a bit about the facility and its inmates. And the drones? They’ve been effective, and hey–Obama wants a second term.

Gill despairs at how conservative and right-wing the American Democrats are, comparable to Europe’s conservatives and Christian Democrats, he says. Where is the real left wing, he asks? He explains that “the absence of any sort of electable socialist movement in America is a constant subject of incomprehension.”

Then, he really lays on the guilt trip:

But the idea that a democratic president could want to disengage with the rest of the world and to retreat to fortress America, to pull up the drawbridge on a messy world, is the most inexplicably wounding thing of all. Meanwhile, the Republicans would want to get involved with the rest of us only to lay down the law and protect American interests and biblical Israel.

Imagine that. The American right only wants to keep some semblance of law and order, defend our allies, and–most unforgivably–protect our interests. It’s almost as if American politicians practice statecraft and behave as if they’ve been entrusted by their population with the protection and service of this great nation.

Who can Europeans trust, Gill pleads, to keep capitalism at bay and outsource American decision making to the pseudointellectuals of another country? No matter the outcome, Election Day in America must be difficult for someone like Gill, absorbing the quadrennial disappointment that, despite his great hope, the American electorate proves never to be quite foolish enough for him.

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The Importance of Projecting Non-Military Power

As we await election results, it is salutary to remember that, no matter who wins, the U.S. will face the same set of challenges—and we will have to address them with our existing governmental agencies and programs unless steps are taken to modify and improve what we currently have. In no area is this necessity more pressing than in our ability to project non-military power—to engage in political warfare, state-building, and related activities designed to shape the international environment in our favor without having to resort to the dispatch of large numbers of troops.

This is an especially compelling requirement in the greater Middle East, which is being reshaped by the Arab Spring. Although we tend to focus on the danger of jihadist takeovers—understandably so—in many ways the most common threat we actually face is state breakdown. In countries ranging from Mali and Libya to Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, institutions have broken down and the U.S. and our allies are struggling to stand up some kind of bulwark against extremism. We are not doing a very good job of it, unfortunately.

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As we await election results, it is salutary to remember that, no matter who wins, the U.S. will face the same set of challenges—and we will have to address them with our existing governmental agencies and programs unless steps are taken to modify and improve what we currently have. In no area is this necessity more pressing than in our ability to project non-military power—to engage in political warfare, state-building, and related activities designed to shape the international environment in our favor without having to resort to the dispatch of large numbers of troops.

This is an especially compelling requirement in the greater Middle East, which is being reshaped by the Arab Spring. Although we tend to focus on the danger of jihadist takeovers—understandably so—in many ways the most common threat we actually face is state breakdown. In countries ranging from Mali and Libya to Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, institutions have broken down and the U.S. and our allies are struggling to stand up some kind of bulwark against extremism. We are not doing a very good job of it, unfortunately.

A first step toward a better approach might be found in reading this thought-provoking essay by the Smith Richardson Foundation’s Nadia Schadlow. She argues for a “competitive engagement” strategy, which will mobilize civilian agencies to be more energetic and less lethargic by making them recognize that providing aid isn’t simply do-goodism—we are in a race with other states such as Iran and China and with stateless organizations such as al-Qaeda. If we don’t fill the vacuum, they will.

She argues for empowering organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy by giving them the kind of intelligence capabilities and the kind of freedom to act already enjoyed by the U.S. military. “America has tremendous, innate advantages in its political, economic and cultural instruments of power,” she writes. “But just as the military consistently hones its skills and constantly seeks to improve its instruments, so too must we improve our ability to use America’s non-military power, smartly.”

She has an excellent point that whoever controls the next administration would do well to ponder—and act upon.

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What Would an Ohio Recount Look Like?

At the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin previews what a recount would look like in Ohio. Forget not having a clear winner tonight — if the election comes down to a dispute over a few thousand votes in Ohio, we might not have a clear winner until after Thanksgiving:

In recent elections, Ohio voters have cast about two hundred thousand provisional ballots in major statewide contests. (Voters cast provisional ballots when there is some question about whether they are entitled to vote. The provisional ballot kicks the issue of the validity of the ballot down the road.) This year, the number may well grow. …

So what happens with the provisional ballots? According to Ohio law, the eighty-eight counties in the state are not even allowed to start counting the provisional ballots for ten days. In the meantime, those who cast provisional ballots are allowed to submit evidence that their votes should count—they can, for example, show forms of identification that they might not have brought with them to the polls on November 6th. 

This scenario isn’t necessarily a long-shot, either. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 200,000 votes in Ohio. Based on the early voting numbers and polls that show Ohio as a statistical tie, that margin is likely to shrink this time around. According to Toobin, provisional ballots have tended to number around 200,000 in recent Ohio elections, and there’s reason to think that might be higher this year.

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At the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin previews what a recount would look like in Ohio. Forget not having a clear winner tonight — if the election comes down to a dispute over a few thousand votes in Ohio, we might not have a clear winner until after Thanksgiving:

In recent elections, Ohio voters have cast about two hundred thousand provisional ballots in major statewide contests. (Voters cast provisional ballots when there is some question about whether they are entitled to vote. The provisional ballot kicks the issue of the validity of the ballot down the road.) This year, the number may well grow. …

So what happens with the provisional ballots? According to Ohio law, the eighty-eight counties in the state are not even allowed to start counting the provisional ballots for ten days. In the meantime, those who cast provisional ballots are allowed to submit evidence that their votes should count—they can, for example, show forms of identification that they might not have brought with them to the polls on November 6th. 

This scenario isn’t necessarily a long-shot, either. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 200,000 votes in Ohio. Based on the early voting numbers and polls that show Ohio as a statistical tie, that margin is likely to shrink this time around. According to Toobin, provisional ballots have tended to number around 200,000 in recent Ohio elections, and there’s reason to think that might be higher this year.

Here’s Toobin’s timeline:

On November 17th, the counties would begin counting the provisional ballots and conduct a canvass of all votes cast. This is called the official canvass, and it’s supposed to take ten days or less. The counties would report their totals to Ohio’s secretary of state, Jon Husted, who is a Republican. He would then determine if the candidates were within .25 per cent of each other—that is, a quarter of one per cent. If so, state law demands that he conduct a recount.

The recount, if it’s ordered, would probably take place in about five days.

That would bring us to December 1 — and that’s if everything goes smoothly. As we saw 12 years ago in Florida, there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong. Toobin notes two other factors that could have an impact on the recount:

Two more points about recounts. First, control of the process is crucial. Republicans controlled Florida in 2000. Remember the secretary of state Katherine Harris? (If not, refresh your memory.) A partisan Republican like Husted in charge of the process is like an extra percentage point or two in the vote count. Likewise, in Florida, Governor Rick Scott directs a team of loyal Republicans in supervising the electoral process. In short, no one in state government in either state will be cutting Obama any breaks.

Second, passion matters. In recounts, the side that wants to win the most usually does. (Jay Weiner also makes this point in his excellent book on the 2008 recount in the Minnesota Senate race, “This Is Not Florida.”)

In Florida, in 2000, James Baker III lead a coördinated political, media, and legal effort that swamped the threadbare Gore forces, who were led, timidly, by Warren Christopher.

Don’t expect either side to be caught off-guard this year. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are already lawyered up and ready for this. And the fact that Ohio has a Republican secretary of state is sure to be included in any media and political campaign Team Obama would launch in the event of a recount. If you think the race has been nasty so far, just imagine how much worse it would get under a recount scenario.

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It’s Now Public: Editors Rejigger Polls

With the poll-obsessed talk of the past six months, those who raise questions about problems with them are often subjected to scorn and derision on the grounds that they are simply objecting to surveys whose results they don’t like.

The objection is beside the point; who else but someone who is unhappy with a poll’s result would bother to raise the hood and look at the engine and see where it might be busted?

The leading objection raised this year is to polls whose findings suggest a more Democratic turnout in states than is likely to be the case. I go into that in a column today in the New York Post. 

A stunning tale today in the Salt Lake Tribune, however, reveals the dirty little secret of polls paid for by the media. The results are, in effect, owned by the media, and the media can insist that they be rejiggered.

The Tribune published a poll done by the respected Mason-Dixon firm that showed a 10-point lead for the county’s Republican candidate for mayor. The poll was released on Thursday. Later, editors for the paper objected to the results on the grounds that the poll had an insufficient number of Democrats in its sample:

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With the poll-obsessed talk of the past six months, those who raise questions about problems with them are often subjected to scorn and derision on the grounds that they are simply objecting to surveys whose results they don’t like.

The objection is beside the point; who else but someone who is unhappy with a poll’s result would bother to raise the hood and look at the engine and see where it might be busted?

The leading objection raised this year is to polls whose findings suggest a more Democratic turnout in states than is likely to be the case. I go into that in a column today in the New York Post. 

A stunning tale today in the Salt Lake Tribune, however, reveals the dirty little secret of polls paid for by the media. The results are, in effect, owned by the media, and the media can insist that they be rejiggered.

The Tribune published a poll done by the respected Mason-Dixon firm that showed a 10-point lead for the county’s Republican candidate for mayor. The poll was released on Thursday. Later, editors for the paper objected to the results on the grounds that the poll had an insufficient number of Democrats in its sample:

Tribune editor Nancy Conway acknowledged the problem.

“We are as concerned about this as anyone,” she said Monday. “As soon as we understood there was a problem we worked to correct it.

“We had no reason to doubt the poll until we saw others conducted over the same period and could see differences in the numbers. That raised questions,” Conway said. “We contacted our pollster who did additional research on Salt Lake County demographics and found there was indeed a flaw.

“We knew right then that we needed to correct our mistake and that’s what we are doing,” Conway said.

And so it was done, as the story explains.

The Salt Lake Tribune does not appear to have endorsed a candidate in the mayoral race, but it is a liberal paper in a conservative state that earned headlines nationwide for endorsing Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. So perhaps one can presume its editors favor the Democrat.

To recap: A newspaper pays for a poll. It doesn’t like the look of the results. So it asks the pollster to reexamine them and alter them by changing his “weights.” He does so; he may agree with the call (as the Mason Dixon pollster says he does in the story) or he may be simply serving the interests of his paying client.

And it will do so based on the partisan split—the very controversy that is dismissed so cavalierly by media types.

We only know about this one because of the highly unusual circumstances of its revision. The question you have to ask yourself now is: How many times does this happen before a poll is published

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What’s Behind the GOP’s Continuing Trouble Wooing Latino Voters?

When it comes to identity politics, the Obama White House’s “war on women” has dominated the conversation. But the significance of the women’s vote, in terms of demographics, is still generally overshadowed by the minority/white vote split. As Ronald Brownstein writes, President Obama needs about an 80/40 distribution to win reelection: 80 percent of minorities and 40 percent of white voters. And as Ruy Teixeira notes here, the Hispanic share of the vote has grown since the 2008 presidential election. Which is why polls showing a massive Latino preference for the Democratic ticket have Republicans nervous about more than just this one election.

But outreach to the Latino community presents its own problems. First of all, Republicans, and especially conservatives, are comfortable with identity politics when it comes to cultural divides and religious issues, but exceedingly uncomfortable when it comes to race or ethnicity. But more importantly, the GOP’s ability to attract Latino voters on the issues is often overstated, and presents something of a mirage. Take this recent poll of Latino voters, released about a week ago. It shows Obama getting 73 percent of the Latino vote, not because of immigration (an issue in which Obama has almost no interest), but because of the economy–exactly where Republicans thought they could make gains:

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When it comes to identity politics, the Obama White House’s “war on women” has dominated the conversation. But the significance of the women’s vote, in terms of demographics, is still generally overshadowed by the minority/white vote split. As Ronald Brownstein writes, President Obama needs about an 80/40 distribution to win reelection: 80 percent of minorities and 40 percent of white voters. And as Ruy Teixeira notes here, the Hispanic share of the vote has grown since the 2008 presidential election. Which is why polls showing a massive Latino preference for the Democratic ticket have Republicans nervous about more than just this one election.

But outreach to the Latino community presents its own problems. First of all, Republicans, and especially conservatives, are comfortable with identity politics when it comes to cultural divides and religious issues, but exceedingly uncomfortable when it comes to race or ethnicity. But more importantly, the GOP’s ability to attract Latino voters on the issues is often overstated, and presents something of a mirage. Take this recent poll of Latino voters, released about a week ago. It shows Obama getting 73 percent of the Latino vote, not because of immigration (an issue in which Obama has almost no interest), but because of the economy–exactly where Republicans thought they could make gains:

On many issues, a large percentage of Latino voters feel it makes no difference whether Obama or Romney wins.  For example, regarding the prospect of immigration reform, while 52% think chances are better under an Obama presidency, 37% of Latino voters say it makes no difference if Obama wins, the prospects will not change. Regarding the degree of compromise and cooperation in the Congress, 45% of Latino voters say a second Obama term would not improve cooperation in Congress, and 43% a Romney presidency would make no difference….

For the ten weeks the impreMedia-Latino Decisions poll has been taken the most important issue for Latinos consistently has been the economy and the latest release revealed that Romney and the Republican party have been unable to convince Latino voters that they will be better at improving the it.  Seventy-three percent of Latino voters trust Obama and the Democrats to make the right decisions to improve the economy compared to only 18% that trust Romney and the Republicans.

Those are easy numbers to interpret: 73 percent trust Obama on the economy, and 73 percent say they’re voting for Obama. Republicans are right that the economy is an important–sometimes the most important–issue to Latino voters, just as it is to most of the country, especially at a time of high unemployment.

This poses a challenge to Republican “outreach” to Hispanic voters. There is almost surely some ground to make up by taking a more welcoming stance on immigration, such as the one that hurt Rick Perry in the Republican primary debates. Perry’s position, and that of many Republicans, has the advantage of also being the stronger economic argument as well. And whatever a particular politician’s stance on immigration, much of the harsh rhetoric about immigration is gratuitous and counterproductive anyway–a nation of immigrants likes to think of itself that way, and immigrants and their descendants often want to keep the door open behind them for others as well.

But outside of immigration, the GOP has more of an uphill climb with Latino voters than many of those advocating better outreach seem willing to admit. The social conservatism of Latino immigrants, like the social conservatism of many in the black community, does not seem to motivate them to pull the lever for the Republican Party candidates. The economy, then, would seem to be the logical issue on which to conduct this outreach. After all, many immigrants came to this country for economic opportunity to begin with, and as immigrant communities become more settled and economically successful, they often vote more conservatively as well. (The Jewish community is, of course, the exception that proves the rule.)

While I imagine having conservative proponents of the right’s economic opportunity agenda, like the extraordinarily charismatic Susana Martinez, would help get that message across, right now Latino voters simply prefer the left’s economic programs. Again, one could argue that this immigrant group will, like the others, move rightward over time. And of course the outreach to Latino voters makes sense anyway. But for those who argue that the GOP’s outreach this cycle has been severely lacking, the question arises: Excluding immigration, what else could have been done to sway the vote? Polling seems to suggest an answer conservatives probably don’t want to hear.

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Obama Camp to Supporters: Don’t Panic if Exit Polls Look Bad

Via Politicker, the Obama campaign is just oozing confidence heading into the home stretch:

In a conference call this afternoon, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign had one central message for their supporters when Election Day arrives tomorrow: They should “keep calm,” even if they hear snippets of information favoring Republican Mitt Romney. …

The fear, she explained, was early numbers leaking before voters have finished going to the polls, creating unnecessary panic and pessimism among Democrats.

“Keep calm and tweet on,” Ms. Cutter said. “So, no matter what you hear tomorrow about turnout in Republican counties or exit polls, particularly early in the day, please remember and remind your readers that, because of early votes, we’re where we need to be to win….I don’t think there’s going to be official exits until the end of the day, but if things leak out that aren’t validated or weighted, please stay calm.”

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Via Politicker, the Obama campaign is just oozing confidence heading into the home stretch:

In a conference call this afternoon, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign had one central message for their supporters when Election Day arrives tomorrow: They should “keep calm,” even if they hear snippets of information favoring Republican Mitt Romney. …

The fear, she explained, was early numbers leaking before voters have finished going to the polls, creating unnecessary panic and pessimism among Democrats.

“Keep calm and tweet on,” Ms. Cutter said. “So, no matter what you hear tomorrow about turnout in Republican counties or exit polls, particularly early in the day, please remember and remind your readers that, because of early votes, we’re where we need to be to win….I don’t think there’s going to be official exits until the end of the day, but if things leak out that aren’t validated or weighted, please stay calm.”

Exit polling is notoriously unreliable, so Cutter is actually giving good advice here. But as Erika Johnson points out, the early votes really don’t seem to have the Obama campaign where they “need to be” — and, based on Stephanie Cutter’s apparent concern about election day turnout, she knows it. Would a campaign that believed it was cruising on early votes really be this jittery about leaked exit polls? It sounds like they think the race is more of a toss-up than they’re letting on.

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Good Signs for Romney in Ohio Early Voting?

Breitbart flags this tweet from The Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar, which suggests good news for Mitt Romney in the Ohio early voting numbers:

Obama won Ohio in 2008 thanks to his strong early vote advantage. Whatever ground he loses to Romney in early voting, he’ll need to make up for with higher Election Day turnout. According to the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman, this could be a problem for Obama, based on the turnout trends since 2008:

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Breitbart flags this tweet from The Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar, which suggests good news for Mitt Romney in the Ohio early voting numbers:

Obama won Ohio in 2008 thanks to his strong early vote advantage. Whatever ground he loses to Romney in early voting, he’ll need to make up for with higher Election Day turnout. According to the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman, this could be a problem for Obama, based on the turnout trends since 2008:

We won’t know the actual early vote results until the polls close (the Gannett numbers from this appear to be inaccurate), but the latest indications are good for Romney. Keep in mind, if the early vote breakdown is very close or favors Romney, that’s also a sign of serious flaws in the state polls. Rasmussen’s Ohio poll yesterday had Obama leading Romney in the early vote by 23 points, and PPP’s had Obama up by 21.

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The Real Bellwether May Be Virginia

For most of the presidential campaign, the focus has been on Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without the Buckeye State, and Barack Obama’s victory there was a crucial factor in determining the 2008 election. The two campaigns have not only poured millions into the battle there this year, but the candidates have also spent more time there than in any other state. Ohio will be crucial, but the real key to understanding whether Obama or Mitt Romney will win tonight may come in Virginia.

It will be difficult, but still possible, for Romney to win without Ohio. He can make up for a defeat there by taking other swing states, such as Colorado or Wisconsin, or by pulling an upset in Michigan or Pennsylvania. Yet the GOP cannot take back the White House without Virginia. Indeed, if after the polls close there at 7 p.m. (EST) tonight the numbers show Obama pilling up a huge lead in the D.C. suburbs, that will be a sign that the long election night most of us are anticipating may be a lot shorter than we thought. On the other hand, if Romney posts competitive totals in northern Virginia, that will be an indication not only that he can take back a state Obama won in 2008, but that the turnout figures there — and perhaps around the country — will conform more with GOP expectations than those of the Democrats. More than anything else mentioned by the pundits, this is the key to the election.

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For most of the presidential campaign, the focus has been on Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without the Buckeye State, and Barack Obama’s victory there was a crucial factor in determining the 2008 election. The two campaigns have not only poured millions into the battle there this year, but the candidates have also spent more time there than in any other state. Ohio will be crucial, but the real key to understanding whether Obama or Mitt Romney will win tonight may come in Virginia.

It will be difficult, but still possible, for Romney to win without Ohio. He can make up for a defeat there by taking other swing states, such as Colorado or Wisconsin, or by pulling an upset in Michigan or Pennsylvania. Yet the GOP cannot take back the White House without Virginia. Indeed, if after the polls close there at 7 p.m. (EST) tonight the numbers show Obama pilling up a huge lead in the D.C. suburbs, that will be a sign that the long election night most of us are anticipating may be a lot shorter than we thought. On the other hand, if Romney posts competitive totals in northern Virginia, that will be an indication not only that he can take back a state Obama won in 2008, but that the turnout figures there — and perhaps around the country — will conform more with GOP expectations than those of the Democrats. More than anything else mentioned by the pundits, this is the key to the election.

For weeks, if not months, we’ve been discussing the main point of contention about the polls. Those surveys that were based on samples with far more respondents identifying themselves as Democrats than Republicans always showed the president leading the race. Those based on samples that had only a small Democratic edge or even were much better for Romney. Republicans have argued that there is no way Democrats could duplicate the massive advantage they enjoyed in 2008 when a wave of “hope and change” fervor elected Obama. But Democrats and liberal pundits claim that changes in the demographic makeup of the electorate as it gets less white will make up for any diminution of enthusiasm for the president after four generally disappointing years in office.

Virginia is ground zero for those expectations, as there is no doubt that it has become more racially and ethnically diverse. But if Romney can prevail there anyway as a result of lower Democratic turnout and much greater enthusiasm on the part of Republicans, then that will mean more than just a win in the Old Dominion. Good numbers for Romney in Virginia’s upscale suburbs, where Democrats think they have the edge, could mean that the same lesson will apply in other places and foretell disaster for the president.

As with the communities outside of the nation’s capital, a strong GOP showing in the suburbs around Philadelphia could offset the huge plurality that the Democratic machine in that city will manufacture for the president by fair means or foul. And if Romney steals blue Pennsylvania from the Democrats, there is little doubt he will be taking the oath of office in January.

In other words, the true bellwether tonight will be Virginia. Rather than waiting for Ohio, once the networks declare the outcome in Virginia (assuming, that is, that we’ll have a declared winner tonight), we’ll have a very good idea of who will be the next president.

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