Supporters of Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann–the two GOP frontrunners–tout their experiences as Republican leaders in blue states as evidence they can be strong general election candidates. But their home states (especially the media) haven’t been playing along. Just how much would their inability to win their home states matter in 2012?
While a hostile press is no guarantee they couldn’t win the state, I doubt anyone would put money on Romney winning Massachusetts. For her part, Bachmann’s outspokenness as a religious, socially conservative woman has earned her the scorn of liberals in Minnesota (and elsewhere). Both states are among the bluest in the nation.
The Boston Herald leads today with the cover headline: “Get a Clue, Mitt!” (The headline accompanying the online story is “Mitt Romney’s red-faced run.”) The story is unflattering, but pales in comparison with some of the hits he’s taken from other local press.
So, while it’s obviously possible for a Republican to win the presidency without Minnesota or Massachusetts, does it make a difference for Bachmann and Romney? The answer from history would seem to be: Yes.
The last candidate of either party to win the presidency without winning his state of residence was Richard Nixon in 1968, but even that example is flawed because Nixon had moved to New York by that time, yet his political career had been in California, which he won in 1968. That means you would have to go back to 1916, when Woodrow Wilson lost New Jersey on his way to re-election. If we discount Nixon, the only other exception is James Polk in 1844. (Now there’s a slogan. “Show ‘Em That Polk Wasn’t A Fluke: Vote Romney!”)
There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that home-state enthusiasm can be a powerful lift to a campaign. George W. Bush didn’t win Minnesota or Massachusetts either, but he had an effective ground game emanating from Texas. A candidate without a state often looks adrift and rambling. Another reason is that low local popularity and a home state mostly devoid of good press can be a constant, free source of negative advertising by challenging or unraveling the candidate’s legislative accomplishments in that state. (On this Romney is something of an exception, since the Massachusetts press is willing to give him credit for his health care reform–though this may do more harm than good.)
Obviously, winning your home state is no guarantee of winning the election–just ask John Kerry or George H.W. Bush.
So perhaps this is where Rick Perry has an advantage. There will no doubt be negative press in Texas if he runs, but there will also be plenty of encouragement and a hearty base of support. Of course, even if he does run, those advantages would not fully kick in until the general election. First he’d have to win the nomination. Actually, first he’d have to declare his candidacy.