Election 2012: The States
Republican strategist Karl Rove, in his column in The Wall Street Journal June 23, made a compelling case why he thought President Obama would likely lose his reelection bid in 2012. Whereas, Rhodes Cook, in Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, points out that amidst all the carnage, there is a big asset in Obama’s favor that has long been associated with presidents who successfully win reelection: a clear path to renomination.
Cook points out a political and historical rule of thumb: Presidents with little or no opposition in their party’s presidential primaries go on to win reelection, while those who must weather a significant primary challenge are defeated in the fall election. Cook has charts and graphs and makes historical references – and even points out Obama’s late June Gallup Poll job approval rating of 43% is below Ford and George H.W. Bush at similar points in their presidencies.
Meanwhile, the latest unemployment rate for May 2011 of 9.1% is higher than that for every other recent president before an election except Ronald Reagan. The weak economy, the high jobless rate, the enormous annual deficits and accumulated debt, are all going to be tough to defend for the party in power. There is nothing-cunning about 9 to 10% unemployment for an entire 4-year administration. And, that excludes foreign policy rumblings.
As Rove opines, in politics, political fortunes can wax and wane. And weak incumbents can defeat even weaker challengers. At the same time, Obama is now at the mercy of policies and events he has set in motion. He can’t escape accountability, especially on the ongoing poor economy. In 16 months, a lot can happen, especially when these cunning Democrats pull out all the stops and have the media to prop him up.
So, we can expect to see and hear rather remarkable things starting today extending out to next year as the Democrats try to change the subject to something other than Obama’s record. Compared to other recent presidents at a similar point in their tenure, Obama’s late June approval rating of 43% in the Gallup Poll ranks below every other recent president except Jimmy Carter.
Think of this article as a little more than an early exercise in election analysis and pontification. Nothing more. At this point in time, you can pretty much ignore most polls. Polls too often shape rather than gauge public opinion. We are too far out and the GOP candidate has not even been selected. But play along. Obama’s job approval rating has been hovering near the fault line between probable re-election and probable “one-term” presidency for over a year.
The magic line for an incumbent president, while not precise, can be considered to be at about the 48% mark. If Obama’s job approval rating is below or hovering at 45% or so next fall, he will be in trouble. And if it is above 50% he will be looking good. But, state-by-state surveys often show a very different picture than national approval polls. So, when we peel back the spin, the boasting, and the partisan hyperbole, we get the following:
Structurally, 2012 is not at all friendly to Obama. In fact, the 2012 landscape will be more like 2004 than 2008. Let’s start out with the basics. Obama is likely not going to win any state he lost in 2008. He won nine  states in 2008 that Democrats did not in 2004. But, Obama was tied or trailing in six  of those states prior to the market crash. There are a million different maps. But the GOP’s priorities start with these nine “top tier” states.
· New Mexico
· North Carolina
The President is hoping lightning strikes in the same place twice. But, the promise of a fresh start in 2008 will be replaced by his record of the last 4 years in 2012. If there is a silver lining for Obama’s re-election, beyond incumbency, it’s the lack of clarity in the existing GOP field. That will change. In 2008, Obama won NC by less than 1 percent – 0.3% in fact, and he won Florida by 2.8%. In Virginia, Obama won by 6%. In 2010, the entire Ohio River valley and Upper Midwest outside of Cook County Illinois rejected Obama. And, the Republicans control all the major governorships and legislative state houses in just about every one of those states.
Want to have some fun? I like this interactive site to play with scenarios. You can make your own personal 2012 election map scenarios. To start, given todays climate, Obama has virtually no chance of carrying any of the McCain states, so the Republican nominee starts with a base of 173. Add six  votes due to gains of electoral votes in these states due to reapportionment, and we’re up to 179 as a base for the Republican.
Lets say Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida, which were all very close flip back to “R” in 2012 — again regardless of Republican candidate. That is another 73 electoral votes, which brings the strong Republican total to 252. Let’s make the South solid again and assume Virginia goes Republican. Add another 13 votes and we are up to 265 votes. That means Obama has to run the table on these states to win: Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Obama also has New Hampshire, Nevada and New Mexico to contend with. Missouri is likely beyond their reach in 2012. Maine could go GOP too, and so could Wisconsin and Minnesota if Pawlenty is on the ballot – even as a VP . That would add another 24. If any one of those states falls, along with Nebraska’s one electoral vote, we have a GOP President. [Note: Nebraska is one of only two states that award some of their presidential electoral votes by congressional districts].
North Carolina voted for a D candidate once in 40 years pre-Obama. Virginia last voted for a D candidate – NEVER. Indiana last voted for a D candidate – NEVER. Colorado voted for a D candidate once in the last 40 years pre-Obama. All are Red states, and almost all of the states on that list went Republican in 2004, except PA. Colorado will be a battle with its Hispanic population. As will New Mexico.
Consider this: With dismal unemployment and one of the highest rates in housing foreclosures, you can write off Florida if Obama has offended the Jews enough. And, according to a Quinnipiac poll in July, Obama’s approval rating in Pennsylvania was 43%; they were 56% in 2008. And, a new poll from Muhlenberg College in late August, Obama’s approval dipped to 35% among the state’s registered voters. If the election were held today, he would lose PA. And, in New York, a deep blue state, Obama’s job approval in mid-August plunged to 36%.
No one is suggesting Obama will lose NY – but it is an indicator that his overall national approval ratings are dropping everywhere and are lower than the nationwide polls are suggesting. If Obama’s ratings are plummeting in NY, it’s likely because they don’t think he’s far enough to the left. On election night 2012, if Obama were to win New York by say, only 52%, [and he will win NY] watch in glee, as the voting heads west, it will be over before nightfall.
Republicans can watch Obama’s numbers dwindle, as the economic recovery never materializes. Conservatives should take no comfort from this. The left will vote reliably for Obama. He’ll have a hard floor of 40% or so. And, remember what Rhodes Cook pointed out: Presidents with little or no opposition in their party’s presidential primaries go on to win reelection.
Even with all the new Voter ID laws, the Democrat Party will pull out all the stops to get this duffer re-elected. They will do this because they know the survival of their party is on the line. These cunning Democrats are busy playing the most important political chess game in modern politics. Manipulation is their forte. It will be impossible for Obama to run on his record in 2012, sure, but Obama can win next year. Do not underestimate the power of incumbency and money. But the map is very difficult for him.
In a Rasmussen survey, dated July 2, overall, 49% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the president’s performance. Fifty percent (50%) at least somewhat disapprove. Yet, watch this video, as an overconfident Mr. Obama tells his Philadelphia audience on June 30, ”I got five and half more years to go!”