Election 2012: The long, slow retreat of Obama for America.

It’s funny, really.  Somebody like Mark Halperin sees this:

Barack Obama’s decision to base his re-election campaign outside of Washington seems to be working pretty darn well. The campaign’s massive, high-rise headquarters in Chicago’s Loop achieves a fine balance between 2008’s hip-casual dorm room (there’s a Ping-Pong table and cheeky homemade signage) and 2012’s systematized Death Star (there are more employees than I have ever seen in a political campaign, with work stations subdivided as ever more employees are added). The place hums from early morning until late at night, designed for maximum efficiency and manifest focus.

and thinks “Success!” I see it and think “High burn rate.”  Also: “Hubris.”  Let’s talk about why.

Visualization of the Electoral College totals will be helpful, so I’m going to show a series of maps (via 270toWin) and give my explanation of what I think each one represents.  A lot of this is subjective, so if you think that I’m generally full of it anyway you have my permission to keep thinking that.  Anyway, let’s start with the baseline:

These are the 2008 results, adjusted for Electoral College changes (which cost the Democrats 6 Electoral Votes (EVs) right there).  This is the ceiling for Barack Obama.  I know that they claim that Arizona is in play for them, but I suspect that even Team Obama’s leadership sees that as a morale-keeping exercise.  So… 359 EVs.  Good number, right?  89 EV margin.  And yes, it was… and then the administration started to, well, govern.

This is Fallback Map #1:

It shows Indiana switching sides – which pretty much everybody in the business has already conceded – Nebraska going fully Republican, and both North Carolina and Florida becoming toss-ups.  This is a map that obviously Team Obama would like to see being the reality on the ground in September of 2012… and, indeed, it was probably the reality on the ground in September… of 2010.  I’m showing this map partially because I do think that it was expected by the Democrats that this would effectively be their 2012 map, and partially because it bears noting just how volatile a lead of 89 EVs can be.

This is the Fallback #2 map:

And this is the map that should be front and center at the Democratic party’s HQ right now, because it should alarm the heck out of them.  With NC flipped (and the NC Democratic party is in freefall right now), and IA, NH, & OH added to FL as the states in play the Democratic margin is down to 6 EVs.  Which is to say, the 89 EV lead that formerly existed has been reduced by over 90% at this point.  This should not fill the Democrats with confidence, given that there’s this map:

This is a representation of the last Cook Political Report snapshot (May 10, 2012) of the race.  Toss-up states are CO, IA, NV, OH, PA, & VA (note that NC & NH are conceded to the GOP).  Now, obviously some of those states will go to the Democrats… but not all of them.  And there aren’t that many combinations to make the numbers come out right.  Here’s the best firewall that I could come up with on the Democrats’ behalf:

…and even then it requires a Hail Mary play: write off OH, FL, & VA (all three of which have gone strongly for the GOP on the state level since 2008); retain CO, NV, & PA (that last one will be a bear, but they could do it).  Also retain IA… and somehow suck two EVs out of NE.  That keeps the EV at 270.  A bare win.  That is the Democratic firewall.  That, to use a pop culture phrase, should be the Democratic party’s zombie plan.

And here’s the thing: I don’t think that the kids overpopulating Central Obama Hive #1 in Chicago really understand this.  I think that they’re still operating under the assumptions of the Baseline map, with the avant-garde feeling all transgressive by embracing the Fallback #1 map and the IT guys in the basement morbidly looking at a variant of Fallback #2.  It has perhaps not occurred to them yet that there are implications to the way that Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all went severely Republican in 2009 and 2010; or that the Virginia and North Carolina state Democratic parties both decided to shoot themselves in the head, just in time for the 2012 elections*.  If it had sunk in, then their unofficial motto wouldn’t be “Be confident, but take nothing for granted.” It’d be “Hold the line! Make the [expletive deleted] fight for every inch.”

Mind you, the fact that they haven’t a clue?  Great news.

Moe Lane

PS: Some of you will probably now want to argue that Mitt Romney does not have a notably rosier electoral strategy at the current time.  So noted, and I agree with you: both candidates have a hard row to hoe this election cycle.  Fortunately: from what I’ve seen of and heard from the Romney campaign, they grimly understand this.  Even more fortunately: from what I’ve seen from the Obama campaign, they do not.

*Admittedly, Virginia’s Democratic party did this in 2009, which hides the symptoms a bit – but they haven’t exactly recovered from their statewide losses in 2009 and 2011, either.  And that will make a difference when Obama tries to campaign there this year.

32 thoughts on “Election 2012: The long, slow retreat of Obama for America.”

  1. Firewall Map #5 – color PA, WI, IA, CO and NM as red. Obama’s ceiling is 220 EV’s. And if the “Obama will lose in a landslide” theory gains legs despite the MSM, then break out the red paint for Map #6.
    Sucks to be Obama.

  2. You know that commercial where the family dances around the tax place to ‘This is how we do it’? Yeah. That.

  3. I hadn’t thought of the “burn rate” analogy, but it’s a great one, Moe — and not just money.
    Think about it. In a semi-normal election cycle, the “dog on the roof” and “high-school bully” stories would be October stories, September at the earliest, designed to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths without there being enough time left before the election to counteract them. It’s only May, and they’re already using them up. Either they think they’ve got lots more they can use later (just like the dotcommers always thought there’d be another stupid venture capitalist to provide a “cash infusion”) or they’re being remarkably profligate.

    1. They’ve been burning through a lot of the stuff that they were expecting to use, Ric. Remember that birth certificate nonsense? The quiet consensus among the VRWC was that Obama was planning to ‘settle’ that ‘issue’ this summer, because they figured that the mainstream GOP candidates wouldn’t want to bring it up on their own. Which is true; but they seriously misjudged how loudly Donald Trump could shout, and how dead Trump is to shame.

  4. I hope so .. but there are always wild cards. I wouldn’t rule out a Reichstag fire in September or October.

  5. Isn’t there a trusim in business that no company ever does anything useful after it builds it Ultimate Perfect Headquarters Building?

  6. And what if Romney actually carries his home states of Massachusetts and Michigan? Or even one of them? What about the drubbing the democrats are taking in state races in Wisconsin right now? If the Obama campaign isn’t in paranoid desperation mode right now they’re in trouble. Their best chance may be that Ron Paul steals the nomination, but that brings them all kinds of new challenges that they haven’t planned on how to deal with. It’s going to get really ugly as their desperation meets the Chicago way.

  7. @Dave P:
    If there isn’t, there surely should be. That is about as true as any basis for prediction can be.

  8. The Dems barely won Wisconsin in ’00 and ’04, combined with Walker’s budgetary success, and people upset by the public sector unions, I bet that it will be in play, too.

    I also see no reason for Romney not to make a run at Michigan.

  9. I think this election comes down to Virginia. The higher turnout in a Presidential election means that the GOP edge in off-years is probably gone; the growth of blue NoVA may give Dems the edge. Currently, I’d say the President’s likely to win it about 60% of the time; if Romney can’t take Virginia, he needs some gains out West, which may be tough.

    Bottom line: Virginia is the election. Never mind Chancellorsville – Virginia this November will be the battle of Presidentsville.

  10. Believe me, no one in Chicago, period, sees Romney as someone who can win much more than Utah and Mississippi. As far as they’re concerned the argument for brilliant deep thinkin’ Obama’s masterful handling of the economy, plus his singlehanded takedown of Osama Bush Laden, makes his superiority self-evident. They have no idea how tight even the best case is, nor that there’s a reasonable chance of a serious drubbing.

    I know everybody likes to look at this state by state, but I don’t think the electoral college happens in a vacuum. I think national sentiment will run way or the other in November, and the loser will lose by healthy double digits in the electoral college in the end. Either in 2012 independents and fence-sitters will believe Obama is successful, or they’ll believe he isn’t and he ain’t gonna be, and that choice will sway the final ratio pretty strongly in one direction or the other.

  11. I wonder what the Democrats projections looked like in 1980. I was an intern in the election unit at WCBS TV then and the ” journalists” there were stunned. I recall tears being shed. I myself was shocked. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t see it coming. Intheir defense they did live in a bubble and I was working my way through college by driving a taxi. They talked to people, but only listened to other over educated over privileged elites and I talked to all sorts of people and listened to most of them, I depended on tips you know. They couldn’t believe that that B movie actor could be elected president. That’s when I discovered I had no future in the news business.

  12. @Ric Locke
    “Think about it. In a semi-normal election cycle, the “dog on the roof” and “high-school bully” stories would be October stories, September at the earliest, designed to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths without there being enough time left before the election to counteract them. It’s only May, and they’re already using them up. Either they think they’ve got lots more they can use later (just like the dotcommers always thought there’d be another stupid venture capitalist to provide a “cash infusion”) or they’re being remarkably profligate.”

    That thought occurred to me too, but I believe that in this case the BHO team is trying to soil Romney over a very long period so that he will be deemed unacceptable by the electorate in the end. The risk in doing these in October is that the BHO campaign will be perceived as in desperate straits and subject to ridicule.

    I think Romney needs to keep firing back and remind the public of BHO’s drug use (especially snorting coke), and his failure to release his college transcripts. If BHO is really as smart as they want us to think he is, what is he afraid of?

  13. “Think about it. In a semi-normal election cycle, the “dog on the roof” and “high-school bully” stories would be October stories, September at the earliest, designed to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths without there being enough time left before the election to counteract them. It’s only May, and they’re already using them up.”

    I’ve wondered about that too. Contrary to Moe’s assertion, even if the underlings in the Obama campaign think they have a lock, I bet people like Axelrod are terrified.

    They had to trot out the gay marriage thing because their fundraising isn’t going well, so they have to depend on Hollywood more than ever, and they are throwing everything else out there in the hopes that they can keep it close until something comes to save them – an unexpected upturn in the economy, the American people uniting behind Obama in the wake of an Israeli strike on Iran – something.

    Once the conventional wisdom is that Obama is losing badly, he is toast.

  14. Virginia is quite volatile. The state hasn’t seen the downturn much of the rest of the country has due to the federal government influence on DC’s VA suburbs. Do those residents, in the state’s wealthiest, most populous, and most culturally liberal area, still feel the effects of the downturn and will they blame the president enough to allow the other conservative regions to turn the state red again? VA’s popular governor, Bob McDonnell, has an enormous warchest that may help make the difference.

    Wildcards are recent state Dem attempts to trot out the “war on women” card following new restrictions on abortions (mandatory ultrasound law), and a quarrel over legislative power-sharing where Dems nearly prevented a budget from being signed.

  15. One of the things that impresses me about Romney, and I hate to have to admit this because I am a dyed-in-the-wool Palin man, is that Romney’s team is very dissimilar to the way the Bush people approached this. He and his team do not let charges from Chicago go unanswered. That is enormously important to those of us who are used to watching the Clown Show that is the Establishment GOP.

    That said, Obama is rolling out his negative ads (“Swiss Account!”, etc…) already, which is an attempt to relentlessly paint Romney as the unacceptable choice. How Romney remains focused on the economy, as Reagan did in 1980, will tell the tale. The economy and jobs are EVERYTHING to Romney.

  16. “Isn’t there a trusim in business that no company ever does anything useful after it builds it Ultimate Perfect Headquarters Building?”

    Heh. That one’s been bandied about wrt the new proposed Apple headquarters.

    A.K.A. The Spaceship.

    The time to short AAPL is just .. about .. NOW.

  17. I live in Iowa, and think that a tossup is the best that Obama can hope for. There is nowhere near the enthusiasm that existed for him in 2008, and many people are happy to say that they are fed up with him. (But then again, maybe I’m living in my own little bubble.)

  18. Meanwhile, on the ground in Ohio…

    I was looking at the Ohio for Obama FB page this week and they were showing pics of folding card tables set up on street corners with people trolling voter registrations. Still part of the Chicago machine, but the optics are quite different. This resembled a Girls Scout cookie sale.

    A think the basic strategy here is twofold:

    1. Make the state the Summer White House
    2. Vote early, vote often, ID optional

  19. I think the Romney camp knows it has its work cut out, because they know they are not going to get the conservative vote. I believe a lot of conservatives are sick and tired of the GOP telling conservatives they need to compromise, while the GOP never admits that it would be nice if the GOP compromised with conservatives once in a while.

    Conservatives are pretty well fed up with the idea that they’re somehow to blame for election losses by the GOP, when the reality is that the GOP should perhaps try running an actual conservative once in a while.

    I suspect the Obama camp is well aware that the Romney camp hasn’t exactly endeared itself with conservatives and will attack that weakness.

  20. Remember when Reagan responded “There he goes again” to Carter’s attempt to make a baseless charge?

    Would that Romney be more like Reagan.

    Remember when Clinton prepped the 1992 fall election media battlespace by spending the summer repeating over and over again that those mean ol’ Republicans were going to say bad things about him blah blah blah then as the fall campaign got underway the Bush campaign couldn’t make anything stick against Mr. “I didn’t inhale”?

    Would that Romney be as cunning as a serpent.

  21. I do not think the map looks this good for Obama at all.

    What is weird is that Romney being a blue-blood NorthEasterner actually works to his benefit. Obama is going to have to spend time and resources playing defense in Blue States. PA is in play. NH is a lock for Team Red. CT may be in play. Romney could make a run at NY, just to make Obama defend. Michigan is in play.

    What if Walker wins big in WI in June? Then he goes around the State with Romney. That has an effect on perceptions in IA, too, which is definitely in place. Romney has a play in NV, and NM, too. OH looks good for him.

    I live in WA. This is not a sure thing here, either. Lots of true libs here. Not many actual Leftists. They do not like dirty politics and corruption here. Romney would play rather well here. The Repub Governor has areal chance here, being a technocrat like Romney.

    What I am saying is that there are a tremendous number of battleground States. Obama’s beginning Electoral college advantage is nowhere near the level of previous Dem advantages. He is not secure at all. He has to fight the Red Tide everywhere. Call him the unheroic version of the Little Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike, and more cracks opening.

  22. Blake, you’re half right and half wrong. Conservatives ARE sick of being served the wimpy-mush-of-the-week and thenvbeing told it’s THEIR fault if it doesn’t win the election; but there’s no way Obama and the Dems can capitalize on this.
    In an ideal world, the DNC would be working overtime to split off social and fiscal cons from Romney’s coalition, but they just don’t speak the language and can’t master the gentle art of avoiding giving Cons good reasons to turn out and vote anyway.

  23. I disagree on Romney not getting the conservative vote. When I lived in PA, I worked to get Santorum elected as senator in the 90s GOP surge there. I like him and think he’s a good man. I feel the same way about Romney.

    I think independents would not flock to Santorum if he was the nominee, choosing to stay home. Whereas the conservatives will not view Romney as worse than Obama, and they’ll come out and vote in droves. Let’s be blunt, the middle is where the swing is and Romney will appeal to the swing assuming he doesn’t screw it up.

  24. PA is not in play right now. The latest poll shows Obama up seven points, and the pols in Philly will make sure they’ll have enough “walking around money” and transportation to get the bums to the polls to vote multiple times.

    But the story to watch for there is the effect the Voter ID law will have. The test run during the primary went well, so unless a court stops it at the last minute, it’ll be used in November. It will be interesting to see how the numbers play out in Philly.

  25. I am in Colorado, but lived until recently in Nevada. And, find it ludicrous that it is considered a swing state this time, or even leaning towards Obama. Last election was a split – Republican Governor and Democratic Senator Harry Reid – a Mormon. And, now the state has two Mormon Senators. Reid got both the casinos and their labor unions behind him, a level of cooperation that is apparently almost unprecedented.

    Moving back to Colorado, I am reminded when this sort of thing comes up, that in places like Nevada, the Mormons are prevalent and powerful enough, that you pretty much know who is LDS and who is not, much more so than any other religion in the state. See that in parts of the Phoenix area too. There is a saying that if you are litigating (for decent stakes) in Las Vegas, you need to have a Mormon sitting at counsel table, which is why I think that there are Reids in, I believe, all four of the top law firms in the state (definitely top 3). (Four Reid sons and the son-in-law are all attorneys – one of five was an in-house lawyer last I heard).

    I don’t see Nevada as being close. Mormons will be very energized. Casino unions not that happy, given the President suggesting that people go elsewhere to vacation. Blacks not as significant as the Mormons. Hispanic Republican governor. Much of the youth not as well educated, as in places like Colorado. And, did I mention the Mormons?

    Mentioning Colorado, I see it being more in play this year. Traditionally Republican, but pretty centrist right now. Democratic Governor, but split legislature, and he is the type that Coloradoans love – not the career politician, but an iconoclastic businessman. I also think that its status as most educated state went into the mix too in 2008 – but Romney has two graduate degrees from Harvard, to Obama’s one AA Harvard degree. And, Obama was hip. Maybe not so much any more – we shall see. And, while not being dominated by Mormons, they are close enough and plentiful enough, that they aren’t feared. And, last I knew, the Republicans still had a very slight registration edge. I would put it swing, with a very slight edge to Romney. Should be interesting.

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