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“Putting Odds on the 2012 Presidential Race” by Clark Judge

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The Monday column from Clark Judge:

Putting Odds on the 2012 Presidential Race
By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc. <> ; chairman, Pacific Research Institute <>

This past week, in Washington and around the country, Republican activists have been having a collective anxiety attack. Everywhere you go, you hear doubts that no likely candidate has what it takes to beat Mr. Obama. Following are two ways – polls and electoral votes — of assessing this worry.

Nearly as I can determine, pollster Kellyanne Conway was the first public opinion expert to spot alienation in a sizable segment of the 2004 Bush vote over the run-ups in federal spending. I first heard her discuss the finding in June 2005. This spending-driven swing came to define the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections. Yet it was more than a year after that 2005 lecture that I encountered any other opinion surveyor identifying the trend or its cause.
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This past week I asked Conway to tell me something about the groups that shifted from Democrat to Republican between 2008 and 2010 and what they might indicate for the 2012 presidential race. I did not want a repetition of what we have all heard about Independent voters. Could she turn the glass and refract the light in a different way?

Conway replied that four groups swung toward the GOP this past year: women, the working class (under <$50,000/year in income), rural America, and Millennials (18-29 year olds).

The long-standing female voter preference for Democrats disappeared in 2010, she said. The Democrats had won women by 12-14 percentage points in 2006 and 2008. In 2010, the GOP all but tied them. Why? Women reacted with revulsion to the bailouts, the stimulus, and the healthcare overhaul.

While unmarried women remained a GOP problem, they moved from about 70 percent Democratic to 60 percent between the last two elections. When asked last year about what they were “most upset about … in Washington,” unmarried female voters replied: too much party bickering (55%), too much spending, taxes, and deficits (32%), too much for the rich and Wall Street, not regular people (24%), too liberal (21%).

Conway said that we see similar shifts among the other groups she fingered. The GOP won the white working class in 2008 by ten points, in 2010 by 30. Rural America went from a 2008 Obama-McCain tie to a 2010 61%-36% GOP win. And among Millennials the Republican share grew from 32 percent for McCain to 42 percent for GOP candidates last year.

It is hard not to conclude from all these numbers that if the GOP remains the party of serious spending cuts, it will win big in 2012. Democratic appeals for saving this or that program – like Harry Reid’s recent defense of federal dollars for Cowboy poetry festivals – are likely to make things worse for the Dems, not better.

But the GOP still has plenty of room for overplaying its hand. Becoming the party of partisan bickering is one way. Allowing cuts in spending and taxes to be positioned not as helping all of us (essential for restoring the economy and the government’s financial health) is another. Still, looking at these numbers today, you’d rather be a Republican than a Democrat.

Electoral Votes
On Friday, I received the following analysis from Hoover Institution fellow Peter Robinson, who got it from Bill Whalen, another Hoover fellow. Whalen asked how would a Daniels-Rubio ticket in particular run against an Obama-Biden one (though any Midwestern GOP governor could take Daniels’ place, particularly Ohio’s John Kasich).

Whalen starts with the 2008 totals in the Electoral College: 365, Obama-Biden; 173 McCain-Palin. After post-census shifts, those numbers become 359-179.

Then he assumes that, like horses returning to their barn, Virginia and North Carolina go back into the GOP column – 337-201.

He also assumes that Daniels (or another Midwestern governor) would carry Ohio and Indiana, both 2008 GOP losses – 306-232.

Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico have big Hispanic populations. He believes putting Rubio on the ticket would be enough to pull them over – 292-246.

And of course Rubio brings Florida: 265-273, Republicans win.

Looks good for the GOP, huh? Yes, but…. If I were on Team Obama, I’d see Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada as my firewall. As Conway pointed out, minority voters are not moving the way of other segments. So with this scenario, for the first time since 2000, the axis on which the presidential election turns could move west in 2012, from the Eastern Line (linking Ohio and Florida) to the Western Triangle (Nevada-Colorado-New Mexico).

In other words, as of today, Republicans have good reason for both optimism and anxiety. What’s the prognosis for 2012? It’s going to be a hard race, for both sides.


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