News Column

Event Eyes 'New Normal' in Election Dynamics

Dec 7 2012 10:00PM

Mary Clarkin, The Hutchinson News, Kan.

The polarizing presidential campaign that saw Barack Obama re-elected with 50.7 percent of the popular vote is "the new normal," according to Brent Colburn, national political director for the Obama campaign.

A post-election conference held Thursday and Friday at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas attracted political operatives for Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, along with members of the media, strategists and pollsters.

Exit polling showed that only 7 percent of self-identified Democrats voted for the Republican Romney, and just 6 percent of self-identified Republicans cast a ballot for the Democrat Obama, according to Joseph Lenski, co-founder of Edison Market Research.

Jump back to 1980 when Republican Ronald Reagan captured the White House -- and 26 percent of the Democrat vote, Lenski pointed out.

The Reagan Democrat "doesn't exist anymore," Lenski said.

Lenski also noted that the "white" vote, which amounted to 72 percent of the electorate this year, has been steadily declining.

Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, said the election season served up some surprises.

Undecided voters usually ultimately choose the challenger, Seib said, and Romney national political director Rich Beeson said he anticipated those votes. But that did not hold true this time. Also, the long-held belief that young people don't vote was proven false in 2012, Seib observed.

Voter registration is "the single most expensive and time-consuming" process of a campaign, Beeson said, and the Obama campaign aggressively promoted voter registration.

The Romney campaign suffered because the national Republican Party was emerging from a period of "total disarray" and had been saddled with a massive debt, observed Katie Gage, deputy campaign manager for Romney.

Gage said if Hurricane Sandy had hit two weeks before the election instead of a week before, the Romney campaign could have had a chance to get back atop the wave it was riding since the first presidential debate in October.

Gage also referred to uneven treatment by the press.

She thought that if Romney had changed his position on same-sex marriage during the campaign as Obama did -- from opposition to support -- Romney might have been accused of a flip-flop.

Jeff Zeleny, national political correspondent for The New York Times, said he felt the president "was getting a pass" on that switch. It was generally viewed in the press as an "evolution, not a flip-flop," Zeleny said.

Gage spoke of the "liberal bent" of the press, and said she suspected most of the traveling press corps with the Romney campaign probably voted for Obama.

A lot of the media is shaped by the East Coast, partly because they went to colleges there, but most reporters are mainly in pursuit of a good story, Zeleny said.

The winning Obama campaign was motivated by a candidate who demanded excellence, said Jeremy Bird, national field director for Obama, while fellow Obama operative Colburn said the campaign leadership was "very much disciplined about taking the long view."

The Obama campaign ran what Bird called a "metrics-driven" data-rich campaign, but Gage said the Romney organization "had a gazillion data points, too."

Gage and Beeson noted that the Republican Party will have to reach out more to non-white and women voters in future elections because of shifting demographics.

"We haven't quite figured out how to thread the needle effectively," Gage said.

Both Republican and Democratic political operatives agreed there are cycles in politics.

Looking ahead to 2016, Erin McPike, national field reporter for the online RealClearPolitics, said Democrats don't have a deep bench of presidential contenders, but Republicans have a "pretty superstar kind of bench for 2016."

As for the presidential campaign season, James Hohmann, national political reporter for POLITICO, said we live in a "permanent" one.

Source: (c)2012 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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