At Politico today, Glenn Thrush writes the first of what will be a vast number of articles about the state-by-state targeting strategy of the two parties in 2012, this time focusing on Obama’s map. There’s actually not a lot of mystery about its basic outlines; there are only so many winnable states and so many ways to get to 270 electoral votes. But the 2008 Obama campaign’s willingness to put resources in an “expanded map,” which helped produce upset wins in states like Indiana and North Carolina, has created expectations for surprising decisions on targeting this time around, and Thrush gets Obama sources talking about the possibility of Arizona and Georgia being in play.
Much of the piece, however, is absorbed by quotes from Republican officials mocking this or that possible targeted state on grounds that Democrats did horribly there in 2010. Here’s RNC political director Rick Wiley:
You are going into Arizona and Georgia to expand? Republicans control everything in those states. It’s lunacy. We welcome their expenditure of resources in states we are going to win. What’s next? Montana? Nebraska?
A lot of this talk on both sides is just spin. But for the record, there are at least three factors that make the 2010 performance of the two parties in this or that state a less than reliable indicator of 2012 results:
1) It’s a different electorate. Yes, dear readers, I apologize in advance for beginning to bring this up as incessantly as I did between the 2008 and 2010 elections, but it’s a big deal. The shape of the electorate in 2012 is likely to be much more similar to 2008 than to 2010, with very significant partisan implications thanks to the polarization of the electorate by age and ethnicity.
2) A “two-futures” election is entirely possible. The challenge for any re-election campaign in difficult economic times is to make the results turn on a choice of two future courses for the country rather than simply a referendum on the status quo. Democrats signally failed to do that in the midterm election of 2010. But Republicans are cooperating quite nicely with current Democratic efforts to draw attention to the radicalism of their agenda, most notably via heavy congressional GOP support for Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. Republican behavior over the debt limit issue could reinforce negative impressions that they’ve lurched in a dangerous direction more thoroughly than at any time since 1995 or maybe even 1964. The identity of their presidential nominee could also trouble voters, given the nature of the field as it has emerged so far.
3) Republicans aren’t helping themselves in battleground states. As noted here before, Republican administrations in numerous battleground states (especially Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan) are pursuing highly unpopular policies that seem deliberately provocative. This could hurt their presidential ticket in those states, though the precise effect is very difficult to predict (after all, the deep unpopularity of some Democratic governors in battleground states in 2008 didn’t seem to hurt Obama). Let’s just say is will be a serious complicating factor for the GOP in 2012. How does a presidential campaign in Florida deal with a political landscape dominated by Rick Scott? How does the Republican candidate avoid us-versus-them demands to exhibit solidarity with Scott Walker and John Kasich? If nothing else, traumatized Democratic groups in such states won’t have to rely strictly on the Obama campaign to motivate get-out-the-vote efforts.
These are just three of a host of factors that will affect targeting strategies in 2012. Republicans would be foolish to assume it will just be a do-over of 2010 with similar results, and Democrats obviously need to take advantage of every opportunity the GOP gives them.