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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Post-Super Tuesday Political Environment

I’m back with another brief review of some of the better stuff I’ve published at the Washington Monthly, this time on the broader context for understanding the Super Tuesday Republican presidential primary results.
Frankly, I thought Mitt Romney was a bit of a victim of the expectations game going into Super Tuesday–and perhaps even of the fact that a lot of “analysis” was written early on the evening of February 6 when Santorum was leading in Ohio and nobody had a clue who was going to win caucuses in ND and AK (Romney did):

[T]he bottom line is that Romney won Super Tuesday but seems to be losing the spin wars over its meaning. And for a candidate whose elite opinion-leader backing remains perhaps his most important asset other than cash, that matters.

There was also some questionable analysis of why the deal went down as it did. For the second week in a row, all sorts of pundits seemed surprised to learn that Rick Santorum had “lost” the Catholic vote in OH, and some wondered if recent publicity over his negative remarks about John F. Kennedy might be a factor. This was my reply:

[I]t’s worth saying again: in every state where there has been entry or exit polling, Santorum has “lost” the Catholic vote from the very beginning, and in fact, has performed more poorly among Catholics than among Protestants. The JFK thing may not have helped, but it was happening well before that.
In those same states, moreover, Mitt Romney has finished first among Catholics everywhere other than in SC, where Gingrich edged him out (in GA, for example, where Newt won big overall, Mitt beat him among Catholics 38/34, with Santorum taking 21%. Meanwhile, Newt won half the Protestant vote, with Santorum edging Mitt in that category).
Santorum’s voting base is white evangelical Protestants, a category that happens to overlap signicantly with three other demographics where he does well: “very conservative” voters, Tea Party supporters, and voters from rural and exurban areas. Romney does best among moderate and “somewhat conservative” voters, and urban/suburban voters, and best we can tell, Catholics voting in Republican primaries tend to be more urban and relatively moderate ideologically.

I’ve already crossposted my TNR column on another strange meme coming out of Super Tuesday–that Mitt Romney had to perform better in the South to win the nomination and/or win the general election.
I agree with Ruy Teixeira and many others that the current situation in the GOP is a great boon to Obama and to Democrats. But Obama still has a series of complex strategic challenges, particulary in terms of messaging. In a discussion of Paul Glastris’ new cover article in the Monthly, “The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama,” I had this observation:

First, while the President must of course explain and defend his record, too much dwelling on past accomplishments as opposed to future plans can reinforce the Republican strategy of making the 2012 elections a referendum not only on the president’s record, but on general perceptions of life during the last four years. Indeed, given the emptiness (on some subjects) and radicalism (on others) of the GOP agenda, you can be sure Mitt Romney will lift heaven and earth to keep the focus on the incumbent. If the president runs an entirely positive (as opposed to comparative) campaign, he could help the opposition turn the election into a de facto referendum and lose the opportunity to quite legitimately demand a choice between the two candidates’ visions and agendas for the future.
Second, while reminding Americans of the conditions he inherited from his Republican predecessor is always in order (and necessary, in fact, to any comparative effort to ask whether a return to Bush’s policies or a more conservative version of them is what voters really want), too much talk about that will sound defensive, backward looking, and when it comes to the details of the financial crisis, confusing.
It will require an unusually deft touch for Obama to simultaneously defend himself from attacks, explain his accomplishments (and their context), offer a forward-looking agenda, and also keep the focus on GOP radicalism. But that’s what he needs to do unless he just wants to hope that improving conditions in the country and Republican mistakes grant him re-election by default.

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