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Outplayed; Why Barack Obama Won And Mitt Romney Lost

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

‘Nothing that they are doing makes me particularly nervous other than the pure force of it in terms of money…I am cognizant of the fact that there is more money being spent against us in the last 10 days of this race –- or there will be -– than has ever been spent against a candidate before … it has diminishing returns’ David Axelrod, Huffington Post, 26/10/12

Four more years. In the end, it was a straightforward as Nate Silver and his prognostications said it would be. It wasn’t particularly close; it certainly wasn’t ‘too close to call’. 2012 was a comfortable win for Barack Obama against a Republican Candidate and Party that couldn’t quite work out or come to terms with what hit them. When the President’s Senior Strategist comes out with a statement like the one above, it’s clear that the Democrats totally outplayed the Republicans in 2012.

Barack Obama rarely hit the heights of the 2008 oratory but towards the end of the campaign, there were echoes of some of those rhetorical flourishes. The Candidate President was older and more tired than four years previously but the electorate liked what they saw and felt Obama had earned enough of their trust to be re-elected. The domestic economy is still in a really bad way, but most of those who voted shared the view that voting for Romney wasn’t going to make thing better.

One of the main reasons Mitt Romney failed was his lack of connection with Main Street America (his lack of empathy for the ‘Middle Class’ proved to be a defining weakness). Romney couldn’t connect not because he was rich – that never stopped Nelson Rockefeller or Michael Bloomberg – but because he had no sense of even trying to empathise with the ‘Average Joe’. The spirit he showed during the first debate was him on a really good day and Obama on a really bad one; those circumstances did not re-occur.

Romney’s ‘gaffes’, when they came, were really projections of the inner self; saying that he’d written off 47% of the vote who were financially dependent on an Obama win, his ‘binders full of women’ nonplussing a sceptical demographic, his constant refrain that trickledown was the only way forward jarring with the popular sentiment. Mitt Romney was the wrong man at the wrong time; his problem, at times, was that he was too honest for his own good.

When it came to campaign marketing and strategy, the Republicans never recovered from the Democrats painting Romney as that rich, elitist candidate you wouldn’t want to have a beer with. America may be in a better way domestically than in 2008 but it is still in an awful state in much of the country. By presenting Romney, fairly or unfairly, as a ‘Mr Burns’ figure, the Obama team was able to take the initiative from very early on. There was very little the Republicans could do to counter what were sharp but essentially true commentaries. Although Axelrod has expressed some surprise that the Democrats weren’t attacked harder earlier on, the campaign was sufficiently well executed to still be the winning one even if the Republicans had been more aggressive.

‘Moderate’ Democrats should be grateful for the campaign support generated by the Grassroots and the Left. Many to the Left of the President supported him to keep the other guy out. The anti-Romney motivation proved to be as potent a motivator for fund raising and campaigning for the Democrats as the anti-Obama ‘Socialist’ Bogeyman did for the Republicans. The ‘Stop Romney’ shout-out was heard and answered.

The Democrats had more volunteers in more of the ‘battleground’ states. The millions splurged on branding and attack ads count for very little unless there’s an effective ‘Get Out The Vote’ operation applied. Obama was able to inspire more people to make calls, drop leaflets and drive voters to the polling booths for him. Romney could not generate anywhere near as much goodwill. In is victory speech, the newly re-elected President Obama praised his team as ‘the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever’; he recognised the significance of the volunteer advantage.

In ‘the unlikely story that is America’, the demographics are changing and not in favour of the Republicans. Pitching to a notional older white male, who is, most of all, angry, just won’t send a candidate to Pennsylvania Avenue. Exit polls suggest the following data: 72% Asian & Latino support for Obama, 55% of women, 93% of Black voters and clear majority of voters aged under 44. The GOP have big problems right now; there’s no saying they can’t win 2016 but their candidate, strategy and platform are going to have to be so inimical to their grassroots that the odds are not good.

By simply ‘playing smart’, adopting a steady and consistent messaging and never allowing the merest possibility of being ‘swift boated’, the Obama campaign brought their man back to the White House with comparative breathing space. Meanwhile, the Republicans can only sit back and ask how they could have so run such a bad campaign with policies that the American people just didn’t want.

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