Barack Obama, Battleground State, Bob McConnell, Defense Contractors, Democrats, Economy, Election 2012, Elections, Mitt Romney, Obama/Biden 2012, Paul Ryan, Politics, Polling, Republican, Romney/Ryan 2012, Strategy, Virginia
Since 1928, when Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover wrestled away the state from New York Governor Al Smith using the “Southern Strategy”, beginning the process of deteriorating the African-American support that traditionally fell to the Republican Party, no Republican has ever won the Presidency without carrying Virginia. Once upon a time, it had been a Democratic stronghold, only going to the GOP in the 1872 reelection of President Ulysses S. Grant, but by the 1952 election of former General Ike Eisenhower a fundamental shift had occurred. The state that had for the past twenty years voted for the Democratic tickets of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his successor Harry S. Truman would only swing back to its historical alignment twice. First when it choose President Lyndon B. Johnson over Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in ’64, and then again when it voted for Illinois Senator Barack Obama against Arizona Senator John McCain in ’08.
The interesting thing about the strange case of Virginia in the 2008 presidential election is just how closely it mirrored the nation results. President-Elect Obama won with 52.9% nationally, and carried Virginia by 52.6%, while Senator McCain garnered 45.7% nationally and lost Virginia with 46.3% of their vote. Though it is not necessarily a reflection of a political shift in the state towards the Democratic Party, it is a fundamental shift in the political thinking there that has made it a swing state.
If the numbers mean anything, it means that in a state that once was dominated by Republicans on the presidential level, the state has, more and more, come to identify itself with the candidate rather than the party. In that sense, it will not be taken for granted by the campaigns. It also means that previous election indicators, like Attorney General Bob McConnell’s 58.6% to 41.25% win over Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds in 2009, are not going to offer an accurate depiction of how former Massachusetts Senator Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama are going to do in this coming election. This presidential contest, more than ever before, both parties and both teams need to understand, better than anyone else, that it is up for play.
The main problem with Virginia, at least from the standpoint of Governor Romney, is that the core of his message is the economy. Unlike some of the other battleground states, it isn’t suffering as much. Its unemployment numbers, for example, hover around 5 to 6%, well below the national average.
What this means is that the Romney team’s strategy has to be a focused one if they hope to win back Virginia this go around.
First, they need to essentially remove President Obama from the state’s achievements, neutralizing his effect in the state. They need to tie the economy to Governor McConnell and Republican economic policies that are not entirely unlike the ones that the Romney campaign is proposing. They need to sell Virginia and Virginians on the idea that there state is the prototype for success across the country, and that they are looking into how to expand this model. Their message has to be a simple one, it happened despite President Obama, not because of him.
Second, they need to paint a grim picture of the state’s economy if Obama is re-elected to a second term. They have already been helped along the way with this because a large part of Virginia’s success lies in the defense industry. For their unemployment numbers to stay low they need defense contractors to remain strong. Companies like Lockheed Martin are already threatening massive layoffs due to defense budget cuts that would hammer away at their bottom line. Virginia will be one of the hardest hit states of them all.
The Romney campaign must grab hold of this issue tightly and make it a dominant one. It needs to hammer it home time and time again, every chance his campaign has. They need to do it until it becomes an issue synonymous with the 2012 election itself in Virginia.
Finally he needs to tie his message to the young working professionals and those just looking to enter into the work force. The demographic numbers dictate that these represent a large portion of the voters in Virginia, with roughly 10% of the voters either university-aged or just out of university (18 to 24), 13% just beyond that range at 25 to 34 and an addition 13% between 35 to 44. Though this comprises only 36%, give or take, of the population as opposed to the 51% of the voters that comprise the remaining voting age population (45 and older), there are common ties that bind these groups together that make them easier to focus the campaigns messaging on.
These are the voters who need steady job growth and low unemployment numbers because they are either looking to enter the workforce or they are bound by commitments that require them to keep their jobs, especially considering they don’t have the time in that the older demographic has. The other strength of focusing here lies in the fact that there is a certain appeal with a large segment of the 15% of voters aged 44 to 54 who are usually in the second round of layoffs in a downturned economy or the first if a company figures they can turn around slow growth by bringing on someone younger and cheaper to do the same job. That would be enough to make up for the portion of the 18 to 24 portion of the population that isn’t necessarily thinking that far ahead.
Here it is a matter of finding the specific messaging formula that tends to work with these age groups, understanding that it is a different dynamic than it was four years ago when President Obama took the state. Add to the fact that the youth vote isn’t quite as excited or as fired up as it once had been for the President and there is a chance, if the Romney/Ryan ticket can come across as dynamic enough to capture enough of it. It’s just a matter of making it relevant enough for them.
On the other hand, if President Obama is able to perpetually chip away at Governor Romney in other states, then the chances are it is going to hit home in Virginia as well and he’ll end up taking the state again, probably, once more as a clear reflection of the national numbers and margin as a whole. All he has to do is keep the Governor on the defensive, and make his economic message seem out of sync with the rest of the country, something he has been incredibly effective with most other places.
With the Virginia economy as it is he doesn’t need to do the hard sale. He’s also ahead of Governor Romney in the polls there, depending on the one you read, usually holding tight to a lead. He has been able to keep it a tight race at the very least, staying mostly on top and not giving anything to the governor in the way of the lead that the Romney campaign needs to actually secure Virginia. That says a lot about how the state is turning at this junction. If he can keep pushing away at the Romney campaign, defining the debate there as he will until the governor figures out exactly how he wants to begin pushing back. If the Romney campaign can find that fight in them, that is when the President needs to worry and start watching out.
Until then he just needs to keep the state on his radar while he keeps visiting it, making it a staple stop on his campaign tour, and he’ll have it sewn up by early November if not sooner.
Honestly, more than it is for President Obama, Virginia needs to be a battleground state for Governor Romney. Though Republican candidates have lost the election but won Virginia (Senator Bob Dole in ’96, President George Bush in 1992, President Gerald Ford in 1976, Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960), securing the state that went Democrat for the first time in 44 years last election would go a long way towards winning the actual election itself. If he can’t pull off his win there, then chances are the election will be the President’s to lose come November.
But then no one state, even the one that seems to pick the winner every go around, determines a candidate’s success solely and there are other places, other key battleground states, he needs to secure as well.