How Obama Won Four More Years

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 7 2012 4:27 AM

How Obama Won Four More Years

He became a street fighter. And he had a better team that ran a first-rate campaign.

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That's not the only conversation that's going to take place in the Republican Party. With Romney's loss, Republicans will start positioning for the future by winning the argument about the last campaign. There are three possible reasons for Romney's defeat that will be floated. First, he was a bad candidate. Second, the party is out of step with the demographic changes in the country. Third, the hurricane stopped Romney's momentum. The truth is likely to be some combination of all three. Romney was a flawed candidate, out of step with his party and sometimes himself. His shift in the final weeks to a more moderate tone seemed to be a late-in-the-game reversion to a truer self.

Did the storm matter? It’s hard to imagine that it did, but 64 percent said the president's response to the hurricane was a factor in their decision. Forty-two percent said it was important to their vote for president. Political scientists will help us determine whether those responses have anything to do with the 9 percent who say they decided in the last three days to vote for Obama.

The president’s team always said he had multiple paths to the presidency. That’s because he started with 237 electoral votes from safely Democratic states that are a part of what seems like a permanent Democratic wall. This campaign affirmed that New Mexico is a Democratic presidential stronghold and probably did the same for Nevada and Wisconsin. Obama won with a combination of those paths his aides had outlined. He won Nevada and Virginia and Colorado with a mix of minorities and white working-class voters, as well as upscale white suburban voters. In Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa, Obama won in states that didn't have big minority populations but he got enough of the white vote to survive. The Obama campaign’s Midwest firewall held, though the exit polls were a little hard to read. In Iowa, Obama won among white women, with 58 percent of the vote, but in Ohio he lost among white women, 52 percent to 47 percent. In some states, the president fared even worse. In Virginia, Obama lost white women 58 percent to 41 percent. (This is what was so amazing about the strength of his "new coalition" in states like Virginia, where he could make up for that deficit with other kinds of voters.)

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It will take some time to pull through the exit polls, but in Ohio, the state that was the focus of so much attention and that put Obama over the top, he prevailed for two reasons. First, he was able to run on the auto bailout, a tangible economic result voters could feel. (More than half of Ohio voters approved of the bailout.) Second, Obama also won in Ohio because he turned Romney into a symbol of the economy that had put them in an economic fix. In Ohio, on the question of "who cares about you," Obama won the support of 84 percent of the state's voters. 

What did voters ultimately decide about Mitt Romney? They didn't think that he was enough of an economic fix-it man, and his favorable rating was just 47 percent. Fifty percent viewed him unfavorably.

The verdict on the Paul Ryan pick seems to be that he neither helped nor hurt. Obama won Ryan's congressional district in Wisconsin (based on a preliminary count of the votes, which could change), so his place on the Republican ticket not only didn't help Romney carry the state, it didn't seem to have helped him carry the portion he represents. Then again, Paul Ryan's Medicare plan was supposed to cost Romney the state of Florida. Those fears were wildly misplaced. Romney-Ryan actually clobbered the president with Florida’s seniors. On the specific question of which candidate would better handle the issue of Medicare, Obama lost by a lot. Fifty-four percent of the state’s seniors said they trusted Romney on Medicare over Obama, who only earned 40 percent of the vote. 

Regardless of what happens in the second term, the president won an enormous victory by protecting his first term’s achievements, particularly the Affordable Care Act, which Romney had promised to repeal. Although he won by slimmer margins, he held on to all but two states he won in 2008. That’s an incredible accomplishment when you consider the economy he has governed over for the past four years. (And the two states he gave back—North Carolina and Indiana—were always expected to fall back into the GOP column.) Politically, there is no reason to believe his second term will be easier than his first. Republicans will call it a tactical victory and look at the close national vote tally to convince themselves that there’s nothing in this election that should cause them to concede ground during the coming budget fight.

Barack Obama won in 2008 as a man who floated above the vast great nation. In 2012, he remade himself into a determined, street-level fighter for the middle-class. During his first campaign, Obama quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." He was the first African-American president in the nation’s history. Now he is the first African-American president to be re-elected. Now that he is freed of the constraints that come from having to get re-elected, the president who put his grand visions on hold to survive, can get back to working on that bend.