25 Winners and Losers
The list is long (and fun). This was a campaign with real consequences.
Not long after Mitt Romney’s strong performance in the first debate, polling analyst Nate Silver began to show the challenger catching up to President Barack Obama. There were no complaints from pundits about this. But as the campaign went on and Silver showed Obama regaining his lead, there was an eruption from media loudmouths slamming Silver. “Morning Joe” Scarborough declared the race was obviously a toss-up and anyone who didn’t see that was a “joke” and an “idealogue.”
Sorry, Joe, your gut feeling is no match for actual statistics. Silver, it turns out, correctly predicted the result for 50 of 50 states, and his estimate of likely popular vote, a 2.5 percent margin for Obama, was nearly spot on: the actual margin of 2.3 percent may increase after all Florida votes are counted. Silver also predicted Tammy Baldwin’s victory in Wisconsin and that Democrats would win at least 52 Senate seats.
Meta poll analysts: Web sites that aggregate poll results have become a booming industry. None were quite as accurate as Silver’s, but Real Clear Politics, Huffington Pollster and Princeton Pollster all predicted Obama’s victory (Princeton gave the president a 99 percent change of winning) and all were pretty close on the state-by-state and U.S. Senate results. Princeton Pollster nailed the U.S. Senate, predicting 55 Democrats (including two independents) to 45 Republicans.
Cities: Obama got 69 percent of the vote from big cities and is likely to be much more attentive to their needs than Romney would have been.
Introverts: Columnist Maureen Dowd was among the pundits dumping on Obama for being an introvert. Well we can’t all be Bill Clinton. And that would include such introverted presidents as Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, John Quincy Adams, and probably contemplative philosophical souls like Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. When you spend less time glad handing, you can get a lot of work done.
Conservative Talk Radio: Sure their candidate lost, but having a Democrat to complain about (woe to us poor victims of liberalism) drives ratings higher.
MU Law School Polls: Radio squawker Charlie Sykes and others claimed the final poll showing Obama up by 8 points in Wisconsin was somehow biased. Obama won by 7 points. Charles Franklin did a fine job all year with the polls.
Republican Redistricting: They may have stretched the law on how they did it, but Wisconsin’s Republican legislators created many new nearly impregnable districts, which led to victories for congressman Reid Ribble and Sean Duffy in their one-time swing districts and helped the GOP take back control of the state senate and increase their huge margin in the assembly.
Chris Christie: By praising Obama to the skies, he assured his state of a maximum federal relief effort and burnished his bipartisan credentials when he runs for reelection in Democratic New Jersey and/or for president in 2016.
Tammy Baldwin’s campaign team: The U.S. Senate race looked like it might be a valedictory for once-popular governor Tommy Thompson. But campaign manager Karin Johanson, veteran communications director John Kraus and others turned this into a down-and-dirty slugfest that successfully painted Thompson as a fat cat lobbyist who was “not for us anymore.”
Obama’s Coat-Tails: Baldwin won by five percentage points while Obama won by seven; there was undoubtedly some coat-tail effect on her campaign.
Scott Walker: He’s gotten back a Republican majority in both legislative houses and now has a national reputation that will put a spotlight on any measures he passes. A perfect scenario to build your resume for a presidential run.
The Obama Coalition: Obama won 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of Hispanics, 73 percent of Asians, 60 percent voters under age 30, and 55 percent of women. The old Democratic coalition blending northern liberals, blacks and and white southerners who opposed civil rights was always at odds with itself. The new party is far more unified.
Science: Remember the comparatively scholarly GOP party of old, before Republicans rejected climatology, evolution or even the science of reproduction? John Weaver, a Republican strategist, told the New York Times the party must begin to change: “We’ve got to accept science.”
Obama’s Fundraising Strategy: The old campaign wisdom was that you spend as much and as late as possible. Obama’s campaign spent early and blasted Romney unmercifully through the summer, creating a narrative of the uncaring capitalist that stuck. They may have gone overboard as their money got tighter in October, but the basic strategy worked.
The 47 Percent: Ironically, the states that are most dependent on federal giving, like Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona, are heavily Republican and their man lost. But the candidate they opposed is much more likely to protect the federal spending and entitlements these states depend on.
Openly Gay Candidates: Baldwin hasn’t just become the first openly gay U.S. Senator in history. Her dignified way of campaigning without drawing any attention to this issue has opened the door for gay candidates of the future.
And the losers in this election:
Media Political Pundits: The news media kept insisting the presidential election was a tossup, though every polling aggregator showed a large electoral vote margin for Obama. Nationally, Michael Barone and George Will predicted Romney would win big, while local pundits and Republican apologists Christian Schneider and James Wigderson insisted Wisconsin must be a toss-up, because otherwise why would the candidates still be coming here? Ah, maybe because Obama was even further ahead in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Cities: Yes, Obama’s victory will help them, but in Wisconsin the cities face a legislature where Democrats now have little power. Shared revenue to cities could suffer further cuts.
Club for Growth: Wigderson assailed this group and other conservatives for their “stupid” decision to back Mark Neumann in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate rather than businessman Eric Hovde. Thompson won the primary only because three conservatives (including Jeff Fitzgerald) split the vote, but emerged battered and with no campaign money left, putting him badly behind at the start of the general election
Recalls: Hey Democrats, how did those recalls work out? Walker is stronger than ever and the GOP has taken back the state senate.
Paul Ryan: As I predicted, the choice of Ryan as vice president pushed the Romney campaign’s focus away from the jobs issue and did nothing to help Romney win Wisconsin. Long-term, Scott Walker may be the real Republican rising star from Wisconsin.
The Republican Electoral Map: Running up big totals in red states may pad the national vote but doesn’t get you a majority of electoral votes. Western states are turning blue as Hispanics increase. Texas could become a swing state by 2020. It may take an entirely new GOP party to remake the map.
Ticket Splitters: Long a Wisconsin tradition, it looked like ticket splitting would be important in this election, with a significant minority of voters opting for Obama and Thompson, but the bitterly partisan nature of the Senate campaign drove most ticket splitters away from Tommy.
Swing Districts: As a result of the Republican legislators’ redistricting, few toss-up districts are left, which just exacerbates red/blue divisions.
Moderate Republicans: Dead as a dodo, it seems. The pathetic morphing of Thompson, a governor who loved spending on big projects and putting together grand agreements, into a candidate forced to pledge he would reject a deal with $1 in increased taxes for every $9 in spending cuts, was kind of pathetic.
Thompson’s Campaign Team: The whole effort had the feeling of the last hurrah, a nostalgic get together by Thompson loyalists doing it one more time for Tommy and losing to a younger, more vital team. Thompson’s concession speech was a long litany of thanks to all his supporters, a poignant coda to a political career that stretches back to 1968.