COMMENTARY: MCGUIGAN Through a glass, darkly: reflections of a lifelong pundit
Published: November 9th, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY — In an age of precision polling and 24/7 analysis, there are still mysteries in the results of the 2012 election. Political scientists and journalistic pundits will pore over exit polls trying to understand how an incumbent presiding over a weak economy won a solid 2.5 million vote majority, and an impressive if-not-quite-crushing Electoral College margin.
Social media is all the rage, and it is still a mystery to me even as I ramp up engagement through twitter and Facebook with readers right, left and center.
But when it comes to counting the votes everything old was new again, as my study over the last 48 hours has convinced me that old school get-out-the vote efforts difference for Barack Obama.
In Florida, every senior citizen identified as a supporter of President Obama who lived in key counties got personal contacts, and the offer of a ride to the polls on election day. While this approach was a special emphasis in Florida, that quite old-school “high touch” tactic was used all over the country.
On the flip side, stories are emerging about the collapse, for technical reasons, of a pro-Romney GOTV (get out the vote) effort beginning at mid-afternoon Eastern Time. When this year’s Theodore White (“The Making of a President”) finishes his or her investigations, there will no doubt be details galore on all that.
In 1974, as the only volunteer with long hair and a beard in the campaign of Republican congressional hopeful Mickey Edwards, my job was to work a list of older voters, on the day before Election Day, scheduling a pickup time with them for a ride to the polls.
On that memorable Tuesday, I transported several folks from their homes to precincts in north Oklahoma City to vote for Mickey in the general election, an idealistic longshot race in which he was trying to defeat entrenched incumbent Democrat John Jarman.
After finishing the trips already scheduled, I went back to Mickey’s headquarters, where a few more “seasoned citizen” voters had been identified who were in need a lift. I can still see that red Volkswagon I drove “back in the day,” and can see in the mind’s eye the faces of some of those folks. It was a day full of personal contacts, pleasant conversations and a good feeling for playing a part in helping a man I admired.
Mickey did not win that year – but Jarman became a Republican soon after he barely won reelection. Then, Jarman announced he would not seek reelection. Mickey ran again, won the nomination and the general election, and served in the U.S. House for 16 years.
The lower the turnout, the more retail face-to-face politics matters, and works – both for candidates and their surrogates. The importance of each vote is magnified in a low turnout race.
In one battleground state after another, the president’s advantage was somewhere between one and three percent. The Romney campaign and its allies had “ground games,” but Obama’s was better.
And now, the battles rolls forward, in new venues and over specific policies.
The first big post-election argument is over that “fiscal cliff” that helped trigger one of the worst-ever post-election days for the stock market. Democratic messaging is now hard at work, blaming Republicans for the looming cliff, even though they have at least offered a budget before the House each of the past two years, while Senate Democrats have not passed one in several years.
A graceful and generous concession speech from Romney was followed by a less gracious and generous, but effective, victory speech from the president, with a strongly liberal policy emphasis. To the victor, the spoils.
The president’s Left flank expects delivery in the form of federal policies antagonistic to fossil fuels, higher taxes on wealthier citizens, and leaving Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security untouched. That same political base wants him to get busy marginalizing people who “cling” to old-fashioned morality and gun rights, among other things.
The president himself, in the campaign’s closing days, rejected talk of cuts to college student aid, funding for Planned Parenthood and any fiscal revisions to the Affordable Care Act.
Looming are a variety of deadlines for “ObamaCare,” and continued litigation over the law’s mandate that religiously-affiliated groups must cover abortafacients in health insurance policies. Before long, those who have private insurance will learn about dictates on policy coverage that will drive up premiums and restrict access.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to restrict the use of the filibuster by Republicans, after being one of its most masterful engineers when Democrats were in the minority.
Our nation is divided by economic, class and cultural conflict as at no other time since the pre-Civil War era, even as a second Inauguration Day approaches for the chief executive who promised to be “post-partisan.”
And, for political junkies during this “lame duck” Congress time, there are opportunities to study that decline of 14 million in the number of voters – 2012 compared to 2008.
That is obviously one of the intriguing stories of an election where there seemed to be so much passion and energy in the final days. Obama got several million fewer votes than he did four years ago, Romney got a few million fewer than John McCain did. If somehow Romney had matched McCain’s raw vote total while holding Obama to his 2012 total, the popular vote would virtually had been a tie.
Each side spent about one billion dollars, with another $4 billion spent on other political campaigns across the nation. But something in the Obama turnout model delivered not only an impressive victory in the Electoral College, and that coveted, ratifying majority in the popular vote.
No Gore-Bush agony for President Obama. In the end, that’s the Reader’s Digest version of The Making of a President, 2012.