Arithmetically challenged GOP miscalculated Tuesday’s results

By Tom Baxter

“Arithmetic.”

Republicans will have a lot to sort out over the coming weeks and months, but as they mull over their loss in the Presidential and U.S. Senate races and ponder where they go from here, Bill Clinton’s derisive retort in his virtuoso performance at the Democratic National Convention last September should echo loudly in their minds. A failure to grapple with arithmetic was, at so many levels, the key to the problems which came down on the GOP Tuesday night.

Partisans hold out hope for their candidates until the bitter end, but in politics you seldom see an election in which so many of the pros ignored the math for as long as they did in this one. Karl Rove’s Tuesday night “meltdown” on Fox was only the last and most public manifestation. (And by the way, it probably wouldn’t have happened if Fox, perhaps attempting to salvage something from a miserable night, hadn’t put itself out there to be first to call Ohio.)

This arithmetic problem goes all the way back to the arguments over crowd size at the big Tea Party rallies protesting ObamaCare in 2010. The rallies were impressive, and as such were a forecast of the Republicans’ success in that fall’s Congressional elections. But the organizers’ crowd estimates were preposterous. Republicans didn’t shake this tendency to count their 2010 majority as more than it really was until sometime early Tuesday evening.

Arithmetic, or the lack of it, also figured heavily in the shortcomings of Mitt Romney’s campaign. Already effectively painted by the Democrats as a heartless rich guy, he compounded his problems by holding back tax returns and refusing to give many numbers to go with his economic proposals. Oh, and then there was that 47 percent thing.

Looking forward, the party’s hardest math test will be figuring out how to renew its appeal among Hispanic and Asian voters who swung massively toward Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates in this election. The GOP’s top leadership has understood since at least the 1980s that it faced a long-term demographic challenge, but the party hasn’t found it easy to widen its tent, and the challenge is long-term no longer.

This – and the party’s difficulties in getting religious conservatives and moderate women voters under the same tent – also figured heavily in the GOP’s loss of a net two U.S. Senate seats, on a night when far more Democratic incumbents were at risk.

As they replay the Clinton speech, Republicans can take considerable comfort in the knowledge that this big night for the Democrats could have been far worse. Many of the Republican House members who survived their first re-election tests on Tuesday night ran in districts newly drawn by state legislatures which went Republican, or increased their Republican majority, in the big 2010 sweep.

Without those favorable District lines, the Republicans might not have been able to hold even in the House, as it appears they’ve done, and claim their only significant victory of the night.

On the other hand, the efforts by Georgia’s Republican legislature to make life harder for U.S. Rep. John Barrow, the only white Democratic congressman left in the delegation or the Deep South, came to naught, as Barrow carried his more Republican new district by a slightly greater majority than the one by which Mitt Romney carried the state in the presidential election.

The Democrats’ greatest lost opportunity on Tuesday may have been in the district which neighbors Barrow’s, where U.S. Rep. Paul Broun ran unopposed. A Democrat running against Broun this year would have had no problem raising national money and network attention after the surfacing of the footage in which Broun denounces evolution, embryology and the Big Bang Theory. Simply by giving the story legs, that would probably have helped Democratic candidates in other districts across the country.

An upset might still have been unlikely, but this was one day when Democrats should have taken every shot they had.

Several other ballot questions got more national attention, but in terms of where the political struggle now turns, one of the most important may have been the rejection by Florida voters of an amendment that would have put a ban in the state constitution against the health insurance mandates in the Affordable Care Act. Similar, largely symbolic measures passed in four other states, but there is no state with a higher symbolic status in the health care debate than Florida.

You could look at this as a referendum on ObamaCare, and ObamaCare, like Obama, won. Republican governors who have defied the implementation of ObamaCare, such as Georgia’s Nathan Deal, were among those counting most on things turning out differently than they did Tuesday, and now they have a big calculation to make about what to do next.

 

About Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.
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