Obama's win is very significant for the Supreme Court which will see two of its judges retire during his tenure
WASHINGTON, DC – With a long planned emphasis on what campaign insiders had called a grassroots effort or ground game, Barack Obama won re-election as President of the United States by scoring popular vote and Electoral College victories. When the story of Election 2012 is written, historians will point to Obama’s bailout of the auto industry as perhaps the single biggest factor supporting a return of Obama to office. That bailout – in conjunction with Mitt Romney’s initial opposition to it as stated in a 2008 New York Times Op-ed – enabled the President to secure victories in Ohio and Michigan, where hundreds of thousands of jobs were saved.
A poll of Ohio voters by CNN revealed that 59 percent of those who voted agreed with the President’s decision to bail out the auto industry. In the end, it was a victory in Ohio that put the President over the top in the Electoral College. Since 1944, Ohioans sided with the losing candidate only once and that was in 1960 when Republican candidate Richard Nixon carried the state in his race against John F. Kennedy. For Romney, the 17 month campaign – the most costly in United States history with over $2 billion dollars spent between the candidates – was always an uphill battle in the State of Ohio. The Republican challenger, at times, came close to leapfrogging over Obama in the Ohio polls but at the end fell short in his efforts.
Grassroots v BigCorp
For Obama, the emphasis on a grassroots campaign, with hundreds of field offices, paid staff, and volunteers, was a hedge against the Republican’s perceived ability to tap into the cash of big corporations and well-healed donors able to contribute large sums of money while not directly coordinating with the Romney campaign. A more expansive use of these uncoordinated efforts was made possible by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in a 2010 case called Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.
The ground campaign orchestrated by the Obama team was the most sophisticated in the history of Presidential elections. Obama’s field offices worked off of databases enabling them to determine which voters were Obama supporters, which were independent, which were pro-Romney, and which could be flipped. With this information, the Obama campaign was able to task canvassers going door-to-door with specific missions. With early voting in multiple states, the data also allowed the Obama team to streamline their efforts by avoiding those that had already voted.
One part of the Obama grassroots effort was to lock in early votes in states that permitted early voting. The Obama team methodically tracked data on early voting enabling internal projections that showed campaign insiders days before the election that the President was running ahead of Romney by 2-1 margins in key battle ground states including Ohio. At least five days before the election, Obama campaign analysts were able to project that for Romney to carry Ohio and other key battleground states, he would have to score more than 50 percent of the Election Day ballots.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going
The get out the vote component of the ground game was critical. On the eve of the election, internal campaign data showed the President running one percentage point behind his challenger in the State of Florida which, with 29 electoral votes, is tied with New York, and is third only to California and Texas as one of the best Electoral College prizes. A massive get out the vote effort in the heavily Democratic Southern Florida Miami-Dade community was critical in placing Obama over the top in that state.
In early September of this year, at the time of the Democratic National Convention, Obama insiders were emphasizing reliance on the grassroots effort with the assumption that the campaign would be outspent by Romney and the Republicans. Instead, in the final months of the campaign, the Obama forces were able to raise money at a torrid pace directly for the campaign, much from small donors, perhaps because supporters feared a real threat by Romney after the President’s poor showing in the first debate. Money raised by the campaign itself, which is subject to strict election law limitations as to the amount that can be collected, is money that can be used to buy TV and Radio advertising time at discounted or low rates as provided by US law. In contrast, the Romney forces were relying on advertising financed and developed without consultation with the campaign. Advertisers buying these types of ads do not benefit from the same discount that a campaign secures when using its own money.
Targeting the right groups
Political scientists often talk about the term “intense minorities,” which are groups with targeted or particular interests and are more likely to vote and choose candidates aligned with their specific interests. The President did exceptionally well with women voters, Hispanic voters, and African American voters. Stances on immigration reform and a women’s right to choose whether to have an abortion, and support for laws prohibiting workplace discrimination were undoubtedly key factors in the President’s success with these groups.
During the campaign, Romney would not specifically endorse the concept of equal pay for equal work and his running mate, Paul Ryan, referred to legislation better enabling women to seek redress where they are not paid as much as men, for the same work, as legislation that is merely about lawsuits. That legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, was the first law signed by President Obama and it provides individuals with an ongoing right to sue for redress for as long as they are subject to discrimination in pay. The legislation was authored to address a Supreme Court decision that the statute of limitations for such suits runs from the time the decision to engage in a discriminatory pay process is made. That Supreme Court holding in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. had the impact of grandfathering into legitimacy historically discriminatory pay schemes.
The Obama ground campaign in what Americans call the rust belt was also aided by labor unions in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Nevada. While union presence throughout the campaign was not as noticeable as in prior elections, campaign insiders note that in the final stretch, organized labor was very important in these four heavily unionized states including Nevada, where workers in the gaming industry have historically been represented by labor unions dating back to a time when labor union pension fund money was used to develop some of the early casinos in Las Vegas.
The importance of the election for the Supreme Court
While some pundits have said that this election was not as significant as the 2008 race, which elected the first black President, this race may actually be more important as there is some likelihood that two of the nine members of the Supreme Court could retire over the next four years. If President Obama is able to replace one of the members of the Court’s current conservative majority, the Court may be more attuned to protecting the rights of workers and consumers. In addition, the threat of overturning the case of Roe v. Wade, providing women with the right to choose to secure an abortion, may be diminished.
The President will still face a challenge on Capitol Hill where his Democratic Party retained control of the United States Senate but once again failed to regain control of the House of Representatives. He will enter his second term with a divided Congress to deal with a rather substantial legislative agenda including a proposed tax increase on those making more than $250 thousand dollars per year, and proposals for education, energy and immigration reform. He will also face continued challenges in the Middle East and Asia, the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan, and a host of trade issues.
The other winners
Other than the President, there were some big winners in the election. Democratic Harvard Law Professor, Elizabeth Warren, will replace Republican incumbent Scott Brown as the next Senator from Massachusetts. Democrat Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin won a tough race against former Governor Tommy Thompson to become the next Senator from Wisconsin, making her the first openly gay Senator-elect. Democrat Joe Donnelly, with the help of the meatpacking unions in Indiana, will be the next Senator from Indiana, while former Democratic Governor Tim Kaine will represent the State of Virginia in the Senate. The seat that Joe Donnelly will assume was formerly held by Republican Senator Richard Lugar.
The election process also produced victories for people who were not on the ballot. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie comes out of the fray as a leader after ducking assistance to the Romney campaign in the final days and praising President Obama for his handling of the Hurricane Sandy crisis. Former President Bill Clinton, who hit a low point in the 2008 campaign when he campaigned heavily against then Senator Obama during the hard fought South Carolina primary which Obama won, is back on top for his efforts as the President’s key campaign ambassador and his speech at the Democratic Convention, which framed the issues for the Obama re-election bid. Planned Parenthood President, Cecile Richards -- a former Union Organizer and daughter of the late Texas Governor, Anne Richards -- led a charge on behalf of the President to rally women voters. She is a force to be reckoned with in the days ahead.
One of the biggest winners is Nate Silver, who publishes a New York Times column and blog known as “FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s Political Calculus,” with 538 representing the number of electoral votes in the country. Silver had projected an Obama victory with a 90% confidence level. The 34 year-old Silver is a newcomer to the business of forecasting campaigns, having first made his mark with successful election predictions in 2008. Silver, the son of a Michigan State University political scientist, initially honed his statistical expertise by doing projections regarding the probability of success of baseball players. Silver, purportedly an Obama voter, will move forward earning even more respect for his political work. It was Silver who projected a victory for Obama even though the well-established Gallup poll showed Romney with a 5 point lead days before the election.
There will undoubtedly be some staff adjustments in the new administration and insiders believe that some Cabinet changes could be made before January when the President again takes the Oath of Office. Speculation is that Hillary Clinton will step down as Secretary of State and perhaps be replaced by Massachusetts Senator, John Kerry. With a Massachusetts Senate vacancy, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick would fill that spot with another Democrat and the balance of power in the Senate would remain the same and with the Democrats. There is also speculation that Attorney General Eric Holder will return to the private practice of law. There are several candidates inside the Justice Department, including several United States Attorneys that could replace him.
But for now, the airwaves on television in the United States remain free of political advertisements that bombarded viewers over past months. Politicians will return from the fields of campaign to their posts in Washington and the business of government will resume.