Among Republicans, it is an article of faith that high unemployment and voter disapproval of President Obama’s handling of the economy should put Governor Romney in the White House. Unfortunately, Republicans fail to grasp that challengers must offer a compelling alternative to unseat an incumbent. Plus other issues matter more to voters than party leaders care to recognize.
Governor Romney’s platform lays out detailed proposals to improve U.S. competitiveness, develop more domestic energy, streamline regulations, and lower health costs, but those are too complex to capture voter attention.
On the stump, it’s the usual Republican message—lower taxes, deregulation and free trade. In Ronald Reagan’s time, that was a winning strategy, but the country has changed.
African-Americans and Hispanics are a growing share of registered voters, many with strong allegiance to progressive values and critical to the outcome in some swing states. The latter are frightened by many Republicans’ views on immigration.
Republican opposition to abortion and guaranteed free access to women’s health care services is easily cast by liberal talk show personalities as a Republican war on women.
According to most polls, President Obama is winning the popular vote by a small margin but more importantly, he is ahead in seven of eight battleground states still up for grabs.
Real Clear Politics compilation of the various polls has President Obama ahead in 19 states and the District of Columbia—together those would deliver 247 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Governor Romney is ahead in 23 states, garnering 191 electoral votes.
That leaves Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia to determine the election. President Obama leads in all those states, except North Carolina where Governor Romney’s margin is less than one percent
If Governor Romney delivers a more convincing economic message and reassures seniors he will shore up Social Security and Medicare in ways that do not threaten them, he should snag the close states. In Florida, Iowa and North Carolina, President Obama currently enjoys a margin of less than 2 percent, and securing those would give Governor Romney 241 electoral votes.
Of the remaining states, victories in Virginia and Ohio with 13 and 18 electoral votes respectively put him over the top, and if he loses one of those, it is unlikely he could win the election.
In Virginia and Ohio, unemployment is well below the national average, and important elements of Republicanism—limited government, conservative family values and ambivalence toward unions—don’t resonate as well as in places like North Carolina or Iowa.
In Virginia, the numbers of African American and Hispanic voters has swelled in recent years, in part thanks to effective Democratic Party get-out-the vote-campaigns. It is the home of many federal employees, contractors and high tech activities. And, so far Governor Romney has proven no better than Senator McCain in framing a message attractive to the Old Dominion.
Although a strongly Republican state in congressional races, Ohio has sided with the winner in last 12 presidential elections. It has a well diversified economy and is recovering better from the recession than most parts of the country. Governor Romney’s message that President Obama has failed does not sell quite as well as in other places.
More importantly, Ohio is still a strong manufacturing state, with substantial union membership. Many folks working in its successful service activities have parents, siblings or schoolmates with union affiliation.
Sympathy toward collective bargaining runs deep in Buckeye culture. That is why Governor Kasich’s bid to curb public employee unions backfired, and the legacy of that confrontation is a burden to Governor Romney.
Running against President Obama’s record on the economy will carry Governor Romney only so far.
Republican baggage on women’s issues, immigration, unions, and harsh view of government and regulation hurt him where it counts the most—Virginia and Ohio, the states that will pick the next president. Governor Romney better wakeup and reassure voters on these issues or he simply can’t win in November.
Peter Morici served as Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission from 1993 to 1995. He is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and a widely published columnist. He is the five time winner of the MarketWatch best forecaster award. Follow him on Twitter @PMorici1.