November 11, 2012

Michael Cuzzi: Democrats simply outplayed opposition

Obama understood America and Maine's party spoke for the working class.

Election Day brought big victories for Democrats in Maine and across the country.

Despite an economy still recovering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, voters sent a clear message that they trust Democrats more to grow the middle class and create the broadest possible economic opportunity for all Americans.

It was a significant rebuke of conservative policies that were ascendant after the wave of Republican victories in 2010.

On the national level, Mitt Romney's fate was largely sealed during the Republican primary process, which was a race to the bottom of the "severely conservative" barrel. The process alienated key voting constituencies that never looked back at the Republican nominee.

President Obama, by contrast, assembled a voter coalition that more closely reflected the rapidly changing demographics of America. Obama won Latinos, African Americans, women and young voters by wide margins, whereas Romney prevailed among men, white voters, and senior citizens.

By desperately clinging to their dwindling base of old, white conservative men and persisting with hard-right positions on social issues -- most notably immigration, gay marriage and choice -- the Republicans self-inflicted an insurmountable demographic wound.

As retiring U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe noted last summer, "This is not where I hoped my party would be in 2012."

In addition to the large demographic disparity, early strategic decisions by the Obama campaign cemented the president's wide margin of victory.

First, the campaign invested heavily in local field offices and staff, putting together an unparalleled grassroots infrastructure in battleground states. That organization relentlessly activated supporters, recruited volunteers, persuaded undecideds and turned out the vote, likely accounting for a 1 to 2 percent Obama advantage in each targeted state.

Second, the campaign spent considerable resources early to define Romney, impugning his credibility on economic issues and undermining the central premise for unseating the president. Romney never fully recovered from the barrage and spent much of the general election trying to overcome favorability ratings that had dipped into the low 30s.

Third, the Obama campaign bet big on "big data." Shortly after assuming the role of campaign manager, Jim Messina said, "We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign." And that's exactly what happened. Every decision -- from the candidate's time, to fundraising appeals and voter contact -- was driven by a data operation Fortune 500 companies would envy.

Put it together with a president that remained personally popular and a struggling economy seen as the lingering legacy of George W. Bush and you have all the ingredients for Obama's commanding victory.

Voters in Maine rendered a similarly unmistakable judgment in state legislative contests. After Republicans assumed control of the Maine House and Senate in 2010 for the first time in decades, they were summarily thrown out on Tuesday.

While some might see the newly restored Democratic majorities as a repudiation of Gov. Paul LePage, that simplistic explanation belies a more complex and important reality.

First, the wave election that swept the country in 2010 hit Maine with equal ferocity, delivering historic Republican legislative majorities that never reflected Maine's traditionally center-left voters.

Second, that new majority mistakenly saw its status as a mandate and not as a quirk of the electorate.

As a result, Republicans passed tax cuts without paying for them, repealed same-day voter registration with bogus claims of fraud, balanced the budget on the backs of Maine's most vulnerable, and enacted health care reforms that created new economic hardships for older and rural Mainers.

Those policy overreaches, coupled with the occasional bombast and distractions of Gov. LePage, created ample running room for Democrats.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Republicans actively ran away from their legislative record on the campaign trail -- delivering back-to-the-future attacks on Democratic tax policies from 2009 and backfiring stunts about video gaming -- rather than aggressively promoting their own accomplishments. The move was as conspicuous as it was futile.

Finally, Democrats built a stronger campaign organization, recruited better candidates, and unabashedly campaigned on their core values of expanding opportunity for Maine's middle class, strengthening public education, protecting the environment and lowering health care costs.

It was the sort of unapologetic backbone that had too often eluded Democrats during their brief tenure in the minority.

In the end, voters decided that President Obama had earned four more years and that Republican majorities in Augusta couldn't end soon enough.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-1st District. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: @CuzzMJ on Twitter or mjcuzzi@gmail.com.

 

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