The Santa Cruz Sentinel Editorial for Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012
Maybe not a mandate, but an impressive win nonetheless.
President Barack Obama and his team did what they had to do to win a second term, winning in most of the key swing states over Republican Mitt Romney. And though the election, in terms of the Electoral College, did not turn into a Bush-Gore 2000 cliffhanger, it also showed a country divided.
Nevertheless, we hope the 2012 election will not lead to more partisan divisiveness in Washington D.C., but be a new beginning for President Obama.Because, after the most expensive campaign in history, it could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the winner.
Here’s why: The Senate will stay Democratic; the House Republican. Nothing much changed there, and the divisions in Congress have mostly blocked any meaningful progress on budget reforms in the past two years. Through most of Tuesday evening, Romney was still leading in popular votes (they were virtually tied with 73 percent of the votes in) although the West Coast votes were expected to give Obama this victory as well.
But more than that, the specter of an incumbent president — one who was elected handily in 2008 and whose popularity in his first year in office soared — having to fight for his political life may be problematic, if Obama chooses to govern from the left.
While his victory Tuesday night was a remarkable political achievement, considering the state of the economy, Obama should move toward the center if he wants his second term to fulfill his great promise and to begin to solve the deep-seated economic and social problems in the country.
There’s no reason for Obama to emulate other presidents in recent times who have spent their political capital, if not their leadership energy, and limped through a final four years. Think of the second term of George W. Bush.
For Romney, his election was a longshot, based on most polling the week before the election. Romney had to run the table in key states such as Virginia, Florida, Iowa and, of course, Ohio, to have a chance to win enough electoral votes. He didn’t. Romney was weakened by a long and bitterly contested primary, and the need to placate the most conservative wing of his own party. By the time he moved to the center, starting with the October debates, many voters had their minds made up.
But more than that, this result again shows Republicans with too narrow a base to win national elections. The Obama coalition of blacks, Hispanics, women and younger voters trumps the white, suburban, evangelical coalition Republicans won with during the Reagan-Bush-Bush elections.
And while polls showed evangelicals strongly supporting Romney, the Republican’s Mormon faith made this political relationship standoffish and wary from the start. The party’s inability to reach Hispanics, mainly through fear mongering on the immigration issue, adds to this failure to recognize how the country is changing.
In the end, Democrats were better organized, again, and got their turnout where they needed it. Republicans, for all the money spent, really didn’t change the 2008 electoral map in any significant way. Democrats’ early attack ads identifying Romney as a heartless, outsourcing Bain capitalist were more telling in the final count than the Republican’s earnest attempts at appearing presidential.
For Obama, he becomes the first president to be reelected with the unemployment rate as high as it is — 7.9 percent. Had Republicans put up a challenger who was not so easily identified with the much-resented very rich, they may have taken the presidency.
Republicans have a problem. American is a center-right country, with enough voters center-left to safely say that a winning strategy in this century has to move toward that very middle. But Republicans have had to placate tea party partisans and also have shown a penchant for antagonizing key segments of the electorate they can’t afford to lose. Witness the losses in Indiana and Missouri of the two Republican Senate candidates who put their feet in their respective mouths regarding rape and abortion — both races the Republicans were initially heavily favored to win. But angering women voters is usually not the way to win elections.
The national political divide is much like what we see in California, where moderate Republicans have pretty much become extinct, and one-party rule seems to be settling in.
The president is obviously a smart man who surely wants his second term to have more successes, more hopeful change, than his first.
He now gets that chance.