By Matt A. Mayer
Throughout September and October, it seemed to me that the Republican focus on several issues were destined to fail as issues that would cut in their favor in Ohio. Let me say from the get-go that I agree with the arguments made by the Right on these issues, but being right on the issue doesn’t necessarily mean the issue is right for a hotly contested political campaign.
First, the auto bailout. For months, the Right, as represented by Governor Kasich, argued that the auto bailout only translated into a few hundred jobs in Ohio. Then, the Romney campaign and conservative groups tried to make the case that the auto bailout was bad policy and that General Motors and Chrysler should have followed a normal bankruptcy instead of receiving the federal bailout. These two positions illustrate perfectly the problem the Right has in winning. We argue to the mind with data and wonky policy briefs, as the Left argues to the heart with real life stories. We argue “should haves,” as the Left argues “dids.”
Our position on the auto bailout just didn’t pass George Will’s “sniff test.” To say that the federal government’s injection of tens of billions of dollars into the auto companies as plants are shutting down in Ohio and suppliers are going under resulted in just a few hundred jobs just didn’t fit with what Ohioans in northern Ohio were actually experiencing; namely, plants reopening and jobs coming back. Forget for a minute whether those same outcomes would have happened had the auto companies followed a standard bankruptcy, those outcomes DID occur following the bailout. For many Northern Ohioans, that meant jobs, a financial lifeline, and a second chance.
As the Romney campaign, Governor Kasich, and conservative groups were dismissing the auto bailout and intellectually explaining in ivory tower detail what would have happened had the federal bailout not occurred, the jobs were saved and day-to-day lives of Ohioans in any way related to the auto industry were improving. Not surprisingly, Ohio exit polls confirmed this sentiment. On Election Day, 60% of Ohioans approved the auto bailout and President Obama won those voters with 74% of the vote. The mind may be right, but the heart was beating strongly again for those folks.
Next, after the terrible events in Benghazi, the Right became consumed with hitting President Obama on what appeared to be a significant failure on his Administration’s part. Again, it may come to pass that the Obama Administration’s handling of Benghazi turns into a full-scale scandal in his second term, but, as a campaign issue, it had little impact. As each day passed, my Twitter account had post after post from conservatives focused solely on Benghazi.
Did these folks really believe that a foreign policy issue involving Libya would drive voters away from President Obama? Would a foreign policy event trump jobs and the economy, especially when the national media — JINOs — would do its part to protect President Obama? There answer, of course, was no. The Ohio exit poll showed that so few voters named foreign policy as a top issue that it couldn’t even determine which candidate prevailed on that issue. For 59% of voters, the economy was the top issue and Governor Romney carried those voters by just 2 percent, despite the sluggish economic growth and job increases over the last year.
On the issue of the economy, one of the biggest hurdles faced by Governor Romney in Ohio was that Governor Kasich simply couldn’t stop promoting how great Ohio was doing under his leadership (and coincidently President Obama’s leadership), as evidenced by Ohio’s unemployment rate. Forget for a moment whether Ohio’s unemployment rate is as good as President Obama and Governor Kasich say it is, the Obama campaign couldn’t find a better spokesman for their point on unemployment in Ohio than Governor Kasich. The Left made great hay out of those awkward campaign appearances where Governor Kasich would trump his success as Governor Romney sat with a pained look on his face. Who were voters supposed to believe — President Obama and Governor Kasich or Governor Romney? According to the Ohio exit poll, for the 32% of Ohioans who named unemployment as a top problem they faced, President Obama won that group by 5 percent.
Finally, we conservatives rightly believe that the federal deficit and debt are growing problems that could eventually lead our great nation on the same path of decline as Rome. The problem for us is we tend to speak about it with lots of facts and figures (there is that mind, again) and not with enough heart. The other problem for us is that the debt crisis is “in the future.”
In contrast, the Left focuses on health care and the impact health care has on people today, with lots of personal, compelling stories by real people facing real crises. After the economy, 14% of Ohioans named the federal budget deficit as the top problem, with Governor Romney winning those voters with 71% of the vote. Approximately 20% of Ohioans named health care as the top problem, with President Obama winning those voters with 73% of the vote. That 6% greater share of voters on health care who went for President Obama by 2% more than Ohioans went for Governor Romney on the deficit is what turned Governor Romney’s 2% advantage on the economy to President Obama’s 2% win overall.
Digging a little deeper on the health care issue shows something else. Because President Obama won those who favored expanding ObamaCare or leaving it as is by 74 percent, he prevailed overall on the question of what to do about ObamaCare by 1 percent. For that critical victory, President Obama should thank Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Keep in mind, just one year earlier, 67% of Ohioans voted in favor of Ohio’s Health Care Freedom Act that expressly opposed ObamaCare. The Supreme Court win in June clearly bolstered President Obama’s position on health care in Ohio.
Fundamentally, Republicans chose to fight on issues that wouldn’t help Governor Romney in Ohio because (1) reality beats theory, (2) our own team undermined the message, and (3) this wasn’t a national security election.