Monday, January 24, 2011

Colorado: The Democrats’ Model for 2012 Campaign

Colorado portends to become the most closely contested state in the 2012 presidential election. And, our state also serves as the model for how races in other swing states, such as Nevada, Ohio and North Carolina, will be fought.

Ron Brownstein, in a much cited National Journal piece on white flight from the Democratic Party, quotes David Axelrod’s view that Colorado Senator Michael Bennet’s race is a model for the entire 2012 strategy of putting together a revived Democratic base, especially the missing young voters, along with higher educated, higher income, suburban and new urban women voters, including Republican women.

Brownstein’s article highlights the Democrats’ 2012 election challenge. As the chart shows, Democrats lost substantial numbers of white voters in 2010 in many states that will be in play in 2012. Democrats’ share of white votes declined 30 percent in Florida, 17 percent in Ohio and 6 percent in Colorado.

For Axelrod, Colorado is the solution to the Democrats receiving less than 60 percent of white voters in 2010. The white working class in mid-western states turned away from Obama and Democrats to Republican governors, senators and congresspersons in 2010. Brownstein’s list of swing states includes Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, Florida and Arizona. And in each of them, Democrats need to make up for a loss in working class voters by orchestrating a surge in the Democratic base and with a disproportionate share of white women.

Axelrod believes Obama can win a close re-election, much like Bennet’s two-point win in Colorado, but the race must be shifted from a referendum to a contest. Unfortunately for the Democrats, a vote for Obama is a referendum on his performance, but they are hoping for a Republican candidate made vulnerable by a contentious primary. As happened in the 2010 midterm in Colorado (and Nevada, Delaware, etc.), Axelrod hopes Republicans nominate a super social conservative who is not attractive to moderate women.

Also, like the midterm, the Democratic Party intends to have hundreds of millions to spend, along with independent committees, and hope to focus intensely on targeted voters with traditional and new media, much of it negative. But, Axelrod admits Obama must be “reset” (a favorite Obama team geek term). Obama is looking to recapture the unifying themes of the 2008 campaign (i.e., getting past partisanship, now translated as “civility”) and move sufficiently to the center – largely by reframing Democrats’ big government image to government having an “important, but limited role.” In this effort, of course, they benefit by having Nancy Pelosi and the California Democratic delegation out of control of the House.

Writes Brownstein:
“Axelrod…also made it clear that he sees as a ‘particularly instructive’ model for 2012 the case of Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado, who won his contest last fall by mobilizing enough minorities, young people, and socially liberal, well-educated white women to overcome a sharp turn toward the GOP among most of the other white voters in his state.”
“More specifically – and perhaps more revealingly – Axelrod also has his eye on the Colorado example, where the exit poll found that Bennet lost blue-collar white women by double digits and blue-collar white men by more than 2-to-1. Yet he prevailed by amassing strong support from young people, Hispanics, and other minorities; holding his deficit among college-educated white men to single digits; and routing Buck among college-educated white women. A similar formula, Axelrod suggests, could be available to Obama in 2012, especially if the Republican presidential primary process, as he expects, tugs the eventual GOP nominee toward the right. ‘The Bennet thing was particularly instructive,’ Axelrod said. ‘They made a big effort there not only among Hispanics but women. The contrast he drew with Buck was very meaningful. That’s why I say the gravitational pull of those Republican primaries is going to be very significant.’”
Dick Wadhams, the Colorado GOP chairman, gets considerable coverage in Brownstein’s piece representing the other side of the Colorado story. Needless to say, he’s skeptical of Obama’s ability to change his policies or image. Wadhams says, “I think a large majority of those voters are gone for good; I don’t know what he can do to change their impression of his view of government.”

But, Wadhams admits his party is vulnerable, and a state like Colorado could be lost if the Republican nominee is seen as extreme on social issues.

Brownstein writes:
“But Wadhams quickly adds that Obama might be able to persuade some of those voters to support him anyway in 2012 if Republicans select a nominee they find unacceptable, particularly on social issues. Wadhams has painful recent experience with that phenomenon: Despite widespread dissatisfaction with Washington, Bennet won reelection to the Senate last fall partly because so many white-collar Colorado suburbanites (especially women) found Ken Buck, his tea party-infused Republican opponent, too conservative on abortion and other issues. ‘If our presidential nominee in 2012…appears too extreme on abortion or gay marriage or some other social issue, there’s a slice of the electorate that clearly could go back to Obama,’ Wadhams worries.”
“Axelrod is thinking in similar terms…‘The hardest thing in politics is to be measured against yourself,’ he said. But in 2012, ‘these voters, and all voters, will be faced with a choice. And I view that as an opportunity.’”
Colorado will not only be a presidential frontline state, but provides a blueprint for the Democratic campaign to come. And, this strategy will begin to unfold at Tuesday’s State of the Union.

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