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Sunday 11 November 2012

Spin and Sandy lost Romney the election

Though the Republican candidate is a brilliant manager, voters didn't see him as a leader

LIKE anyone with a serious interest in US politics, I'm a devotee of the website www.realclearpolitics.com. From the internet ocean, it distils the best serious political stories, editorials, analyses and opinion pieces along with all relevant polls.

As I mused on how to sum up the election, I came across a lengthy essay by the site's Tom Bevan (co-founder and Executive Editor) and Carl M Cannon (Washington editor), called "21 Reasons for Obama's Victory and Romney's Defeat". I thought it good: here's my distillation.

Although more under-30s voted Republican in 2012 than in 2008, Obama still had the huge edge of 60-36 per cent. (There were candidates for the Libertarian, Green, Constitution, Peace and Freedom, and Justice parties, who are ignored by the media and between them got about 1.4 per cent of the overall vote.)

When battling for the Republican nomination, Romney damaged Rick Perry by being tougher on illegal (mostly Hispanic) immigration, while Obama embraced a measure offering a path to citizenship for young illegals who joined the armed forces or went to college. When Romney got the nomination, Obama signed an ineffectual and possibly illegal executive order barring the deportation of illegal minors, which played well among the growing Hispanic electorate.

In 2008, Romney and Obama had the same strategy for dealing with the troubled Chrysler and General Motors: "managed bankruptcy", post-bankruptcy financing through loans and guarantees and the replacement of management. In an article he wrote for the liberal New York Times, Romney stressed the differences rather than vast area of agreement: it was given the misleading headline: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt". Much was made of that later in negative campaigning which insisted he was anti the bailout he had supported: Romney lost Michigan, his home state and Chrysler HQ, and the crucial swing-state of Ohio, HQ of General Motors.

The killing of Osama bin Laden made it difficult to make the case that Obama was soft on terrorism.

The able and dynamic Paul Ryan was chosen as running mate to steady the fiscally and socially conservative base, but Senator Marco Rubio could have attracted enough Latino support to deliver Florida and possibly three other states, or a woman could have narrowed the gender gap of 12 per cent suffered by Romney.

Since Romney had introduced healthcare as governor of Massachusetts and had argued in 2009 that Washington should have used it as a model, he was in a weak position to criticise Obamacare, which has much wrong with it.

Romney is pragmatic and was interested in fixing the economy rather than taking a tough line on social issues, but the uncompromising rhetoric on contraception and abortion that came from some leading Republicans played into the Democrats' narrative that Republicans were conducting a "war on women".

Romney was embarrassed about being rich and handled the issue badly. His statement at a fundraiser that the non-taxpaying 47 per cent of Americans would inevitably support Obama was easily twisted to mean he didn't care about them. He made a few minor gaffes abroad that were exaggerated at home to present him as a joke.

The Romney campaign criticised Obama's record: the Obama campaign spent $100m in eight states savaging Romney's character (wealthy, heartless corporate raider).

Clint Eastwood could have been a major asset: instead, at the Republican convention, he was allowed to ramble and was a major liability. Bill Clinton, however, was brilliant at the Democratic convention and gave Obama a big boost.

The first presidential debate showed a surprised electorate that -- contrary to all they'd been hearing and reading about him --Romney seemed likeable, committed, smart and decent. But Obama got such a bad press after his poor performance that he was galvanised into action and recovered ground next time round. In the foreign policy debate, although Obama had serious questions to answer about the murders of Americans in Benghazi, Romney was hesitant and Obama seized the advantage.

While they were still neck-in-neck, Hurricane Sandy came over the horizon and Obama behaved presidentially. On election day, 40 per cent of Americans told exit pollsters that Obama's response to Sandy was an important factor in their vote.

Romney's concession speech was gracious, but illustrated why -- although he is a brilliant manager -- people didn't quite see him as a leader. It is "a measure of Romney's core", concluded Bevan and Cannon, "that when he said he'd be praying for him [Obama] to succeed, the people who know him best believe him."

I went to bed at 3am on Wednesday sorry but not desolate that Romney had lost. He's a decent man who was an excellent Governor of Massachusetts, and I think he'd be a better president than the incumbent, but that's politics for you. He probably has a much happier four years ahead of him than has President Obama.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards