2012 Electoral Breakdown: What Happened in Ohio?


This is a summary of a multi-part series by Matt Mayer, with some editorial additions, on what happened in Ohio through the 2012 election cycle. How did Obama win?

Why should you listen to Matt Mayer? He called the Obama win in Ohio within 2 tenth’s of a percent of the final number. To say he has credibility on analyzing this election would be an understatement.

Part 1: Candidate Problem = Base Problem

The base never solidified behind Romney, and you could see the problem in the primaries. My personal belief is that he stood on a precarious record and fit too easily into the stereotype for a rich, white, country club, pro-Wall Street, anti-Main Street, out of touch Republican. Like it or not – most Americans, including much of the GOP base, never embraced him for both principled and emotional reasons.

To see this in numbers, let’s look at primaries of 2008 vs 2012

  • 2008: 2,386,945 Ohioans cast ballots
  • 2012: 1,213,879 Ohioans cast ballots
  • Santorum won 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties in 2012

In 40 out of the 69 base counties that Santorum won, Romney received fewer votes than Mike Huckabee received in 2008 in a largely uncontested primary.

In the end, the numbers speak for themselves. Romney received 93,200 fewer votes in Ohio than McCain did four years earlier.

Part 2: The Slow Death

  • Ohio Republican Party in-fighting set up Ohio for failure – Kasich’s GOP takeover gutted experienced operatives from recent Ohio election cycles. This meant that the Ohio GOP was rebuilding when it should have been firing on all cylinders.
  • A long drawn out primary kept the appropriate ground game from ever being formed – with Romney not securing the nomination until late in the year, no network, ground game or infrastructure could be built around a candidate.
  • Team Obama fortified ground network – Obama never shut down Ohio operations after 2008, even hiring their campaign team for 2012 in March of 2009. They ended up with 137 offices in Ohio when all was said and done, in addition to having years worth of voter identification on key issues.
  • Team Obama defined Romney early – while Romney was mired in a primary, Obama took a bet that Romney would be the nominee and started defining him early in key swing states with almost no resistance.

For these reasons, Ohio’s polling was incredibly consistent throughout the campaign showing Obama holding a small but solid lead from Spring until November.

Part 3: Obama had a Superior Ground Game

  • Aaron Pickrell, Director of Obama Campaign in Ohio said after the 2008 campaign – they “never shut down.”
  • Obama: 137 offices vs. Romney: 40 offices – Obama invested heavily into ground operations. Romney campaign didn’t do near as much, near as early.
  • Unbelievably sophisticated voter ID program and messaging program – Romney campaign focused on candidate based questions very late in election cycle. Obama campaign worked through layer after layer of issues based ID over a longer period of time, giving them better insight into voters and messaging.
  • Ground game – unequaled. Last weekend of the campaign Romney hits 70K doors, Obama hits 376K doors.
  • Obama won the game of turn out because they controlled their losses.
  • Obama won the air game because they understood what they should say to voters.

As the Obama campaign manager in Ohio explained – Romney and Obama reached parity in TV, radio and mail ads, so the Obama campaign chose to invest heavily into the ground game because they felt it would be the difference maker. They were right.

Part 4: Obama Won the Media Narrative

Most Ohioans don’t get their news from the NY Times or Washington Post. They watch and read local media, and in these mediums Ohio has a serious problem. From Mayer’s article and book, some comments on JINO’s (Journalists In Name Only):

“These JINOs give the impression that they present both sides of the story, and you’ll find conservatives quoted in many stories. Conservative quotes, however, typically appear at the very end of the story. Many readers never make to the end of most stories and thus miss the other side of the story. This end of the story treatment is used only to provide a thin veneer of presenting “both sides.” Naturally, these stories were selected by the JINOs based on their priorities and not on the work done by conservative.”

“This failure on the part of those entrusted with the responsibility to fairly and accurately provide readers with news important to them puts taxpayers at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to making informed decisions.”

In two distinct instances, a failure to report important information meant voters didn’t have the right info:

  1. Ohio has lost more workers from its labor force from 2010 to August of 2012 than any other state in the US.
  2. Media ignored reports which detailed the impact that President Obama’s war on coal and Governor Kasich’s proposed tax hike on oil and gas would have on Ohio.

On two key issues of the election, the media narrative was Obama friendly. Why?

Summary: Kasich and the GOP had no interest in highlighting Ohio’s problems, because they wanted to protect their image and plan for re-election in 2014 and a Presidential run in 2016. In fact, they did the opposite causing a messaging nightmare for the Romney campaign. Obama had no interest in highlighting Ohio’s problems because it would have reflected negatively upon him. And, media has no desire to report on these stories because they are missing them and have a proclivity to report in a way which discounts conservative talking points.

Part 5: Obama Won Hearts. Romney Tried to win Minds

Obama effectively used the auto-bailouts to shape Romney and appeal to the right voters. For him, it was never about principles or economic realities – it was always about a feeling of saving Ohioans from a much worse fate. He was successful.

The “right” moved off topic and onto Benghazi – big mistake. This was an incredibly complex issue, with lots of changing information on an area where voters weren’t focused. From Mayer –

“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.”

Kasich factor again: Romney could not message to Ohioans on struggles in the local economy (very heart driven issue), because Kasich had to protect his own image taking away one of Romney’s greatest potentially emotional messages.

Healthcare was also off the table as a campaign message: with Romney having RomneyCare (an early version of Obama’s healthcare plan) in his past – the highly emotionally charged issue of the government takeover of healthcare was removed from the equation.

And what a shame – just one year before, 66% of Ohioans rejected Obama-style mandates at the Ohio ballot box. From Mayer – “Approximately 20% of Ohioans named health care as the top problem, with President Obama winning those voters with 73% of the vote.”

Summary: In Mayer’s words, “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.”

Part 6: Concluding Why Obama Won

“Finally, due to all of the items discussed above and in Parts I-V, Ohioans simply liked President Obama more than Governor Romney. On some of the key questions, Ohioans saw President Obama as more like them. Here is what the Ohio Exit poll showed:

  • On who is more in touch with them, President Obama bested Governor Romney 50% to 46%;
  • President Obama’s favorability-unfavorability rating finished at 55% to 43%, a 12 point positive margin;
  • Governor Romney favorability-unfavorability rating finished at 45% to 50%, a 5 point negative deficit;
  • Ohioans felt President Obama’s policies favored the rich, the middle class, and the poor at 10%, 43%, and 36%, respectively;
  • Ohioans felt Governor Romney’s policies favored the rich, the middle class, and the poor at 56%, 35%, and 1%, respectively;
  • On who cares about people like me, President Obama won that question 84% to 15%.

It simply is too hard to win when you are seen as more out of touch, less liked, and more interested in helping the rich versus the rest. It doesn’t matter if that last item is actually true, in presidential politics, perception crushes reality. And that, dear readers, is the only story that really mattered on Election Day.”

How should we move forward?

I wrote this in a previous blog called “Obama Won – What Now?” but Mayer says even more.

“As one large conservative Ohio donor said, “We don’t need more [expletive] reports!” We don’t need more research. We do need more strategic and specific, policy based action.

We need ongoing support and infrastructure for groups “like Ohio Rising that do the spade work across Ohio week after week, month after month, and year after year to identify and to educate millions of Ohioans. This activity is exactly what Obama for America Ohio did over the last few years very effectively.”

If not, all of the money invested in political ads during the last four months of a campaign will continue to hit hardened soil. The “left” does not shut down after elections. They build on their experiences. In this way – the “right” is doomed to repeat its failures. We rely on elections to change things. The left does not. Mayer’s point on a non-party, non-candidate model can not be overstated:

“Importantly, this effort cannot be controlled by a political party, as then it becomes about a candidate. The lesson from the Kasich-DeWine fight discussed in Part II is that politicians will try to control political tools. This effort expressly is not and cannot be about candidates. It must be about advancing the freedom agenda in Ohio to make our state a leader among the states, which will benefit candidates who advocate that agenda.

This effort also will allow grassroots Ohioans to push for issues that the political establishment doesn’t have the will to pass. Imagine what a difference it could have made in last year’s government collective bargaining battle in Ohio. Because Ohio has a veto referendum tool for voters, controlling all levers of government only gets our side so far. The Left will continue to challenge laws enacted and place issues in front of voters. We must be ready.

The key is to begin this work as soon as possible so that it can be a force in 2014 and the determining factor in 2016. The foundation for this effort already is in place. We must now expand it dramatically. As more and more Ohioans are brought into the growing network, it will serve as distribution network for our freedom agenda.”

In order to successfully accomplish these goals, citizens (not politicians or political parties) must push ideas forward.

We must also learn how to focus on people’s hearts, and not just their minds.

We must build up the alternative media so Ohioans are not dependent on JINOs (Journalists In Name Only).

I am in 100% agreement with Mayer in his closing comments:

“The path to a better Ohio and a better America does not begin in Washington, D.C. —  it ends there. We must renew America from the grassroots by re-embracing the power of federalism to find the best solutions to America’s toughest challenges. By leveraging our fifty laboratories of competition, we will fix our states and, by doing so, fix America.

It is time to get over the regrets of the last election and get to work advancing freedom.”

Matt Mayer’s articles in their original form can be found at the bottom of his articles page at Provisum Strategies here.

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  1. This pisses me off as a NJ Republican and I do not think that I am alone. I feel ceeplmtoly disconnected from my party now.We want a real conservative running in 2012 not some flip flopping closet massachusetts liberal!Since Christie basically rules the NJGOP with an iron fist, I now see the direction the plan on taking. I will be sitting this 2011 election out for sure. Clearly none of the NJGOP supported Republicans are the types of conservatives that we should have running our government.And to think, if the Governor had just worried about staying home and working on NJ issues for the next month I would have come out and voted for the GOP in the 2011 election. Now I don’t have to waste my time.

  2. The Republican candidates and their consultants continue to do a very poor job of messaging and counter-messaging. Ohio SB5 was potentially a complex issue as well but Dem tv ads simplied it into ” if this bill is not defeated, it will cut police and fire personnel and you’re going to die”. In the media world each election, it’s like David and Goliath. If our candidates can’t take the gloves off, forget about it.

    • The more hard and hate filled stuff came from Obama supportive PAC’s. The campaign did a little softer anti-Romney stuff, but mostly focused on highly emotional, very heart felt stuff. Keep America moving forward. The Morgan Freeman voiceover ads. The ads of him at a desk ask for the people’s help in taking America to the next phase. All that stuff.

      It totally lacked substance, but it made people go – ok, this guy isnt that bad. I’ll give him a bit more time.

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