Happy New Year!
Today’s post is my prediction for the 2012 Election season. I have made a habit of doing this in the past with friends but this is my first locked for eternity in cyberspace. I formally put forward my election predictions on New Year’s Eve the past couple of elections. For 2008, I predicted Obama would beat Hillary and McCain would beat Huckabee and Romney, and Obama would win the Presidency. In 2010, I was probably as lucky as prescient in emailing my friends Dec. 31, 2009 the GOP would win a net +62 in the US House, +6 Senators and +7 Governors. I was off by just one in the House (+63)!
Now that I have raised the bar to an improbable level that I will probably regret in 11 months, let the predictions begin.
In the GOP Nominating Contest, I continue to think Mitt Romney will overcome all competition. If he wins Iowa, it is probably all but over, barring a major misstep on his part. Someone else, e.g. Ron Paul, may win Iowa but Iowa winners tend not to win the nomination, just ask Presidents Gephardt, Harkin, Muskie or Huckabee about Iowa. Iowa may winnow out some of the also-rans, especially amongst the most conservative. Romney has the money, the organization and the poise to likely pull off the nomination. Few seem to discuss the many delegates available in ‘blue’ states like Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, California, New York or Massachusetts that I expect Romney to win, just as McCain did in 2008. Obama did something similar in 2008, winning the most delegates in a lot of states he had no prayer of winning in the fall (e.g. Texas and Montana). I expect Romney will win a fair amount of cross-over moderate Democrats and independents in states, like Illinois, with open primaries. Gingrich somehow managed to not get on the ballot in important Virginia.
I just have a hunch Florida Senator MARCO RUBIO will be Romney’s VP choice.
Obama will be the Democratic nominee and despite idle talk, he will not dump Biden for Hillary Clinton.
We will get to the Presidential winner below.
Congressional elections tend to follow the direction at the top of the ticket, meaning a Romney or Obama landslide win could mean coattails below for their respective parties.
Some of my Democratic friends have made up their minds the Republicans will lose the House. History is not on their side. The Democrats need to win at least 25 net House seats. All 435 are up for reelection each year so anything is possible. Not once in the modern era has a President been reelected with significant House gains, not even Reagan in 1984. Why? I think the answer is simple: a landslide reelection for a President only happens when the public is very happy with the status quo. If the public feels the country is doing swimmingly well, the President will be reelected and whoever is currently in Congress will largely be returned. Wave elections in the House happen against the party in power (e.g. 1974, 1994, 2006, 2008, 2010). If a wave happens in 2012, it will be against the Democrats, not in their favor.
Another quirk to 2012 is Reapportionment and redistricting. Declining states are generally Democratic ones, so some of the lost seats necessarily come from Democratic states with meager population growth like Connecticut or Massachusetts and winning states include Utah, Washington, Georgia, Arizona, Florida (+2) and Texas (+4). Republicans controlled more states’ new maps than ever before and look to protect their 2010 gains in many states and squeeze out Democrats in places like North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana.
Democrats controlled the Illinois map, which was unusually aggressive in targeting as many as eight Republican seats. Illinois is huge in Democratic Congressional dreaming. I live in Illinois and have followed the new map, which reportedly came from the national DNCC not local sources. I think the Democrats overreached and will end up winning only a handful of GOP seats, most likely two in the Chicago suburbs and by spreading out Democratic voters as they did, they inadvertently forced one of their own, Jerry Costello, to announce his retirement  and the GOP has a 50/50 shot of winning that district, possibly offsetting a suburban Chicago loss. Besides Illinois, the Democrats best shot is in California where the new map jumbles up many Members and the Democrats might win as many as a net five seats. The Texas map was ultimately drawn by a Court and Democrats will probably win half of the four new seats and have a halfway decent shot at one incumbent Republican near San Antonio.
One of the underreported stories of 2010 is how the Republicans beat a lot of aberration Democrats who had managed to hang on in small town America years after the areas had trended Republican at the Presidential level, places like rural northwest Florida and Waco, Texas. The GOP did not win very many urban or ‘tough’ suburban seats except a small number around Chicago, Orlando, Phoenix, Palm Beach, Columbus, Philadelphia, New York and the aforementioned San Antonio seat. The Democrats will have to win in rural areas in states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York to make a deep dent into the GOP 2010 gains. Only an Obama landslide would do that.
Congressional retirements announced thus far strongly favor the Republicans  with a number of Democrats like Dan Boren of Oklahoma  giving the GOP highly probable pick-ups.
Some of my Democratic friends also are hoping Tea Party challenges will knock off some moderate GOP candidates, leading to fall defeats. It is possible, but the overall impact will be slight, at most a seat or two. This works the other way, too, as union or leftist netroots organizations could defeat a moderate Democrat or two, leading to fall defeats in centrist districts.
If Romney is the nominee and wins handily, I foresee the GOP winning some suburban seats they have come close to winning but not been able to crack in recent years, in places like Fairfax County, VA, Orange County, CA, suburban New York City and especially in Massachusetts.
PREDICTION: GOP HOLDS HOUSE, NET GOP HOUSE GAIN +1
Sobering for Democrats: 23 seats in play with retirements creating open seats in states like Nebraska, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Virginia and New Mexico.
Sobering for Republicans: need +13 to get to a filibuster-proof Senate.
At most, two Republicans are at risk (Brown in MA and Heller in NV). I give Brown 60/40 odds, which are a little better with Romney on the ticket. Heller is 70/30 solid. A Giffords campaign for the open GOP Seat in Arizona would be promising for Democrats but appears not to be happening.
On the Democratic side, incumbents have their work cut out in Missouri, Montana and Florida. The open seats are the biggest problem, especially in North Dakota and Nebraska, where GOP gains are going to happen.
The GOP will get the +3 to even up the Senate, possibly even if Obama wins narrowly, but the question is if the GOP can be competitive in enough states to get near 13 if Romney wins? The answer oddly is, yes, it is possible. If the GOP runs the table on the open seats above and is able to win open seats in Connecticut or Hawaii (former Governor Lingle gives GOP an unusual Hawaiian opening), hold their own, and then beat some Democratic incumbents in industrial and purple states, then, it could be a GOP landslide. The Democrats are also defending Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan and the GOP looks to have credible challengers for all. Beyond that, West Virginia is fertile GOP territory but moderate Dem. Sen. Manchin should hold on and the GOP would need to run strongly in places like New Jersey, Minnesota and perhaps Washington state. They would need a Romney solid win to get those coattails.
What about the Tea Party? Again, my Democratic friends pretty much have it in the bank that credible GOP candidates will be knocked off by Tea Party unknowns in primaries. It might happen though where is important. A Tea Party challenger is never going to win in California but probably will win, anyway, in Indiana or North Dakota.
PREDICTION: GOP NET +5 in Senate, taking control.
GOVERNORS: GOP net +1.
Most people seem to be unable to discuss this rationally because their emotions clog their analysis. I have friends who guarantee an Obama landslide win and others guarantee an Obama landslide loss.
First off, I make no secret I’d like Obama to be defeated, but that doesn’t matter for my analysis. Can he win? Of course. He’d benefit from the most conservative and least experienced GOP nominee and above all, from better job performance. Strong employment gains, housing price gains and high GDP growth would improve his chances.
How much does ideology matter in a Presidential election? Quite a bit. See Nate Silver’s recent, excellent piece on Obama’s prospects  to see how statistical models do suggest the further a candidate is from the political center, the tougher it is for them to win the General Election. This is not to say someone more ideological cannot win (e.g. Reagan in 1980 or Obama in 2008) but they tend to win only with strong anti-Washington, throw the bums out winds at their backs. Thus, Obama will have more trouble with Romney than Santorum, Paul or Bachmann (none of whom has a prayer of being the nominee).
The flip side of the coin nearly everyone fails to see is it also matters for Obama, does he run from the center or Left? All indications are he is going to run a populist campaign from the Left. The goal is to shore up his base and try to get to 51%. Anecdotally, I know a lot of independents and soft Republicans who tell me, often in hushed tones, they voted for Obama in 2008 and they are hoping the GOP nominates someone not “too extreme” so they can vote against Obama in 2012. The risk to Obama is alienating these successful private sector workers as he tacks to the Left and rails against economic success. Again, the GOP nominee will be very important in determining who these centrist voters flock to.
Obama starts with the benefit of incumbency. People tend to stay with who they know unless they are unhappy with the results.
Obama will have more money, perhaps upwards of $1 billion for his campaign. Money helps but does not win elections per se. Just ask President Kerry about money. Obama’s money will buy an unprecedented amount of negative campaign ads. No matter your ideology, I predict you will be turned off by the tone of the 2012 campaign. It is a general rule of thumb in elections that you campaign positive (Reagan’s 1984 “Morning In America”) when the voters are happy with you but you run a negative campaign when they are not. Obama’s economic track record means this will be a highly negative campaign. That is not to imply it cannot work (see the unpopular Harry Reid’s 2010 Senate win). Unfortunately, I fully expect Obama’s campaign to play up “racism” as if that were the reason people were down on the deficit, unemployment and the growth of government. I doubt it is very effective with whites though the real goal will be to drive black turnout, which heated accusations of “racism” may produce.
Much is written about demographic changes. It is absolutely true the country is becoming more Asian, more black and above all, more Hispanic. I’ve seen projections the 2012 electorate will be as many as 2 points more Latino, which some have argued is a huge plus for Obama. As I discussed in a recent post , the Hispanic vote varies widely by state and the 2008 Latino vote for Obama was 56% in Arizona, 57% in Florida, 61% in Colorado but 76% in California and 78% New Jersey. This is inefficient from the Obama perspective. Additional Hispanic voters in California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois will not change the outcome in those states Obama will be winning anyway. On the other hand, southern and southwestern states like Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado are states Obama needs to win. Since Obama’s share of the Hispanic vote will almost certainly decline from 2008, he may not be doing much better than splitting the incremental new Hispanic voters in many of those states. A Marco Rubio VP nomination may even mean an outright GOP win of Florida’s Hispanic vote.
I suspect Obama will struggle to match his 2008 stong performance with blacks, college students and Jews in 2012. The exceptionally high underemployment/unemployment rate for people in their twenties suggests the 2008 turnout will not be replicated. In fact, I expect Obama to face a chasm of lack of excitement from Democrats, the mirror image of 2008 when people literally quit their jobs to work full-time on his campaign.
That said, it is splitting hairs to focus too much on how this or that subgroup will vote. In the end, large macro effects drive all the subgroups in one direction or another. I am seeing consensus economic forecasts of rather lousy GDP growth of 1.7% in 2012, with continued high unemployment and home prices still dropping or flat at best. If so, Obama will be hard-pressed to win. Nate Silver’s model suggests GDP is key and an economy near zero growth makes a Romney win highly probable, whereas he projects Obama squeaking it out at 4% GDP growth. Mr. Silver is very good and I would not lightly dismiss his reasoning. I agree GDP and unemployment and a general sense of wealth (especially housing values) are important, more so than a lot of the “debating skills” sorts of things that matter, but only at the margins. As shown in polls, Obama’s major legislative achievements are unpopular with voters (Health Care/”ObamaCare” and the Stimulus).
What of Third Parties? Usually much overrated, third parties and independent campaigns could, if well-financed, impact the campaign. More likely than not, none will be. A Trump or Ron Paul third-party run might be Obama’s best bet. I am unconvinced a Bloomberg run would necessarily help Obama so much, perhaps even having an unexpected impact of making some states like Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, Washington and Massachusetts more competitive for the Republicans. That said, a billion dollar run by someone like Bloomberg would certainly stir things up.
Another factor might be the Occupy movements, which petered out with the cold but will probably return in the Spring. The Occupy movements turned violent with vandalism and police confrontations near the end. I fear they will be more violent and destructive if they gear back up because in the odd calculus of media attention just camping out gets old for the TV news. The pressure to do something outrageous grows and mentally imbalanced Occupy participants may take the most heated rhetoric to terrible extremes. If I know the American voter, political violence always backfires and thus, an Occupy shooting of say, an oil executive or man in a suit in New York City will hurt politicians like Obama who embraced Occupy. Fingers crossed it never comes to this.
Thus, baring an unexpected post-Labor Day scandal (e.g. Obama or Romney sex scandal) or massive exogenous shock (e.g. major October terrorist attack), I think it will be ROMNEY defeating Obama in November.
Of course, this is all my judgment based on today and I might be wishing I never wrote this in a matter of months! Happy 2012 and turn off that TV lest you be bombarded with ads!