Romney - what went wrong?

By Paul Harper

In the weeks leading up to the US Presidential Election, Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney were neck and neck in the polls.

But with the majority of the votes now counted, Obama has won 303 electoral votes to Romney's 206 (with Florida's 29 electoral votes still to be assigned) and has even narrowly pipped Romney in the popular vote.

Despite the loss, gains were made by Romney. He took back Indiana and North Carolina, which Obama had won with slim margins four years ago after years of Republican dominance. And he narrowed the gap in the popular vote, from nearly 10 million when Senator John McCain lost four years ago, to about 1 million this time around.

But with the unemployment rate at almost 8 percent and debt topping US$16 trillion, this was as good a chance as any for the Republicans to get their man in the White House.

So what went wrong for Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan?

Hispanics "terrified" of Romney

As with four years ago, Obama won considerably more votes from Hispanics, Blacks, women and young voters than his rival. In particular, Romney lagged behind his rival by a massive 44 points with Hispanic voters.

"Latinos were disillusioned with Barack Obama, but they are absolutely terrified by the idea of Mitt Romney," GOP fundraiser Ana Navarro told CNN.

With an increasing Hispanic population in the US, the Republicans will be desperate to capture more support from the demographic, and promising up-and-coming Republicans like Marco Rubio will be vital in the future.

Not surprisingly, voters under 30, who made up 19 percent of voters, supported Obama 60 per cent to Romney's 37 percent, according to exit polls. Women gave Obama their support 55 percent compared to 43 percent for Romney.

The Guardian's Emma Brookes was not surprised women overwhelmingly backed the Democrat.

"The Obama campaign had hammered away at Romney's record on women in pointed campaign ads from way back, targeting the customary staples - Romney's opposition to Roe v Wade, abortion under any circumstance and insurance coverage for contraception - so comprehensively that the danger became one of reduced impact through overexposure."

Perhaps, as the Examiner's Michelle Carfaro Stiner suggests, Romney should have selected Florida Cuban Rubio or former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his vice presidential candidate instead of Paul Ryan in order to better appeal to these groups.

Romney seen as "out-of touch"

In a Huffington Post blog, public relations and marketing expert David Paine argues the Republicans didn't do enough to build the case for Romney, instead letting Obama define him as an "out-of-touch, insensitive billionaire".

"People will now talk about how the Republicans lost because the platform they championed was too far to the right to appeal to mainstream Americans, but that's not the reason Romney lost. The reason is that the Romney campaign, from a marketing standpoint, never really gave us a good reason to vote for Mitt. They gave us a lot of reasons to vote against Obama, but never effectively made the case for Romney himself."

Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll in Pennsylvania, agrees.

"Romney was defined early as a wealthy 'one percenter' who didn't care about the middle class, who ran a business that put people out of work, shipped jobs overseas, made millions on it and won't tell us what he did with the money," Madonna told Fox News.

Romney's gaffes didn't help his cause, from with his weird "binders full of women" comment in the second presidential debate, to dismissing 47 percent of the electorate in a leaked video.

Neither did it help that Romney had to appeal to the conservative base of the Republican Party to win the party's nomination before moving to the centre to appeal to moderates for the Presidential Election. Often this meant, as Carl O'Brein of the Irish Times writes, Romney was seen to shift positions on issues.

Romney not the economy's saviour

According to exit polls, the economy was the main issue for voters - but despite his business background, Romney could not convince voters that he was the man to bring the country prosperity. Instead, the bulk of voters blamed the economic situation on Obama's predecessor, George W Bush, and felt he deserved another four years to lift the country out of the economic crisis.

"I think voters did understand that Obama came in during challenging economic circumstances, and perhaps they don't necessarily see that as an excuse, but Mitt Romney never sold himself as a man who understands or was in solidarity with the people most hurt from the downturn and economic crisis," Madonna told Fox News.

It was vital Romney won over support in mid-western battleground states such as Ohio and Wisconsin, but he was hindered by his opposition to Obama's 2009 auto industry bailout, NBC News' Michael O'Brien says.

"A strong majority - 60 per cent - of voters on Tuesday in Ohio said that they had approved of the auto bailout, and Obama beat Romney among those voters by a healthy 73 to 25 percent difference," O'Brien says.

"In Wisconsin, another state that composed Obama's firewall (along with Iowa), a majority of voters - 53 per cent - said they had approved of the bailout. Obama bested Romney among those voters, 79 to 20 per cent."

Obama retaining Wisconsin was a blow to Romney's chances, and once it was forecast he had kept Ohio, the race was as good as over.

Blown off course?

For a few days last week, politics was off the agenda. Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey and New York, and both Obama and Romney were forced to put campaigning on hold.

The storm stalled Romney's momentum, at a time when many polls had Romney heading for the White House.

"It upset the dynamic of a campaign that had been reset during the first debate in Denver, where Obama delivered a wilting-flower act in full view of the American populace that allowed Romney to seize control of the race and set the terms for the final fall sprint," CNN's Peter Hamby writes.

There were risks for Obama - he could not be seen to repeat the bungled response of his predecessor George W Bush with Hurricane Katrina - but the storm gave Obama what Republican strategist Karl Rove called the chance to be the "comforter-in-chief". Obama was seen to put politics to one side and appear "presidential".

Left-wing MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews summed up the boost the storm gave the president when he inappropriately said: "I'm so glad we had that storm last week because I think the storm was one of those things."

After drawing the ire of conservative commentators, the Jersey Shore-raised Matthews clarified he was "thrilled at the cooperation between the President and state officials that made the country proud. Great bipartisanship."

Biased media coverage?

Perhaps none of the above lead to Romney's failure to win the White House. Perhaps, as "fair and balanced" Fox News' Rich Noyes writes, the US mainstream media tipped the scales in favour of Obama.

Noyes lists five ways he says the "media elite" helped Obama back into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: The media focused on Romney's gaffes but turned a blind eye to those made by the president; Romney was pounded with "partisan fact checking" while Obama's remarks did not face the same scrutiny; the moderators in the vice presidential debate and the presidential town hall debate (ABC's Martha Raddatz and CNN's Candy Crowley) were biased towards the Democratic Party candidate; the media gave "stingy" coverage to the Obama Administration's failure to provide adequate security for staff at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which was attacked on September 11; and the major networks "failed to offer the sustained, aggressive coverage of the economy" the Bushes received when they were up for re-election, despite the economy being in a worse shape now.

"Given Obama's record, the Romney campaign could have overcome much of this media favoritism and still prevailed - indeed, they almost did," Noyes says. "But taken together, these five trends took the media's historical bias to new levels this year, and saved Obama's presidency in the process."

Or perhaps, at the end of the day, Obama was just the better candidate.

- nzherald.co.nz

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