Though Rick Santorum has stacked up some big wins in the past week and Newt Gingrich’s continued campaign has begun to baffle even some his supporters,the American Enterprise Institute‘s Election Watch 2012 panel’s main focus this morning was on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Specifically the panel looked at how Romney’s appeal to the affluent and educated voters has helped him win.
The fourth session of the Election Watch 2012 panel series titled “The Race Goes On” held on Tuesday morning included Michael Barone, Senior Political Analyst at the Washington Examiner and Fox News Contributor, Henry Olson, Vice President and Direction of AEI’s National Research Initiative, Norman Ornstein, Roll Call columnist and CBS News Election Analyst. AEI’s Karlyn Bowman served as the moderator.
Olson began with giving a Major League Baseball theory: Mitt Romney wins counties that house a Major League Baseball (MLB) Team. He explained that cities that are wealthy enough to have an MLB team generally have more affluent residents. Romney continues to do well among the affluent and educated, which Olson also said can explain Romney’s big wins in state capitals.
Barone echoed Olson’s statements by explaining that “affluent voters find him [Romney] to be a kindred spirit.” He gave further evidence by explaining that Romney did significantly better in counties with large cities, citing Oakland County in Michigan (the wealthiest county in Michigan) and Cuyahoga and Hamilton Counties in Ohio (which contain Cleveland and Cincinnati, respectively) as counties that broke heavily for Romney.
Both Olson and Barone are concerned about the suburban voter. Olson was adamant that the Republican Party has to win the suburbs because the United States is moving to the suburbs. Barone explained the GOP is losing ground in suburbs, which is not good. In 1988 George H.W. Bush won the four counties surrounding Philadelphia. The same counties were carried by Barack Obama twenty years later in 2008. Barone said he feels that this trend can be reversed if Romney is the nominee as he can appeal to the affluent suburban voter.
Besides the loss of suburban support for the Republican party, Ornstein said he believes the Republican Party going further and further to the right is a problem. It is especially a problem for Mitt Romney, of whom Ornstein says the conservative wing of the Republican Party is skeptical. Though Romney is trying hard to convince voters he is, in fact, a conservative, Ornstein said he believes that any “wink or nod” that might suggest Romney’s not quite the conservative he says he is, the conservative wing will come at him—hard.
The question on everybody’s mind was what the effect Gingrich dropping out would have on the race, however the panel spent only a few minutes discussing this subject. Ornstein took the contrarian view to conventional wisdom—that Gingrich leaving would help Santorum. Rather, be believes it would help Romney. A big reason, he said, is because Santorum has had problems getting slates of delegates in states. Bowman chimed in and offered a recent poll done by ABC asking Gingrich supporters who their second choice would be. The results showed an even split among Romney and Santorum, suggesting Santorum might not have the monopoly on the Gingrich voters that was once thought. A recent Gallup poll also came to the same conclusion.
Olson ended by giving Romney some advice on how to win over the rural voters he has had a problem connecting with. First of all: Romney needs to humanize himself. “Rural voters like, uh, humans,” Olson said laughing. He then elaborated saying rural voters like candidates that feel normal and real. He suggest Romney bring his wife, Ann, along more often because, “She humanizes him.”
His final suggestion for Romney? Learn to talk about sports. Men in rural areas get sports and sympathize with sports stars and athletes. Olson explained Obama does a good job with this—he fills out March Madness brackets, talks about the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls – and it makes him look like a regular guy. Romney on the other hand publicly admitted he did not fill out a March Madness bracket because he wasn’t “plugged in enough this year to do that.”
If Mitt Romney is the nominee, which is looking more and more likely, he should heed Olson’s advice. While he’s done an impressive job winning contests with strong urban and suburban support, in order to beat Barack Obama he’s going to need more support than he’s gotten lately.