Jan 17, 2013
John Poderhetz writes in Commentary Magazine, The Way Forward, 12/12
This fact heightens the primary reality of Election 2012: Obama’s victory was an astonishing technical accomplishment but in no way whatsoever a substantive one. His team spent four years building a peerless political instrument, a virtual machine, to get him reelected. Both the methodology and the practical approach were nuts and bolts. The president needed to win enough votes among blacks, Latinos, single women, and young people in the right electoral-college states to assure his victory. And the issues he ran on he tailored to these populations. For Latinos he announced he would impose new immigrant-friendly regulations that did not have to pass Congressional muster. For single women, he knit together a vision of a cradle-to-grave existence helped along by direct government efforts in the much-derided slide show called “The Life of Julia.” Derided it might have been, but it captured an essential need that single women (many of them with children who do not have a father participating in their lives) have for a safe harbor, at the very least.
It was voters younger than 30 who provided the entire margin of victory; Obama won them by 5.4 million votes, while Romney won those more than 30 years old by 1.9 million, according to the pollster Kristen Soltis. Obama was alluring to them for several reasons. For students, he spoke of expanding college loans—which is a curse as much as a blessing, considering how such loans tend to raise the cost of college and mire people in debt before they have an income. For everyone else under 30, he offered a vague but overarching social liberalism: support for gay marriage, free contraception, and a general sense of connection to the wider popular culture that stood in contrast to Romney’s personal squareness.
Add all of these targeted appeals together, and toss in Obama’s extraordinarily harsh and biting attacks on Mitt Romney over the course of the summer of 2012 as a heartless and vicious vulture capitalist hiding the dreadful extent of his wealth in tax returns he refused to release—$100 million was spent on this message in Ohio alone—and you have what may have been the smartest and most effective political campaign of our lifetime. So effective, in fact, that it helped not only him but his party, with surprising victories in several close House and a few Senate races attributable to Obama’s strength at the top of the ticket.
Most important, the Obama campaign maximized its vote in the solid base Obama and his party share: African Americans. Obama may not have succeeded in winning over working-class whites in Ohio, but he didn’t have to. The black vote in the state actually grew by 30 percent over 2008, something the Romney campaign (and most observers) didn’t think was possible. That success in the most basic, most boring, most tedious aspect of politicking—pure, simple get-out-the-vote work—is what political professionals will study about the Obama campaign for decades.
So, yes, Barack Obama’s victory was remarkable, but it was—as his own campaign manager himself proudly says—entirely a matter of getting the mechanical details right and building up from there. The Obama campaign spent four years figuring out how to maximize his vote (one of the advantages of incumbency; Karl Rove did the same for George W. Bush between 2001 and 2004) and a year constructing a strategy to minimize the vote of his opponent. The results were almost perfect.