In June of last year, in a blog entry called Seriously? (2012 Election), I questioned whether any of the Republican candidates for U.S. President had any chance of beating incumbent president Barack Obama.
At the time, there were dozens of candidates, from the outright silly, to the questionable, to the few known and somewhat stable names. Since then, several big names (Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, to name a few) have dropped out, and others who haven’t officially withdrawn have become more irrelevant than they were in 2011.
Who’s left? The top four are Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick [expletive deleted]. Barring any last-minute surprises, one of the first two will be the Republican nominee later this year. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Republicans want to select their nominee based solely on the answer to this question: Who has a better chance of winning a head-to-head election against Obama?
Which is a form of what I asked in June. The only commenter who attempted to answer my question said: “No, I don’t see anyone with a big enough name to win, at this point.”
Of course, the names have gotten bigger in the past eight months — due to constant media exposure. Assuming name-recognition won’t be a problem for either Gingrich or Romney, can either carry the right-wingers to victory?
In other words, do either Gingrich or Romney represent the wants and needs and opinions of a large enough sector of Republicans? And, perhaps more importantly, can they win over a large enough sector of swing voters?
In any American presidential election, most pundits (and even regular people like myself) assume that a large block of Democrats will vote Democrat and a big portion of Republican voters will choose their side of the ballot — even if neither actually likes their own candidate. So what’s crucial to winning such an election is the following:
1) Getting enough of your own party members to the polls.
2) Winning over the voters in the margins (left-wing Republicans, right-wing Democrats, and independents/undecided folk like me).
Neither is easy.
Some folks think Obama won in 2008 because a higher percentage of Democrat-registered voters made it to the polls. The same (or opposite) could hold true for this election. If Republicans are really bothered enough by Obama and head to the polls in huge numbers, that could be enough. Or if Democrat-registered voters are worried enough about that happening, they might be the ones to swarm the polls again.
Winning over the middle-ground voters isn’t an exact science. But if you lean too far to the middle, trying to capture that segment of the vote, you risk losing the respect of your hard-line party members.
I also have noticed that candidates for both parties seem to stick to party lines pretty hard during the primaries, but then lean hard to the middle during the run-up to the general election. (Note how both McCain and Obama’s platforms became almost identical in the last couple of months before 2008′s election, compared to how widely they differed before being nominated.)
So, the new question is: can either Romney or Gingrich beat Obama in the general election? And which one?