Overview by Marc Schulman
President Obama’s bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination was not opposed. Conversely, the Republicans had a large field of candidates competing in their primaries for the nomination. The leading Republican candidate was former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Romney had attempted to gain the 2008 Republican nomination. However, Senator John McCain bested Romney in 2008. As a result, in 2012 – in keeping with the tradition of the Republican Party – Romney was considered to be the leading candidate by the virtue of that fact that it was “his time”.
Candidate Romney had a number of advantages, including his vast personal wealth, a relatively successful record as Governor of Massachusetts, as well as his Chairmanship of the Salt Lake City Olympics. Romney’s weakness was the seemingly liberal positions he evidenced to hold while serving as governor of Massachusetts. The views Romney had purported made the Republican base wary of him. The role Romney’s religion – Mormonism – played in determining his popularity remains an unknown factor in this race. Throughout the course of the Republican primary Romney had a number of opponents, including: Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Each one of these opponents seemed to have his or her day in the sun. In the end, Romney (with his superior money and organization) would repeatedly come out on top. In the end Romney emerged as the Republican nominee when the last of his opponents Rick Santorum conceded defeat.
As the primary campaign began winding down, and Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee, the expectation were that the presidential race would be very close. Romney had the fundamental advantage of the weak state of US economy. The unemployment rate in the United States stood at 8.2% in July 2012. No President had won reelection with unemployment rates so high since Franklin Roosevelt. It was Romney’s hope to make the election both a referendum on Obama’s stewardship of the Presidency (especially the economy), while at the same time touting his accomplishments as a successful businessman.
Unfortunately for Romney, he was vulnerable on a number of fronts. These same issues had been sources of personal attack against him on during the primary campaign. Romney’s business experience had been with Bain Capital, a company that he had founded and headed. Bain’s business was built purchasing troubled companies and extracting as much value from them as possible. Often part of the way Bain achieved its’ success with these struggling companies was to fire some of the employees and move the work overseas. This practice, commonly known as “outsourcing” was not well received in the industrial Midwest, where residents had suffered greatly from the loss of work. Second, Romney refused to release his tax returns for more than one year. Romney’s consistent refusal to disclose his returns allowed speculation on what he was hiding to run rampant. President Obama’s election campaign exploited these facts. Throughout the late spring and summer the Obama campaign ran a relentless series of ads attacking Romney on these issues. As a result, President Obama developed a significant lead in the polls. This was a lead the President never really lost.
Governor Romney announced that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan would be his nominee for Vice President. It was his hope that Ryan would energize the Republican base that had remained unenthusiastic about Romney’s candidacy. Ryan’s appointment did help somewhat to bring out the Republican base. However, Ryan’s budget proposals, that included a substantial cut in Medicare, no doubt hurt Romney with Independent voters.
The Republican Party held their convention in Orlando. It seemed the Republicans could not get a break. The start of their convention had to be delayed due to a hurricane. The rest of the convention seemed to go down hill from there. Influential speakers seemingly chose to “toot their own horns” instead of discussing why the election of the Governor Romney was important. On the most important night of the convention, the night that the nominee is formally introduced to the country – due to a scheduling error – the nation watched an odd, albeit entertaining, monologue by Clint Eastwood, instead of the slick videos that had been prepared on the life of Governor Romney. By contrast, the Democratic convention went off without a hitch.
With the conventions over, the candidates moved to the General election campaign. The 2012 Presidential campaign was primarily held in 11 key states, the so-called “swing states” (those states whose electoral votes could possibly go to either candidate). The swing states included: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The candidates spent almost all of their money and time in those states. The only exception the candidates made was to travel to raise money in other states.
In 2012 these candidates fundraised and spent in unprecedented amounts. President Obama and those parties directly associated with him raised $1,072,600,000, and spent $986,700,000. While Governor Romney and the Republican raised $992,500,000 and spent $992,000,000. It is estimated that an additional $60,000,000 was spent by groups that were not required to report their spending, almost all of it on behalf of governor Romney.
The only time the outcome of the race seemed to be at all in question was after the first debate. At that debate Governor Romney clearly bested President Obama, who appeared unengaged. However, in the two subsequent debates President Obama regained his momentum and outperformed Governor Romney.
President Obama won an unexpectedly large victory on Election Day, November 6th 2012. Obama beat Romney, by a margin of nearly 4% in the popular vote, and commanding a victory of 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206 electoral votes. Obama won all but 1 of the contested, so-called “swing states”.
The Obama victory can be traced to several factors. First of all, Romney was a weak candidate. Romney continually made errors during the campaign, including a statement that “he did not have to worry about the 47% of the country who did not support him and were takers”. Candidate Romney had been forced to take positions during the nominating process, (especially on issues such as immigration reform) that hurt him with segments of the population. Earlier attacks on the actions of Bain Capital and Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns, as well as his earlier position opposing the government bailouts of the automobile companies did not resonate with voters.
Second, Romney was hurt by other Republican candidates making a number of extreme statements on issues such as rape. One Republican senate candidate stated that “in the case of rape the human body was able to block pregnancy” and as such, a rape exception to ban on abortions was unnecessary. These actions energized those opposed to Republican positions on social issues to get out and vote. This disparity was underscored by a number of actions taking by President Obama, both to support Gay & Lesbian rights, as well as supporting the rights of immigrants.
Third, the changing demographics of the US favored President Obama. The percentage of non-whites in the US continues to increase, and the number of the white male voters (the key supporters of the Republicans) decreased. Thus, the failure of the Republican Party to reach out to the non-white population of the US put its candidates at a distinct disadvantage.
Finally, as Election Day approached the US economy seemed to improve marginally. The unemployment rate fell below 8% for the first time in Obama’s term. Consumer confidence rose and with it President Obama’s chances of winning his second term.
All of these factor contributed to what became a decisive Obama victory in the election.