US Politics Feature: A Lesson for Romney --- Why Nevada and Colorado Decide This November's Election
Last Tuesday, Mitt Romney won enough delegates in the Texas primary to mathematically secure the 1144 he needed to become the Republican Party's Presidential candidate. Surprisingly, the victor did not mark this occasion by giving a speech in Texas thanking his supporters, or using the opportunity to dominate the local media for his Presidential bid.
Instead, Romney was campaigning in Nevada and Colorado, including a meeting in Las Vegas with Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who bankrolled Newt Gingrich's challenge for the Republican nomination. The visit to Nevada also included a fund-raising event hosted by Donald Trump, the conservative businessman who still believes that President Obama was born in Kenya.
This may not have been a good public-relations choice, with some Texans unhappy at the snub, but it reflected the new mathematical reality facing Romney. The race to 1,144 primary delegates previously dictated the strategy, but the focus now and for the next five months is gaining the 270 members of the Electoral College required to win the presidential election. Texan voters select 38 of those voters, while Nevada and Colorado choose just six and nine respectively. But in the contest to be the next President, it is Nevada and Colorado --- and even New Hampshire with just four electoral votes --- are more important logistically than Texas in deciding who will win the White House in 2012.
A brief reprise of the American process for electing its President:
All 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, hold elections to decide who they want as President. The candidate that wins a state sends all of his nominated representatives --- except in Maine and Nebraska where there is a proportional element --- to the 538-member Electoral College.
A candidate can theoretically win 51% of the aggregate or popular vote in all the states --- as Al Gore did in 2000 --- but still lose if his opponent wins enough individual states to take 270 electoral votes. In fact, a candidate can take the White House with only the 12 largest states in America.
Yet it is the smaller states, as Romney tipped off in Nevada and Romney, that could be crucial this November.
That is because Texas will vote for Mitt Romney to be the next President, just as New York will go for Barack Obama. Colorado and Nevada are "swing" or "battleground" states.
Right now, the numbers indicate that 10 states make up that battleground. In the other 40 states and Washington DC, Obama leads 217-191. So Romney needs 79 votes from:
Florida (29 votes) br>
Pennsylvania (20) br>
Ohio (18) br>
North Carolina (15) br>
Virginia (13) br>
Wisconsin (10) br>
Colorado (9) br>
Iowa (6) br>
Nevada (6) br>
New Hampshire (4)
There is a long way to go before the Presidential elections, and an event such as another global financial crisis could render the calculations over these 10 swing states irrelevant. But, barring such a development, it is these areas that will be critical.
And that means going "local" in both the campaigns and the analysis of them. Those who live outside the US likely receive their news about the Presidential race from national media outlets like The New York Times. But inside America, local newspapers or television stations are vital sources. National issues still matter, but local media have their own agenda to concentrate on the news at home that interests their readers.
Romney, despite his strategy seemed to forget this on Tuesday in Colorado. He gave a speech in the town of Craig, criticising the clean energy policies of President Obama: "I’m not going to forget about Craig, Colorado. I’m not going to forget communities like this across the country that are hurting right now under this President.”
Unfortunately for Romney, local circumstances undercut him, as one outlet reported:
Mitt Romney took his campaign for president to Colorado's coal country Tuesday where he decried President Obama's energy policies that he claimed are hurting rural communities like Craig.
But everyone from the town's coal workers to its mayor painted a different picture. They told reporters who followed Romney to town that business has been good recently and companies are hiring.
A small mistake perhaps, but it signals that Romney does not yet have the natural flair for the personal politics that characterises a successful Presidential campaign. As the Wall Street Journal noted:
Mr. Romney’s visit comes after a video was released earlier this year that features Craig in somewhat apocalyptic terms. A local couple, Frank and Kerrie Moe, talk about how regulations are harming the energy industry and crushing their business, a Best Western hotel. The ad, by outside group Energy for America, was backed by groups that support conservatives.
Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, within a minute of arriving in a Craig, Colorado, would have realised that a speech there denouncing the energy policies of President Obama would be counter-productive, even if the rhetoric was popular nation-wide or in the circles influenced by ideological attacks ads.
In 1948, Thomas Dewey lost a near-insurmountable lead to Harry Truman in the last few days because public opinion turned against his complacent style of campaigning. They preferred instead the combative style of Truman, who seemed to understand the concerns of a country emerging from a recession.
Romney may put behind him a mistake like his one-size-fits-all approach, but the continual repeating of complacent phrases --- “I’m not going to forget about Craig, Colorado. I’m not going to forget communities like this across the country that are hurting right now under this President" --- could come back to hurt him. Public opinion is a fickle thing, and with so few states in play, it only takes a few mishaps like Tuesday in Colorado to shift the race in President Obama's favour.