Politically Thinking: Romney a legitimate contender

Regardless of the outcome of the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney is the only Republican presidential candidate with the organizational and financial resources to win the nomination. While any prediction about the outcome of the general election made 10 months in advance needs to be taken with a great deal of caution, I can construct a plausible scenario through which Romney could defeat President Obama.
The scenario begins with Romney’s winning enough convention delegates to assure himself of the nomination by late April or early May. Romney could then shift his focus from defeating other Republicans in primaries and caucuses to defeating Obama in the general election. This shift would allow Romney to use the late spring and summer to emphasize economic and foreign policy issues rather than the social issues important to some segments of the Republican primary electorate.
To assemble a majority of 270 electoral votes, Romney would need to win several states that Obama won in 2008. New Hampshire would be the first such state. Romney owns a home there, and he could build upon his likely strong showing in next week’s primary to win New Hampshire’s electoral votes in the fall.
Other promising states for Romney, which have more electoral votes than New Hampshire, would be Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Republican candidates have been successful in recent election cycles in all of these states. Michigan, Romney’s native state, would be more of a stretch. His opposition to the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler would hurt him in Michigan’s union households.
In 2008, Obama won a majority in five key voting blocs: independents, women, voters under 30, Latinos and Jewish voters. Romney could cut into Obama’s support among all five of these groups. Polls indicate that Obama’s approval ratings among independents, especially on economic performance, have been weak in recent months.
Obama remains popular among young voters, although some recent newspaper articles have reported support for Romney among college students in Iowa and New Hampshire. The turnout of voters under 30 is likely to be lower in 2012 than it was in 2008. Some progressive young people have become disenchanted with Obama, while other less ideological young voters are disillusioned because of the weak economy and their lack of job prospects. Even if Romney does not pick up the votes of young people, he will benefit from young people staying at home rather than voting.
Obama continues to poll better among women than among men, but these polls also show that married middle-aged women are less enthusiastic about Obama this year than four years ago. A Romney campaign that focuses on economic issues could help the former Massachusetts governor pick up votes among married middle-aged women, especially in the suburbs of key states such as Ohio and Virginia.
A major theme in Romney’s foreign policy speeches has been support for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. While American Jewish voters are certainly divided in their views on the current government of Israel, enough older, and more observant, Jews may support Netanyahu’s policies that Romney’s identification with those policies could help him win the electoral votes of states such as Florida and Pennsylvania with substantial Jewish populations.
Finally, at the margin, Romney could expand his demographic base of support if he were to select a person of color as his vice presidential running mate. Some possible choices would include Marco Rubio (U.S. senator from Florida), Bobby Jindal (governor of Louisiana), or Condoleezza Rice (former secretary of state).
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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