by Matt Mayer
Over the next week or so, I will be analyzing what happened in Ohio over at National Review Online. If we stand any chance of getting a different outcome in four years, it is vital to identify the problems and then work aggressively to solve those problems. My last piece in this series will offer ideas on what we need to do in Ohio to right the ship.
What Happened in Ohio, Part 1: Ohio’s Primary Foreshadowed Problems
November 7, 2012
Over the next few days, I will cover a variety of issues I believe explain what happened in Ohio in 2012. The first issue starts at the very beginning of the process in Ohio. Now, it is always tricky to extrapolate primary data to general-election data, but I believe two data points, discussed below, from Ohio’s primary foreshadowed problems for Republicans and in the base with Governor Mitt Romney.
First, in the 2008 fully contested Democratic primary between Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, 2,386,945 Ohioans cast ballots. Remember, Ohio has open primaries where voters select either a Democratic or a Republican ballot and vote in the primary race they select. Fast-forward four years to the fully contested 2012 Republican primary between Senator Rick Santorum and Governor Mitt Romney (and a few others whose names remained on the ballot). In that contest, 1,213,879 Ohioans vote. As a point of comparison, in 2000, 1,397,528 Ohioans vote in the Republican primary won by Texas governor George W. Bush. That is, nearly 200,000 more votes were cast twelve years earlier.
Comparing the 2008 Democratic-primary vote count with the 2012 Republican-primary vote count shows that roughly 1,173,066 more Ohioans voted in the Democratic primary four years ago than in the Republican primary this year. Think about that for a moment: Nearly 1.1 million more Ohioans voted for Democrats in 2008 than for Republicans in 2012. Presumably many of those Ohioans who voted for Obama in the 2008 primary voted for him in the general election, helping him win Ohio by a comfortable margin, and helped him win again in 2012, when he won about 300,000 fewer votes across the state, where turnout was down by more than 400,000 votes from what it was in 2008.
The second data point involves looking at the results from the Republican primaries in Ohio in 2008 and 2012. In 2012, Senator Santorum lost the primary but won 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties. The 69 counties he won are the most conservative in Ohio — the voters there are the Republican base. That Santorum won so many of them indicated that Romney had an issue with the base issue.
Dig a little deeper and the problem becomes far bigger. In 40 out of the 69 base counties that Santorum won, Romney received fewer votes than Mike Huckabee received in 2008 in a largely uncontested primary. (McCain had sown up the nomination by then.) That corroborates for me that the Republican base was not enthusiastic about Romney. Many people believed that Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate ameliorated some of that problem, but the results from last night don’t support that narrative.
Specifically, despite what we were told was the most sophisticated and successful ground game by a Republican in the history of the world, the turnout in Ohio declined 2.05 percent and in all but nine counties (although, to judge from the vote totals, the decline reflected on the Democratic GOTV effort even more than on the GOP side). In a year far better for the Republican presidential candidate than 2008, Romney received 93,200 fewer votes in Ohio than McCain did four years earlier. As it stands today, Obama won Ohio in 2012 by 107,241 votes, only 14,000 votes more than the margin by which Romney lost to McCain.
No matter how you look at it, it seems clear that the base in Ohio did not show up as it needed to do for Romney to win Ohio.
This article was reposted via National Review Online.