And he will get to run that campaign in a limited number of states. Looking back at 2008, Obama soundly defeated McCain 365 to 173, for a 192-vote electoral college margin. Obama won the electorate in order of age, with the strongest margins among 18 to 24 year old voters, and the highest share of the youth (66%) vote going back to 1972, as well as the highest share of women voters (56%) over the same timeframe.
The other group where Obama outperformed compared to recent electoral history was his winning of the moderate vote, with 60%, the highest share for either party over this same timeframe. And this is where Romney has intended to take the fight.
A moderate governor from a blue state, this was going to be Romney’s battle plan and battleground. And it still will be.
His focus will be on a handful of states, with few surprises, that could comprise a path to the 96 votes that Romney needs to win. He has to win back traditionally red states Indiana and North Carolina, as well as Virginia. Then he has to add Colorado and Nevada or New Mexico. Each of these states has sizable Mormon populations, a significant Tea Party presence, and were strongly contested in statewide races in 2010. And then there are Florida and Ohio, notorious battleground states that were each won by Obama by 200,000 votes four years ago.
That would be a reasonable strategy looking at the electoral path to winning those 96 votes. Romney can lose Florida as long as he wins Pennsylvania. And he should win Pennsylvania if he wins Ohio. Hard to imagine he wins Ohio and Pennsylvania and loses Virginia. And he simply cannot count on Florida, even though Obama's margin was thinner in Florida than Ohio or Virginia, both because of Republican punting of Latino voters, and just because it is... Florida.
Obama will be well-served to focus on women, as the Republican gender gap—already wide—has only been exacerbated. While Rush Limbaugh has long set the direction of Republican national strategy, his is a rhetoric best kept to true believers.
The challenge for Romney will be to craft a positive message that charts and alternative direction for the country. His stump speeches lack either philosophical or policy vision. Instead, he is defining himself purely against the President—a political vesion of Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, Groucho Marx’ eloquent character in Horsefeathers: Whatever the President say, whatever the President does, Romney is against it.
For his part, the President’s reelection may yet rest on factors beyond his control. He has doubled down on claims that we are out of the economic woods, yet that remains a tenuous claim. And then there is Iran. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may yet meddle in our elections, and for all the debates over Obamacare, the President’s reelection may yet be influenced as much by issues of war and peace as by individual mandates and the commerce clause.