Like it or not, the fate of the president’s reelection rests on his winning a handful of states that house a specific group of people who always determine who are next president is going to be: independents.
In 2008, then-Senator Obama won more than just a handful of states. But 2008 was a very different year with a very different candidate. Obama won non-traditional Democratic states such as Virginia, Colorado and even North Carolina. True, he won those states and won them big, but 2012 is not going to have the same magic that 2008 had. My prediction is that this year, the presidential map will revert back to the traditional red versus blue, with the purple states being the true battleground states.
We know where and what the blue states are: traditional Democratic states such as Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Vermont, Rhode Island, etc. with the red conservative states being Montana, Texas, West Virgina, Wyoming, Arizona, etc. You get the idea. In the fall, once Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (I still think he will be the nominee for the Republicans) officially become the nominees of their parties, I expect them to travel only to the purple states that are crucial to any win: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin and possibly Virginia. These are only the states that matter, and specifically the independent voters in those states are the ones who will sway the race. To elaborate, if we see Mitt Romney spending time in Texas in late September talking to white males about why he is the conservative alternative to Barack Obama, then he’s in trouble. Conversely, if we see Barack Obama in California in October pleading with its residents to get out in vote on Election Day, then he’s in deep trouble as well.
What we will see is both candidates looking at the same data and drawing the same conclusion: Independent voters will decide their fate. Independent voters typically share the same traits; they are more educated than the average voter, typically with a master’s degree or higher, are more informed on current social and international issues and they typically make up their minds about which candidate they’re going to support at the last minute, sometimes even not knowing when they enter the voting booth. Independent voters are also prickly. They’re not interested in going to political rallies, or being prodded by phone calls from the campaigns; rather, they choose to seek information about the candidates the old-fashioned way, by doing their own homework and drawing their own conclusions.
There’s also one other twist with independents — women make up more of the independent sector than men. Obama and Romney both have to appeal to this finite voting bloc without alienating their respective bases. It’s not going to be a walk in the park for either man. Obama will need to remind independent women that he is on their side and that he has their economic status, health and personal security in mind. (According to polling data, these are the top three issues that are important to independent women). Romney will have a harder time with this group, given the damage that has been done with Rush Limbaugh’s comments about contraception and the perception that Republicans are hostile to women’s health.
So both men have a lot of work to do this fall, with Romney having the most to do. Anyone who thinks that this race is a slam-dunk for the president is sadly mistaken. Once the brutal infighting comes to a close within the Republican Party, Romney will have all of the resources to win and he will not make the same mistakes McCain did four years ago. In short, this will be fight between two 300-pound gorillas. You ready to pop the popcorn to watch? I am.
Follow Robert Traynham on Twitter @roberttraynham.