It takes 270 electoral college votes to win the presidency, and that’s what any campaign–Democrat or Republican–focuses on when deciding where to campaign and spend money. But one pundit has suggested that Republicans should expand their electoral college goals if they want to run successful presidential campaigns. Writing in the Federalist last week, Brandon Finnigan proposed that the objective should be 300 electoral votes, not merely the 270 absolutely necessary for the win. He makes a good case, and his piece is worth the read. He analyzed the past few presidential races, mapping out a rightward or leftward trend in individual states based on popular vote totals from campaign to campaign.
I like his idea because it seems to me that any successful campaign has to plan for contingencies. You never know what story is going to resonate with a particular region, and if bad news about your candidate really packs a wallop in one of the states you were counting on winning to get to that magical 270, you’re in trouble. It’s good to have back-ups.
But I also like Finnigan’s idea because, like him, I believe that Republican candidates should show up and really work hard in states like Pennsylvania, instead of just providing a marginal presence in the state. Oh, I know why the GOP does this. Some of these states probably feel like Lucy with the football. What’s the point of thinking she’s not going to yank it away from Charlie Brown every year? Similarly, why should the GOP spend time and money on Pennsylvania when it’s gone for the Democratic presidential candidate for the past several elections?
As Finnigan points out, though, Pennsylvania gave President Obama a small margin of victory, and this could represent a trend toward the right in the popular vote.
I’ve lived in Pennsylvania only since 2006, so I’m not exactly an expert on the Keystone State. But I concur that the state is winnable for a Republican presidential candidate. The big political joke about Pennsylvania is that it’s “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between,” meaning it has two large urban areas that reliably vote Democratic book-ending a wide swath of mostly conservative communities that vote Republican. The exceptions are Dauphin County, around the capital, Harrisburg, and Lackawanna County, home to Scranton. Even in those areas, I believe there are still pockets of blue-collar Reagan Democrats who can be won by the right Republican, certainly cutting into the margin of victory for a Dem.
I tend to think more of them would have voted for Mitt Romney if he’d just shown up, as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie exhorts Republicans to do. And by “show up,” I don’t necessarily mean a full schedule of campaign stops–although that would certainly have been nice. I mean show up on the airwaves.
During the 2012 campaign, the notorious Bain Capital ads, where a “victim” of Bain Capital all but accused Romney of killing his wife, were shown over and over and over again in my area (I live in the Lancaster region). They ran with virtually no rebuttal. Nothing. Blue collar workers who hold conservative values might not have been entirely sure of Obama’s stance on all issues, but from those anti-Bain ads they sure as heck knew Mitt Romney wasn’t one of them. And that’s a shame. Because those voters were winnable if Romney’s team had just shown up.
He did do well in many counties, though, and that spotlights the challenge of Pennsylvania–how to squeeze more votes from reliably Republican areas while upping the conservative vote count in more liberal regions. If you look at the handy list of PA counties and their vote totals put together over at Politico, you see that Romney got between 60 and 70 percent of the vote in some counties. In Fulton County in the central south part of the state bordering Maryland, he received nearly 80 percent of the vote.
It will be hard to wring more votes out of those regions for a Republican when you’re probably maxing out the GOP vote as it is. But there are GOP votes to be found in other areas, even the traditionally Democratic ones…if you just show up. On TV. The radio. Social media.
Even if the candidate’s team can’t bring themselves to view the state as anything but Lucy with the football, think of it this way: campaigning hard, for every vote, in Pennsylvania will mean the Democrat has to spend money and time here, too, when he or she might want to spend it elsewhere. So even a possible loss in Pennsylvania could mean a win elsewhere if the Democrat has to draw resources away from other states.
I’m with Mr. Finnigan on his 300-electoral-vote strategy suggestion. I hope the RNC and potential Republican nominees take heed.