op-ed

Can Obama’s "Chemical Warfare" Keep The White Vote Down?

John Ellis on the president’s negative campaign. Romney hasn’t figured out an antidote.

Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has spent more than $100 million on advertising over the last 3 months. Much, if not most, of it has been produced to shred Mitt Romney’s reputation and suppress turnout among white voters who might vote for Romney. The outlook for August is more of the same. The outlook for September and October is probably a lot more of the same.

The 2012 president election, boiled down to its remaining variables, is about two things: (1) white voters who voted for Barrack Obama last time and have since grown disillusioned and, (2) white voters who stayed home in 2008 rather than vote for John McCain but may vote this time. The Obama campaign’s goal is to make both groups stay home rather than vote. It’s not a “negative campaign” they’re running. It’s purposefully toxic.

The math is simple. In 2008, black turnout was way up. Hispanic turnout was up. Young voters flooded the polls. Barack Obama won a substantial majority (53.4%) of the vote, the largest majority for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson’s landslide in 1964.

The white vote, as a percentage of the total vote, was down. Obama captured 43% of the white vote, the highest percentage of white votes garnered by a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson (President Clinton also received 43% of the white vote in his 1996 re-election campaign).

Fast forward to 2012. Black turnout indicators are down, substantially. Hispanic turnout indicators are down, substantially. The youth vote, as a percentage of the total vote, is expected to revert to form. White voters are now expected to comprise 75% of the total electorate.

If President Obama gets 40% of the white vote, he has a chance to win re-election. If President Obama gets 35% of the white vote, he’s finished.

Right now, depending on which poll you look at, President Obama is running somewhere north of 35% and south of 40% among white voters. The danger for Team Obama is that there will come a moment – “anything is better than this” – that will cause the bottom to fall out of the president’s support among white voters. If that happens, he will fall into Mondale country (35%) and lose in a landslide.

So the purpose of the president’s campaign is to make sure, if such a thing can be made sure, that that doesn’t happen. Thus the chemical warfare campaign, the war to end all wars.

There’s a lot the Romney campaign could do to change this dynamic. It could, for instance, run a series of television advertisements that recite Mr. Romney’s success in business, management, governance, and high-profile International events. It could articulate a clear plan to jump start economic growth, spur innovation, and encourage investment and opportunity. It could highlight the obvious fact that an effective manager could easily get 10% more productivity out of the Federal government on 10% less money. It could highlight the fact that Governor Romney actually knows how to manage large, complex enterprises and organizations.

For whatever reason, Team Romney seems disinclined to do this. Maybe they’re waiting for the Convention and the fall campaign. Maybe they haven’t formulated their final plans. Maybe whatever.

It might not matter. If the election is a referendum on President Obama, then he will lose. A majority of the nation’s voters would rather he be retired than be given another term. So the race boils down to a simple question: can Mitt Romney be made so toxic as to enable the re-election of a president that a majority of voters would rather not re-elect?

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