by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Could 2 million people living in seven counties from New Hampshire to Colorado — including Wake County, N.C. — really determine the electoral fate of a nation of 300 million people?
That’s the key argument of Ed Morrissey‘s book Going Red. The HotAir.com blogger visited all seven counties. He labels them as critical swing counties that Republicans ought to win if they want to have a shot at victory in the national presidential election. (Morrissey discussed his findings April 18 with a John Locke Foundation audience.)
My travels through these seven battleground counties revealed a good news/bad news situation for Republicans as they approach November 2016. The bad news is that the old days of GOP dominance in these swing counties and states on the strength of culture and history alone are over. Not only have times changed, but so have the voters in these counties, with migration patterns and economic shifts making it more difficult to earn their trust. The Republican Party must adapt to those changes or become irrelevant, and 2012 showed us that if the GOP wants to avoid that fate, it has a lot of work to do.
The good news is a little more complex. The 2012 election in these former Republican strongholds demonstrates that the United States many not be a conservative or even center-right nation all on its own. However, the conservative/Republican message still can compete for votes — as long as Republicans actually show up to compete for them.
Perhaps the voters in these battlegrounds can best be described as the inflection electorate in an inflection-point election. After eight years of increasingly sharp progressive shifts in governance, voters are looking for a change of direction. Obama’s retirement from politics removes both his organizational and inspirational impact on voters, allowing for a fresh start and a requirement for both parties to orient themselves toward the future. The victory will go to the party and candidate adapting most quickly and effectively to the electorate as it is, not as they wish it to be. …
… What will it take to win? Three qualities came across most clearly in all seven battleground counties. First, voters want a principled but pragmatic approach to governance. …
… Carolina Journal’s John Hood emphasizes that pragmatism is not a call for moderation, but a “way to attract people … because they feel like somebody’s solving their problems.”
Next, optimism wins out for voters in these battlegrounds. …
… Finally, voters want to know that the candidate understands them and has empathy for their concerns. Tone plays a key part in this as well, not just to certain demographics but applied consistently.