It’s not just the economy, Mr. Romney

Running against President Obama’s record on the economy will only carry Mitt Romney so far.

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)
US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)
American Republicans assume that high unemployment and voter disapproval of President Barack Obama’s handling of the US economy should put Governor Mitt Romney in the White House.
Unfortunately, Republicans fail to grasp the fact that challengers must offer a compelling alternative to unseat an incumbent.
American voters care about a multitude of issues – more issues than GOP leaders seem to recognize.
Gov. Romney’s platform lays out detailed proposals to improve US competitiveness, develop more domestic energy, streamline regulations, and lower health costs. However, these proposals are far too complex to capture the attention of the average voter.
On the stump, it’s the usual Republican message — lower taxes, deregulation, and free trade. In Ronald Reagan’s era this was a winning strategy, but the country has changed.
African-Americans and Hispanics now make up a large portion of registered voters and could determine the outcome of several key swing states. And Hispanics are frightened by many Republicans’ views on immigration.
Right-wing opposition to abortion and free access to women’s health care services is easily cast as a Republican war on women by the liberal media.
According to most polls, President Obama is winning the popular vote by a small margin. But more importantly, Obama is ahead in seven of eight battleground states that still up for grabs.
A Real Clear Politics compilation of various polls has President Obama ahead in 19 states and in the District of Columbia — together those would deliver 247 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Romney is ahead in 23 states, garnering 191 electoral votes.
That leaves Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia to determine the election. And the president leads in all of these states – with the exception of North Carolina where Romney’s margin is less than one percent.
If Romney delivers a more convincing economic message and reassures seniors that he will shore up Social Security and Medicare in ways that do not threaten them, he could snag these swing states. In Florida, Iowa and North Carolina, President Obama currently enjoys a margin of less than 2 percent – securing those states would give Romney 241 electoral votes.
Of the remaining states, victories in Virginia (13 electoral votes) and Ohio (18 electoral votes) will put Romney over the top. However, if he were to lose one of these states, it is unlikely he could win the election.
Unemployment in Virginia and Ohio is well below the national average and important elements of Republicanism — limited government, conservative family values and ambivalence toward unions — don’t resonate as well as in places like North Carolina or Iowa.
In Virginia, the number of African-Americans and Hispanic voters has swelled in recent years thanks to effective Democratic Party get-out-the vote-campaigns. Virginia is the home of many federal employees, contractors, and high-tech activities. And, so far, Romney has proven no better than 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain in his attempts to attract Virginia voters.
Although a strongly Republican state in congressional races, Ohio has sided with the winner in last 12 presidential elections. Ohio has a well diversified economy and is recovering from the recession much better than most parts of the country. Thus, Romney’s claims that President Obama has failed Americans on the economy does not sell as well in Ohio as in other states.
More importantly, Ohio is still a strong manufacturing state with substantial union membership. Many folks working in its successful service activities have parents, siblings, or schoolmates with union affiliation. Sympathy for collective bargaining runs deep in Buckeye culture. That is why Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich’s bid to curb public employee unions backfired.  Kasich’s confrontation with the unions is a burden that Gov. Romney’s campaign will have to bear.
Running against President Obama’s record on the economy will only carry Romney so far.
Republican baggage on women’s issues, immigration, unions, and harsh view of government and regulation hurt Romney where it matters the most — Virginia and Ohio, the states that will determine the next president. Romney must wake up and reassure voters on these key issues or he simply can’t win in November.
The writer is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and widely published columnist.