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Morning Jay: Can Romney Win Back the Wealthy Suburbs?

6:00 AM, Apr 20, 2012 • By JAY COST
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To start, and as mentioned above, Barack Obama won these voters in 2008 in part because of the reputation Bill Clinton had created for the Democrats as a party focused on economic growth and cultural moderation. Obama’s 2012 campaign, on the other hand, looks to be an us-versus-them rehashing of Truman’s 1948 candidacy. The upscale voters 64 years did not go for that, which suggests Romney might have an opening.

Additionally, Romney’s political message this cycle has been relentlessly focused on the economy, in sharp contrast to his more cultural pitch in 2008 (not  to mention the party’s typically heavy focus on cultural issues since about 1992). This is exactly what these upscale suburbanites should be looking for.

Finally, his background in business and his stint as Massachusetts governor gives him a social affinity to these sorts of upscale voters. There really has not been a GOP nominee with this kind of background since George H.W. Bush, whom these voters supported in 1988. They should be able to relate to him.

Preliminary evidence suggests that there is an opening for Romney here. In the 2012 GOP primary, his best voters tended to be upscale suburbanites, particularly the very well-to-do.

Obviously, we cannot directly correlate primary results to general election results–as the universe of voters is distinctly different. Still, it stands to reason that if Romney could appeal to upscale conservative Republicans in the primary, he could do so with upscale independents in the general. (And, for what it is worth, Obama did very well with upscale liberals in the primary and very poorly with white downscale Democrats; in the general election we saw the same pattern repeat. So, the primaries can convey information about the general election.)

What might the GOP gain from a surge among the upscale? It is all but certain that Obama will carry California, Illinois, and New York. There would have to be a severe economic collapse between now and November to swing those states to the GOP. But Pennsylvania is another story altogether. If Romney can hold the working class whites who have been moving to the GOP and pick up the upscale suburbanites around metro Philadelphia that have been voting Democratic since 1992, he should carry the Keystone State, virtually guaranteeing electoral victory.

Final point. This analysis just goes to show the difficult nature of discussing whether and how a candidate “connects with people.” There are all sorts of different people in this country – and some candidates appeal better to some than others. Like any other candidate, Romney has his strengths and weaknesses – a key example of the latter was downscale whites, who were generally reticent to back him during the primary.

The good news for the GOP this time around is that these very same downscale whites could not connect with Obama in 2008, and probably will not be able to do so again, meaning that Romney will not have to work to win states like Kentucky and West Virginia. That’s fortunate for Republicans, because against a candidate like Hillary Clinton I think he would be the underdog in both states. But against Obama, they are off the table, meaning that Romney will have to connect with a different group of voters – the upscale, white suburbanites.

Can he do that? We shall see.

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