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Morning Jay: What's Missing from the GOP Field?

6:00 AM, May 19, 2011 • By JAY COST
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For instance, it can influence whether a voter and candidate think about the world and politics the same way, whether they frame and discuss issues the same way, and whether they have similar intensity levels when it comes to politics. Even differences in accent can matter -- one group of voters can view a candidate as one of their own while another group harbors suspicions, thanks in part to a candidate's dialect. Another factor that can depend on regional background is what we might call a candidate's ideological range of movement. Republicans from the Sunbelt tend to come from much more conservative states (especially when it comes to labor laws), which enables statewide leaders to govern comfortably from the right. Meanwhile, leaders from the Midwest and especially the Northeast have to contend with an electorate much more full of liberals and union workers.

In other words, those three big grievances -- conservatism, authenticity, and excitement -- could all be consequences (in part) of a substantial regional mismatch between voters and candidates this cycle.

In conclusion, it's fair to say that a field without a prime Sunbelt contender is really missing something. I think this is a big reason why Rick Perry is reportedly considering a run for the White House. There is definitely a gap in the lineup. It will be interesting to see if he -- or somebody else of prominence -- ultimately runs.

What will also be interesting is if he doesn't run, and if therefore the field is essentially set now. That would mean that Sunbelt voters basically would not have a dog in this hunt (assuming that the aforementioned second tier candidates don't rise to the top), and would thus make for an enormous swing vote in terms of delegate strength. Whom will they prefer? Presumably, the most "conservative" candidate, but that really just begs the question. Whom will they view as the most conservative? Will they vote as a bloc, or will they split up? If they split, how will those cleavages manifest themselves?

I have no answers to these questions, and so far as I know there is no data set available to help us answer them. After all, what's the historical comparison here? Over the last 50 years we have regularly seen Sunbelt Republicans win the nomination, so we don't really know what the Sunbelt is going to do in a field dominated by the Midwest and Northeast (and Utah!).

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