10 major reasons why Obama won? No president since the Great Depression had won reelection with unemployment above 7.2 percent
12 reasons Obama won and Romney lost
President Obama went into his reelection fight facing significant head winds – most important, high unemployment and slow economic growth. Even if the nation had technically pulled out of recession, many Americans weren't feeling it.For Mr. Obama to win a second term, he was going to have to beat history. No president since the Great Depression had won reelection with unemployment above 7.2 percent, the rate when President Reagan was reelected in 1984.For a multitude of reasons – Obama's positives, Republican challenger Mitt Romney's negatives, and factors beyond either man's control – Obama succeeded. Here's our list.
President Obama went into his reelection fight facing significant head winds – most important, high and slow economic growth. Even if the nation had technically pulled out of recession, many Americans weren't feeling it.
For Mr. Obama to win a second term, he was going to have to beat history. No president since the Great Depression had won reelection with unemployment above 7.2 percent, the rate whenPresident Reagan was reelected in 1984.
For a multitude of reasons – Obama's positives, Republican challenger Mitt Romney's negatives, and factors beyond either man's control – Obama succeeded.
1. Enough of an economic recovery
Though unemployment remained high byElection Day – 7.9 percent in October – and economic growth sluggish, the trends were at least heading in the right direction. Many voters factored in the full-blown crisis Obama had inherited when he took office, and they bought the argument of former President Clinton that Obama did as well as could be expected. Mr. Clinton's extensive campaigning in the final weeks, with particular outreach to white working-class voters, also probably helped.
2. Obama's lack of a primary challenger
There's a reason most incumbent presidents win reelection: They enter with built-in advantages, especially if they do not have a primary challenger. Given the state of the economy andObama's mediocre job-approval ratings in mid-2011, the president could easily have drawn a Democratic opponent. But he and his family remained personally popular. It's also possible or maybe probable that Obama's status as the first African-American president shielded him from a challenge. A Democratic opponent probably would have alienated core constituencies and still failed to win the nomination.
3. The auto bailout and Obama's union support
The federal government's bailout of General Motors and Chrysler – which started, in fact, underPresident George W. Bush – proved essential to winning the ultimate battleground, Ohio, where 1 out of 8 jobs is tied to the auto industry. The exit poll of Ohio showed that 59 percent of the state's voters supported the bailout versus 36 percent who opposed it. Union membership has long been in decline, but across the upper Midwest – from Wisconsin to Michigan to Ohio to Pennsylvania – the unions' voter-turnout operations supplemented Obama's efforts. And in an ironic twist, theSupreme Court ruling Citizens United, which Democrats love to hate, allowed the unions to expand their reach to nonunion members.
4. Romney's extended primary season, Part 1
After the 2008 cycle, the Republican National Committee changed its rules for primaries, with an eye toward extending the process and allowing the strongest potential nominee to rise to the top. This came after seeing the great Obama-Clinton rivalry, which forced the eventual nominee, Obama, to organize early in all 50 states and seasoned him as a candidate. True, the GOP's 20 primary debates improvedRomney as a debater – thank you, Newt Gingrich – but he did not clinch the nomination until the end of May. That delayed his ability to fundraise for and focus on the general election.
5. Romney's extended primary season, Part 2
The GOP primary season also produced many of the sound bites and gaffes that Obama and the Democrats were able to use againstRomney. From the reference to his wife's two Cadillacs to the use of the term "self-deportation" regarding illegal immigrants to the $10,000 bet, Romney was easy to caricature as out of touch and uncaring. Perhaps most devastating were some of the attacks other Republicans used against Romney – particularly those that turned his success in private equity at Bain Capital into a negative. (See "vulture capitalist.") Team Obama didn't hesitate to use the available material to portray Romney as "a wealthy plutocrat married to a known equestrian," as Republican eminence Haley Barbour ofMississippi put it facetiously.
6. Romney's diffidence about his wealth
Romney never seemed comfortable discussing his career at Bain or his vast wealth, and they evolved into negatives when fellow Republicans used them in attacks. He seemed unprepared to respond, including the attacks on aspects of his tax returns – his low rate of taxation and his offshore accounts. Senate majority leader Harry Reid's effort to hound Romney into releasing more tax returns seemed unfair – claiming falsely that Romney had paid zero taxes for many years – but Senator Reid succeeded in keeping the tax issue in the news. On the issue of Bain, explaining private equity to the average voter presented Romney with an enormous challenge that proved impossible to overcome.
7. Romney's diffidence about his Mormon faith
Though some Americans, especially Evangelicals, are uncomfortable with Mormon beliefs,Romney's long service as a lay pastor in his Boston-area Mormon community could have helped humanize him with voters who felt he didn't care about "people like them." Testimonials about Romney's compassion toward fellow parishioners with health and financial problems provided some of the most moving moments at the GOP convention, but they did not air during prime time, a missed opportunity in the eyes of some Republicans.
8. The late start of debates with Obama
When Romney failed to get a bounce from theRepublican National Convention, his last best hope was the debates – and in the first one on Oct. 3, he hit a home run. He was engaged, energetic, and reasonable, blowing open the caricature of him as an uncaring, out-of-touch rich guy. His poll numbers rose, putting him in a dead heat with the president. But by then, there was just a month to go before Election Day – some states had already started early voting – and little time to build on that success. Obamarecovered enough in the second and third debates to quell Democratic fears that he was fading in the homestretch.
9. Moderate Mitt vs. 'severely conservative' Mitt
When Romney told a major conservative conference in October 2011 that he had been a "severely conservative" governor of Massachusetts, many Republicans groaned. Romney had been anything but – working closely with the state's heavily Democratic legislature and enacting "Romneycare," the model for "Obamacare." But as a presidential candidate, Romney ran to the right to win the nomination, then tacked back to the center in his convention speech and in the debates. Conservatives weren't sure they could trust him, and moderates weren't sure he would really have the political freedom to be one of them if he won the White House. Romney was left looking as if he lacked a political core.
10. Hurricane Sandy
The superstorm that devastated coastal New Jersey and parts of New York just last week proved to be the October surprise that crushed Romney's hope of keeping alive any momentum he had from the debates. As commander in chief, Obama had a central governing role to play in storm relief, while Romney was eclipsed for three crucial days. It also didn't help that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) – Romney's keynote speaker at the GOP convention – suddenly became Obama's best friend.