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Home field disadvantage: Romney’s winning map excludes Massachusetts
Question of the Day
If Mitt Romney wins the White House this fall, he will in all likelihood do so while beating some very long historical odds.
Polls suggest the presumptive Republican nominee has little chance of carrying Massachusetts, the state he served as governor from 2003 to 2007, against President Obama in November. It's been nearly a century since a candidate captured the White House while losing the state that was his electoral base.
In fact, the last candidate to do it was Woodrow Wilson, who served as governor of New Jersey only to lose the state during his successful 1916 re-election bid against Charlie E. Hughes, a New York Republican.
The only other president to win the general election while losing his own state was Democrat James K. Polk, who won in 1844 despite losing Tennessee to Whig Henry Clay of neighboring Kentucky.
"It is fairly rare because the winner in any election usually wins most of the states," said H.W. Brands, a presidential biographer and a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. "The 'favorite son' element usually works in candidates' favor in their home states."
Despite the precedent, Romney aides are signaling they have no plans to seriously compete in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states in the country and the state in which Mr. Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, launched his political career with his failed attempt in 1994 to defeat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy before winning the governorship.
"That's not been a topic of discussion," Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser, told the Associated Press last month when asked whether the one-term governor would compete in the liberal state. The Romney camp did not respond to follow-up questions from The Washington Times.
History, though, provides a good idea of why Massachusetts doesn't fit into the Republican's game plan. Voters there haven't backed a Republican in the presidential sweepstakes since they swung behind Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Mr. Obama won 62 percent of the vote to just 36 percent for Republican John McCain in 2008.
Mr. Romney also left some Bay State voters with the impression that he used the state as a steppingstone to higher political office by beginning his 2008 run for the White House before his term ended, and by ditching some of the more moderate positions he took as governor in favor of more conservative ones that would help him curry favor with a broader GOP electorate.
While polls suggest he faces a tough re-election battle, Mr. Obama is unlikely to buck the historical pattern if he wins this year: He is the heavy favorite in both Hawaii, his native state, and Illinois, where his political career has been based.
Thomas Whalen, a Boston University political science professor, said it makes sense the Romney campaign not to waste money or invest a lot of time in wooing Massachusetts.
"I think it is a hopeless cause and a waste of resources. He is probably, next to the New York Yankees, the next unpopular thing in Massachusetts," Mr. Whalen said. "It is a very sensible position, and if I were in his shoes, I would do the same exact thing."
That also helps explain why Mr. Romney opted against launching either of his two presidential bids from his old stamping grounds.
In 2008, he picked Michigan — the state where he was born — for a backdrop and this time around he crossed the Massachusetts' border into neighboring New Hampshire, where Mr. Obama won in 2008, but that overall is seen as friendlier political turf.
Republicans control the New Hampshire legislature, and voters there supported George W. Bush in 2000 and George H.W. Bush in 1988.
"That makes sense, because polls show him with much better strength up there and it is a battleground state," Mr. Whalen said. Plus, Mr. Romney has a powerful ally in freshman New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
"Maybe he ran for office in the wrong state," Mr. Whalen quipped. "The positions he had in Massachusetts are coming back to bite him because he had to take liberal-to-moderate positions, because we are a moderate-to-liberal state."
While winning the White House without winning at home is rare, losers in November often fail to win their home turf.
Al Gore lost Tennessee in 2000, and the loss cost him the presidency. The state's 11 electoral votes that year would have been enough to win the White House. And over the past century eight other losers have also lost their home states.
"Candidates sometimes get out of sync with their home constituencies. Al Gore cut his teeth in Tennessee when it was still Democratic; by the time he ran for president, it had shifted to the Republican column," Mr. Brand said.
"With Romney and Massachusetts, it's unclear whether the candidate or the state has changed more, but again the fit no longer exists."
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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