- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 22, 2012

Although Barack Obama won a second term and Democrats gained some seats in Congress, the Republicans remain a considerable force to be reckoned with in the 2013-14 election cycle and beyond.

Lost in the news media’s ecstasy over President Obama’s victory in the midst of a terribly weak, job-starved economy is the political reality behind his narrow popular vote margin, the GOP’s still-muscular House majority and its rising strength among the nation’s governorships.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out news releases the day after the election that they had “succeeded last night in rolling back the [GOP‘s] Tea Party wave of 2010. In fact, Democrats had defeated “only three members of the Tea Party Caucus,” election tracker Stuart Rothenberg noted in his post-election analysis.

The Democrats were making preposterous pre-election claims of winning 25 seats and taking back the House, but they never came close. In the 2008 election, Mr. Obama’s party gained 21 House seats. They gained only eight this year, leaving the GOP in firm control of the people’s chamber.

Democrats had a net gain of two seats in the Senate, winning all of the close toss-up races in a year when the Republicans had expected to at least tighten their margin in the upper body. Now Majority Leader Harry Reid rules the Senate with a 55 to 45 majority.

This means that nothing passes the Senate without the hard-to-get 60-votes needed to take up any administration legislation.

The really big, untold story on Election Night is that the Republicans will be in control of 30 statehouses next year. That’s “the highest number for either party in more than a decade,” says The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and is a sign of the GOP’s continued strength in the states.

Four of the five previous presidents before Mr. Obama were all governors: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Now Republicans head into 2013 with a long lineup of politically ambitious chief executives who are eyeing the presidency, including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Mike Pence of Indiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

The large pool of GOP governors, including many in the largest electoral states — Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and Florida — means they will be able to rebuild stronger political ground organizations for their party. The new crop of Republican leaders also has begun talking about playing a stronger role in the GOP’s political future.

In his “Monday Fix” political column, Mr. Cillizza says that, despite news media reports of the GOP’s demise, “things aren’t that bad for Republicans.”

As for the GOP’s presumed electoral obstacles, he says “the party is not that far, electorally speaking, from creating a credible path back to 270 electoral votes.”

Put the key Midwestern states of Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin into the GOP column, and possibly Pennsylvania, and the party’s future looks much more promising.

“No, this was not a blowout election for Democrats, but the hardening of the party coalitions and the changing face of the country — and the electorate — pose major problems for the Republican Party,” Mr. Rothenberg says in an analysis that sees a very “mixed message” coming out of the 2012 contests.

Some are calling the results “a status quo election,” and that’s what it has turned out to be. Congress remains as divided as it was before, give or take a few seats. Mr. Obama stays in the White House, but he is facing the same weakening economic and worsening fiscal problems he said he would fix four years ago but didn’t.

The Republican National Committee is now engaged in a nationwide poll-and-focus-group examination into why the electorate voted the way it did. The answer to that question seems self-evident. Mr. Obama received more votes than Mitt Romney because of a clearly superior voter turnout ground game in the electoral battleground states.

The reasons for Mr. Romney’s defeat run deeper than that, however.

Mr. Rothenberg points out that “white voters constituted only 72 percent of the electorate this year, compared with 74 percent in 2008, a trend that has been apparent for years and will continue. Hispanics, on the other hand, inched up from 9 percent of the electorate in 2008 to 10 percent this year, and younger voters, age 18 to 29, continued their unusually high rate of participation, constituting 19 percent of the electorate this time, compared to 18 percent four years ago.”

“For Republicans, the picture should be pretty clear. The Democratic coalition is growing while the GOP base is shrinking. Just as important, key Democratic constituencies seem less vulnerable to defecting than do GOP-leaning groups.”

Even in key red states that Mr. Romney carried comfortably, there were numerous examples of ticket-splitting favoring the Democrats in pivotal Senate contests.

In North Dakota, for example, Mr. Romney carried the state with a 21-point margin, but its voters sent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp to the Senate.

Mr. Romney easily carried strongly Republican Indiana and Missouri, but voters elected Democrats in senatorial races that were at the top of the GOP’s “vulnerable target” list.

It should be clear by now that Republicans must find new ways to reach out and appeal to a much larger base of voters. No serious Republican candidate can afford to lose 70 percent-plus of the Hispanic vote — especially in battlegrounds such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio — and expect to win the presidency.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush already is mounting a major outreach program to make inroads among Hispanic voters, who gave George W. Bush 43 percent of their vote in 2004.

Republican leaders also have to look at their voter turnout operation, which was woefully inadequate. On the GOP’s list of “things we must do” in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections and 2016 presidential contest, this one has to be at the top.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.