Obama’s Swing State Challenge

The 2012 election will be decided in twelve battleground states. President Barack Obama struggles in all of them.

The 2012 presidential election will be decided in twelve battleground states. As Barack Obama is unpopular among white working-class voters, his ability to sway the Rust Belt will be limited, imperiling his reelection prospects.

A plurality of voters now consider themselves independent. One out of four believe that the country is “on the wrong track.” Less than half approve of the president’s job performance. These are tough numbers faces an incumbent who is fighting for reelection. Americans are apparently less and less confident in President Obama’s ability to lead them out of recession. But his most structural challenge may be demographic.

As David Gregory, moderator of Meet the Press, pointed out on NBC’s Hardball last week, the Democrats “don’t just have to win” the Latino vote in the southwest, “they have to win them huge.” Although the party traditionally polls well among racial minorities, Republicans realize that if they are to attain a majority in states like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, they have to appeal to the same Hispanic voting bloc that tends to be more socially conservative than Asian or black Americans.

In the upper Midwest, added Gregory, Obama’s has to appeal to blue-collar, typically unionized voters whose economic prospects haven’t improved under his presidency.

Especially with regard to environmental issues, where the activist left and unions collide, Obama is in a tough spot. If he reins in the Environmental Protection Agency, he risks alienating greens whereas not enough of a focus on job creation could disappoint working-class voters.

Kimberley Strassel wrote in The Wall Street Journal that blue-collar white voters can still play a decisive role despite the emphasis on minorities in the press. They helped Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in Pennsylvania and Ohio during the 2008 Democratic Party primary elections. “Obama would go on in the general election to lock up the college educated, the affluent, the women, the minorities, the first time voters — you name it.” But he lost the white working class by eighteen points.

Rather than court this constituency, the Obama Administration has spent three years waging war on it with activist environmental legislation that’s especially hurt the decaying industrial base of the northwest.

A Pew poll this year found an astonishing 43 percent of the white working class didn’t believe they’d be better off in ten years — the most negative views of any group polled, by far. It helps explain why, in the 2010 election, the white working class surged to give the GOP a record 63 percent of their vote, 30 points more than for Democrats.

White blue-collar voters make up 40 percent of the electorate nationwide and they form an even bigger group in many of the very swing states Obama needs to win.

In 2008, the president won 359 electoral votes, including a lone elector in the state of Nebraska. Even if he loses Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, where the impact of the recession has been severest, but wins the west, he would still have the 270 votes needed to win exactly. If he also lost his one vote from Nebraska, the race would be tied.

The two states that the president cannot afford to lose are Florida and Pennsylvania. The former was won by George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004 while the latter went for the Democratic candidate in those elections. Each time, the margins of victory were slim in both states and they trended Republican during the congressional midterms of 2010. Between them, Florida and Pennsylvania wield 49 electoral votes.