Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

How Ryan can take Romney to the White House

By Lawrence R. Jacobs, Special to CNN
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu August 16, 2012
The Paul Ryan choice adopts a strategy premised on supermobilizing the Republican base, says Lawrence Jacobs.
The Paul Ryan choice adopts a strategy premised on supermobilizing the Republican base, says Lawrence Jacobs.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lawrence Jacobs: Mitt Romney was shrewd in picking Paul Ryan as his running mate
  • Jacobs: Ryan can supercharge conservatives, who outnumber liberals 2 to 1
  • He says there are signs that Obama supporters won't actually cast a ballot
  • Jacobs: Using Ryan to ignite the GOP base is probably Romney's best chance of prevailing

Editor's note: Lawrence R. Jacobs is professor and director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the Hubert H. Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota.

(CNN) -- By now, we're on the same page that Mitt Romney's pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate contradicts a golden oldie of presidential election strategy -- run to the conservative (or liberal) base to win the nomination and then reposition toward the center to lure the more moderate independent swing voters who are necessary to win the general election.

Ryan may be many things -- energetic, charismatic and geeky -- but no one familiar with his Full Monty conservative budgets would describe his selection as remotely moving to the center. Just the opposite -- Romney has doubled down on his move to the right during the primary battle.

What gives? Did the looming prospect of defeat push Romney into a desperate gamble?

Lawrence R. Jacobs
Lawrence R. Jacobs

Give Romney some credit. He's made a shrewd move.

The Ryan choice adopts a strategy premised on supermobilizing the base and luring a smidgeon of others. Put on your thinking caps and grab an abacus, here are the numbers that could put Romney in the White House.

Questions about Romney's budget plan
Ryan: Obama campaign based on 'anger'
Ryan defends Romney's business record

Conservatives outnumber liberals 2 to 1 (40% to 21%).

Rage against Obama has the GOP ready to walk over red hot coals to cast a ballot. A mainstay of Gallup's measure for determining who is likely to vote -- whether survey respondents are thinking a lot about the election -- shows not only that Republicans are more attentive than Democrats by 13 points but also more fired up than in recent presidential elections.

To make sure they harvest the Ryan enthusiasts, the Romney campaign appears to be assembling an impressive operation to turn out the vote and to aggressively compete with the Obama team for the early vote.

What makes the Romney mobilization particularly threatening to Obama is that it targets his biggest challenge -- polls consistently show him ahead but there are ominous signs that a decisive group of those supporters won't actually cast a ballot.

Even with Obama's pro-immigration shift and the growing number of Latinos in competitive states, their actual turnout may flag from their record numbers in 2008. Less than half of Hispanics eligible to vote are registering and only 64% of Hispanics say they will definitely vote as compared to their 77% response in 2008 and the national average of 78% today.

Ditto on youth. The percentage of voters 18 to 29 who say they will definitely vote in November (58%) is currently running 20 points or more behind the national average today (78%) or the youth turnout in 2008 (78%) or 2004 (81%).

Blue collar voters -- never drawn to Obama (think Hillary Clinton in 2008 Democratic primaries) -- may desert him in numbers that approach the "Reagan Democrat" defections in 1980. This possible weakness in the Democratic coalition coincides with a bit more slippage among Obama's 2008 supporters (9%) than among McCain voters who won't vote GOP in November (5%).

Bottom line: By picking the bona fide conservative Ryan, the Republican base is likely to deliver a rapturous response, which may allow Romney to succeed in exploiting Obama's greatest weakness at this point.

Before you conclude this is far-fetched, think back to Karl Rove's strategy in 2004 to move right with strident social conservatism on abortion and same-sex marriage, steep tax cuts and hawkish policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Embracing the base and scorning the rush to the middle cost George W. Bush the independent vote. But Bush also supercharged conservatives and Republicans, who turned out in droves. Refuting the conventional wisdom that Democrats do best in high-turnout elections, it was Bush who most benefited from the 16% jump in the total vote.

But -- there's always a but.

Even as Ryan fires up conservatives, he may also mobilize votes for Obama -- including senior citizens who reside in key swing states like Florida. Alarmed by his draconian proposals to remake Medicare, they may boost their support of Obama.

Another potential risk: A good number of voters may be primed to punish the incumbent for poor economic times. Pluralities of Ohio and Florida independents report that Obama's re-election would hurt their personal financial situation. But the coming hullabaloo over Ryan's budget proposals may distract the economically pained from punishing Obama.

All in all, Romney has a tough battle ahead -- even stringent counts of Electoral College votes based on polls show Obama within striking distance of winning. But using Ryan to ignite the Republican base is probably Romney's most plausible path to prevailing. And, it may produce a campaign focused a bit more on policy than on birth certificates, service records and the other side issues of recent elections. Strap in, folks, 2012 may be much more interesting and close than we'd imagined.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lawrence R. Jacobs.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:12 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
updated 7:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
updated 7:50 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
updated 4:31 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT