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 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 5:15 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 5:53 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 7:05 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT