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First Thoughts: Obama's demographic edge

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Campaigning with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, voting and election results.

Obama’s demographic edge… And the GOP’s demographic dilemma… Breaking down last night’s results… Do status-quo election results = status-quo governing?... Obama’s swing-county swagger…His tactical dominance…  And lots of history was made last night. 

*** Obama's demographic edge: Yes, the auto bailout mattered in Ohio. Sure, Hurricane Sandy helped the president. And, yes, the economy was the No. 1 issue. But make no mistake: What happened last night was a demographic time bomb that had been ticking and that blew up in GOP faces. As the Obama campaign had assumed more than a year ago, the white portion of the electorate dropped to 72%, and the president won just 39% of that vote. But he carried a whopping 93% of black voters (representing 13% of the electorate), 71% of Latinos (representing 10%), and also 73% of Asians (3%). What’s more, despite all the predictions that youth turnout would be down, voters 18-29 made up 19% of last night’s voting population -- up from 18% four years ago -- and President Obama took 60% from that group. The trend also played out in the key battleground states: The president won about 70% of the Latino vote in Colorado and Nevada, and he won 60% of it in Florida (a high number given the state’s large GOP-leaning Cuban-American population). On Monday, we wrote that demography could determine destiny. And that’s exactly what happened. While the campaign’s turnout operation deserves all the credit for getting these voters to the polls, the most significant event of this presidential contest might very well have been the 2010 census. 

*** And the GOP’s demographic dilemma: Obama’s demographic edge creates this dilemma for the Republican Party: It can no longer rely on white voters to win national elections anymore, especially in presidential cycles. Indeed, according to the exit poll, 89% of all votes Mitt Romney won last night came from whites (compared with 56% for Obama). So the Republicans are maximizing their share with white voters; they just aren’t getting the rest. And come 2016, the white portion of the electorate will probably drop another couple of points to 70%. Politico’s Martin puts it this way: “Battling a wheezing economy and a deeply motivated opposition, Obama still managed to retain much of his 2008 map because of the GOP’s deficiencies with the voters who are changing the political face of once conservative-leaning Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada. Republicans face a crisis: the country is growing less white and their coalition has become more white in recent years. In 2004, George W. Bush won [about 40 percent] of Hispanics. Four years later, John McCain, the author of an immigration reform bill, took 31 percent of Hispanics. And this year, Romney captured only 27 percent of Hispanics.” 

NBC's Chuck Todd discusses how Florida may be used as a model for the rest of the country to show how changes in demographics, particularly an influx of Hispanic voters in key counties, affected the outcome of the election.

*** Hard for the GOP just to turn to the Midwest: Now Republicans might argue, “Look, we can win back the Midwest -- Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin.” Yet those account for 34 electoral votes. But the Sun Belt states where Obama campaigned and which have more diverse populations (Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia) have a total of 57 electoral votes. And then there are Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. Do those states come into play in 2016? What about 2020? Come 2016, you could argue that Arizona and Georgia become for Democrats what Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania are for Republicans -- just slightly out of reach.

*** Last night’s results: The morning after, here are the results (so far) from last night: Obama holds 303 electoral votes and Romney 206. (NBC News has yet to call Florida and its 29 electoral votes, but Obama leads there 50%-49%.) In the popular vote, it’s Obama 50%, Romney 48%. Also, Democrats have held on to their Senate majority and might add to it -- with undecided races in Montana (where Democratic incumbent Jon Tester leads 48%-48% with 77% in) and North Dakota (where Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is ahead by about 3,000 voters with 93% in). But Republicans held on to control of the House, holding 237 seats vs. 197 for the Democrats, plus-minus four seats. 

President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney both spent billions of dollars and logged thousands of miles on the campaign trail, and it all culminated in one very dramatic election night. Take a look back at the long road that led to the Presidential election.

*** Does status-quo control = status-quo governing? So in the end, we got a status-quo result -- with Obama holding on to the White House, Democrats keeping control of the Senate, and Republicans maintaining their grip on the House. But here’s the question with the “fiscal cliff” negotiations coming up: Will the governing be status quo, too? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released this statement last night: “To the extent [Obama] wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way. That begins by proposing a way for both parties to work together in avoiding the ‘fiscal cliff’ without harming a weak and fragile economy, and when that is behind us work with us to reform the tax code and our broken entitlement system.” And House Speaker John Boehner makes a statement on the “fiscal cliff” negotiations at 3:30 pm ET. But who holds the mandate here? The GOP? Or a president who waged a national campaign on raising taxes for the wealthy, and who won? And here’s another question: Do Boehner and McConnell take advantage of the lame duck to compromise? 

*** Obama’s swing-county swagger: Turning back to last night’s presidential contest, Obama beat Romney in almost all of the swing counties (won by Bush in ’04 but by Obama in ’08). Indeed, Obama won three of four swing counties in Florida (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Osceola), four of six in Ohio (Hamilton, Wood, Ottawa, Sandusky), 11 of 14 in Virginia (including Loudon, Prince William, and Henrico), and all six in Colorado (including Jefferson, Arapahoe, and Larimer). And despite losing North Carolina, Obama may have proved that the state is changing, becoming more “Mid-Atlantic” but not quite all there, as Charlie Cook has said. Obama won nine of 13 swing counties in the Tar Heel State (including the large counties of Wake, Forsyth, Cumberland, and Buncombe).

*** And his tactical dominance: But it was more than winning the swing counties for Obama; it was tactical dominance. Romney made inroads all across the country from previous GOP performance. What happened, however, was that the Obama campaign exploited the census and changed the margins. The best example of this was in Florida.

*** Making history: Finally, it was an historic-making election. With Obama’s re-election, we now have the first time since Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe that Americans have elected three two-term presidents in a row… Tammy Baldwin will become the Senate’s first openly gay member… The Senate will have at least 19 female members -- the most ever -- and there’s a chance that number could increase to 20 if Heitkamp wins… Maryland and Maine became the first states to approve of gay marriage at the ballot box… And initiatives to legalize marijuana passed in Colorado and Washington state. 

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