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
August 16, 2012 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
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
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT