Obama 2012 looks a lot like Granholm 2006

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

Phil Klein points to the Republican struggle to win Latino voters as the main lesson of this election. Kirsten Powers said on Fox that the election shows how Republicans are losing as the United States becomes more of a “brown country.”

Certainly, the GOP needs to make major improvements in their outreach to Latinos. The Latino vote, though, doesn’t explain President Obama’s victory in New Hampshire, as National Review’s Mark Steyn observed. And it wasn’t Latino voters who delivered Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio — Fox is currently projecting Obama to win all those states — for the president’s re-election bid.

So what’s the takeaway? As a Michigan native, it’s hard not to recall the 2006 gubernatorial race and think that Midwestern, blue-collar voters just don’t like the typical Republican businessman-turned-politician.

In 2006, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich., appeared to be a vulnerable incumbent as Michigan had one of the worst economies in the nation. The state unemployment rate, in November 2006, was 7 percent (oh, for the days of when 7 percent unemployment was a high number). The national unemployment rate was far lower, at 4.5 percent.

The Republican Party fielded Amway executive Dick DeVos — a relative newcomer to the political scene, rather lacking in the common touch. He hammered Granholm over the unemployment rate and argued that his business experience would help him turn around the economy. Sound familiar?

“He’s sold Michigan-made products around the world and created thousands of jobs in your state,” then-First Lady Laura Bush said of DeVos. “Offering young people the hope of good employment is one of the most important things we can do for our children.”

Granholm, if memory serves, attacked DeVos over building factories and creating jobs in China, which left Republicans sputtering about how he had to build factories in China in order to sell products there (liberals who have defended Chrysler over Jeep production should be familiar with this defense).

When manufacturing jobs unrelated to DeVos left the state, Granholm benefited as she seemed more sympathetic to struggling blue-collar workers than her wealthy opponent. With each factory closure, the idea that DeVos created jobs in China became more and more of an albatross around his neck. She ultimately won re-election handily.

Similarly, Obama attacked Romney for being a “pioneer of outsourcing” and built a campaign around proving that he cared more about the working class -- or as he put it, the middle class. In Ohio, he used the bailout to make that case successfully. (Obama pulled this off even though his bailout involved thousands of needless layoffs, and he put Chrysler and GM through bankruptcy, as Romney would have done).

Nationally, tonight’s results indicate a very close popular vote result — maybe even a split decision, with Romney carrying the popular vote. But Obama won where it counted, in the electoral college. And he appears to have done so by winning in states similar to Michigan, with an argument similar to what Granholm made, against a candidate (Romney) who looks a lot like DeVos did.

Update: The quick retort, a Michigan friend points out, is that Rick Snyder is now the governor of Michigan after a career as a successful Gateway executive. But the difference between Snyder, on the one hand, and DeVos and Romney on the other, is clear in his first ad of the election. Declaring himself “one tough nerd” in an ad that mocked politicians as dumb and incompetent, he showed more charm and personality than either of the other two candidates ever mustered.

I don’t think that voters begrudge rich businessmen their wealth, but if they can be caricatured as good old boys who look for only themselves, they lose. That ad helped Snyder preempt that caricature.

Also, he was running  for an open seat after eight years of Democratic leadership. DeVos and Romney had to oppose a Democratic incumbent who blamed the contemporary problems on the last administration.

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