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
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT