Going into the 2012 election season against the backdrop of lingering economic weakness and high energy prices, President Barack Obama was seen by many Republicans as being in a vulnerable position when matched against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
As recently as last Sunday, national GOP strategist Karl Rove, the organizer of two political action committees that spent millions of dollars to defeat Obama, predicted that Romney would win enough Electoral College votes to be the next president and take a majority of the popular vote as well.
On Tuesday night, of course, the story would be utterly different: Obama held onto the reins of power by leaving Romney in the dust when it came to Electoral College votes and taking every battleground state except for North Carolina.
Maria Kelso, the Delaware County Republican chairwoman, said Republicans “shot themselves in the foot” by engaging with Democrats on such issues as women’s health care and Medicare. She said that allowed the Democrats to frame those types of hot-button domestic issues as important focal points in the presidential race.
“We should leave the women’s issues alone and let the women do what they want to do,” said Kelso. She said she believed two GOP politicians who were frontrunners in their Senate races until they ignited firestorms by making controversial remarks about women’s health issues deserved to be defeated — and they were.
She was referring to Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who had said that a pregnancy resulting from a rape was “a gift from God,” and Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, who had claimed that women who are the victims of “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant.
Kelso also said Republicans did not effectively counter what she called efforts by Democrats to scare elderly Americans into believing that they would lose Medicare coverage if Romney was elected.
“We have to stop sounding as if we want to take away those things from people,” she said. “Democrats take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge, and lack of knowledge is power” for those who exploit it, Kelso said.
“The Democrats were successful at misinforming people, but that we won’t do,” she said. “You just have to lock and load again.”
Exit polls showed that Obama received extraordinarily high support from African-American and Latino voters, while Romney led the president among white voters by some 20 points.
Chuck Pinkey, a conservative columnist for The Daily Star, said the GOP “obviously needs to broaden the tent, but we can’t out-liberal the liberals to do it.”
“We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get caught on stupid things like the ‘war on women’ and contraceptives,’” Pinkey said. “We have to pay more attention to minorities, but we don’t have to give up our core values to attract them.”
Pinkey also suggested the Republican Party would be best served by finding a presidential candidate who reminds voters of the conservatism of the late President Ronald Reagan.
“Thirty-five percent of the population say they are conservative, and 25 percent say they are liberal,” he noted. “We only have gain another 15 percent to be at 50 percent.”
Roxbury Town Supervisor Thomas Hines, a Democrat who has won local elections for 28 years in a community where there are many Republicans, said success at the ballot box comes by avoiding taking extreme positions and appealing to moderate voters.
He said Republicans would be better off if they avoid starting new arguments over “some of the stuff that was settled years ago. People who have fought battles before shouldn’t have to fight them again. Times are changing. We all have to adapt.”
Erik Miller, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for mayor of Oneonta three years ago, said he does not vote for candidates based on their party affiliation but on where they stand on issues. Both Romney and Obama, he said, never offered enough to get him energized to support one over the other.
“We need candidates who are more moderate — it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican — and are able to connect with both sides of the aisle,” said Miller, the executive director of the Southern Tier East Regional Planning Development Board. “We need a candidate who acknowledges that the views of the religious right may be appropriate at the local level in one place, but won’t get caught up in saying that what fits in the Bible Belt also fits in New England.”