Advancing a Free Society

Romney and the Homecourt Factor

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Home is where the heart is.

But in this presidential election, home is not the heart of Mitt Romney’s fandom.

The Republicans’ nominee-in-waiting was born and raised in Michigan – a blue state that’s probably a little beyond his reach (strong unions, auto bailout) this November.

Since 1972, Romney’s been registered to vote in Belmont, Massachusetts – a quaint Boston suburb whose other claim to fame is that of one-time home of the John Birch Society.

1972 is not just four decades but 10 presidential contests ago – Massachusetts having gone Republican only twice over that stretch (the Reagan landslides of ’80 and ‘84) and being the lone Democratic holdout in the ‘72 Nixon landslide.

The odds of Romney carrying the state he governed from 2003-2007 – and Obama won by a shade under 26% that last go-round? About the same as a Yankees’ logo adorning the centerfield grass at Fenway Park.

Which leads us to a funny quirk about the election: Mitt Romney could wind up being the first contender since Richard Nixon in 1968 to capture the presidency despite dropping his resident state.

He’d also be the first Republican since Alf Landon in 1936 to fail to carry his home state.

Romney would be the first winner since James K. Polk in 1844 to prevail despite losing both his resident and birth states.

At this point, you may be thinking: so what?

A fair question . . . unless you’re into this sort of presidential minutiae, in which case you’re probably wondering which state will put Romney over the top at the convention roll call – the birth state, the residential state, or some other place he holds vacation property (that would include California, New Hampshire and Utah)?

When it comes to the birth-state distinction, Romney isn’t alone: both Bushes won despite losing the states in which they entered the world (Massachusetts for 41; Connecticut for 43). As did an icon President Obama likes to channel: Abraham Lincoln twice won the presidency despite failing to carry Kentucky, home of the fabled log cabin.

As for the home-state distinction: that’s trickier, given that Romney’s opponents are sure to trot out the same “rejected by the people who know him best” line last uttered at the end of the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore blew the race by failing to carry his native Tennessee. In fact, the buzz has already begun, in stories like this.

How does Romney overcome this geographical handicap?

Winning candidates sometimes fall back on their home states to tout a winning record, as was the case with George W. Bush in 2000 and Bill Clinton in 1992. But keep in mind: they were incumbent governors when they ran.

Romney’ been out of office for nearly five-and-a-half years now. A lot’s happened in America since then: a long recession and even longer wars; the invention of the iPhone and the iPad, not to mention a sarcasm detector to deal with snide tech support.

Put differently: imagine Ronald Reagan – a former governor of California while seeking the presidency in 1980 – dwelling on his record in Sacramento between the years 1967 and 1975, while overlooking the tax rebellion in California in 1978 (the landmark Proposition 13) that blossomed into a nationwide Reagan Revolution two years later, or the various domestic and overseas issues that overwhelmed Jimmy Carter.

The point is: Reagan ran not so much as a resident Californian in that election, but instead as something much larger: a Westerner – both in style and governing approach (as you can read here in his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention (here’s also the video). His was a campaign based on a movement, as opposed to his move out West.

We’re entering an interesting phase in the presidential race. Now that he’s secured the nomination, Republicans are moving on to their next Romney-related concern: “the vision thing”.

Not that the nominee should be overly concerned for now – as long as, by later this summer, he’s distilled the message and demonstrated a common touch with the common voter.

Such was Reagan’s skill and a talent Romney’s yet to fully master – that, and the understanding that voters are less concerned with where a candidates votes or vacations and far more interested in what he’s learned along the nation’s back roads.