Boston • Blame superstorm Sandy. Or top strategist Stuart Stevens. Or the 53 percent of Americans who didn’t like that 47 percent comment.
Even before Mitt Romney conceded the presidential race early Wednesday, the circular firing squad had broken out among Republicans suffering over another disappointing election.
With a majority of Americans dissatisfied with President Barack Obama, unemployment near 8 percent and an economy still teetering on the brink, Republicans thought their “turn-around artist” Romney was the answer.
Voters disagreed — and it appears Obama’s campaign was successful in targeting its key voting base and even undercutting some Republican-leaning groups such as mothers, pulling enough votes to win the Electoral College and the popular vote.
Obama overwhelmingly captured the Hispanic and other minority vote and had a significant advantage among women and young voters, according to exit polls conducted for a consortium of news organizations at voting stations around the country. The president also won over moderate voters. Romney, meanwhile, scooped up better than 80 percent of the conservative vote, won among older voters and enjoyed a slight edge with men.
One top Republican official said Wednesday there was just no strategy in the Romney camp to cull the votes it needed.
While the campaign had models showing a path to victory, the numbers were hyped among demographics that Romney couldn’t get, the official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorizved to speak about the insider information.
“There was no model to get to 270,” the official said of the number of Electoral College votes needed to clinch the presidency. “The math didn’t work.”
Who deserves the most blame?
Some pundits weighed in that the storm that slammed the Northeast last week snuffed out any Romney momentum by giving the president a stage to look presidential, or that the GOP nominee never fully recovered after the leaked video of him telling rich donors that 47 percent of Americans are “victims” who want the government to take care of them.
Those, however, might have been secondary to statements by the campaign’s own people, including Stevens, the strategist, and Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, who appear now to have oversold how well the campaign was going in its final days.
“Our momentum is undeniable, if you just look at the numbers,” Newhouse said in an email to supporters, citing a 70 percent drop in the early vote for Obama and 10 percent hike for Republicans.
Newhouse claimed Romney and running mate Paul Ryan had an 11-point advantage with independents.
“So even though the billion-dollar Obama juggernaut wants to crow that Romney-Ryan momentum is a myth,” Newhouse argued, “they have nowhere near the numbers they need to position themselves for victory on Election Day.”
Newhouse’s remarks obviously were meant to keep the campaign’s base fired up, but his spin proved 180-degrees wrong.
Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington who was not affiliated with the Romney campaign, said the fault lies with how the campaign allowed the Obama team to introduce Romney to millions of voters through negative attack ads that separated him from average Americans.
“There were no biographical commercials [on Romney] and so the ground was defined by the Democrats,” Bonjean said. “Romney did not do direct one-on-one town hall meetings nor put himself in unscripted situations where he could hear directly from people hurting across America. Aside from the [Republican National] Convention, the only real chance he had to connect was the first debate and it is the only reason the polls were so close.”
Romney himself offered an endorsement of his campaign operation to reporters ahead of the results, saying he was proud of the effort.
“No campaign is perfect,” he told reporters aboard his plane. “I’m sure like any campaign, people can point to mistakes. But that’s the mark of anything that’s produced by human beings.”
The Romney team was “very solid,” the candidate said, and didn’t have the infighting that eats up valuable time and resources like other campaigns faced.
“We’ve gotten our message across,” Romney said. “I am very pleased. I feel we have put it all on the field. We left nothing in the locker room. We fought to the very end.”
Romney came close in several swing states, losing the key Ohio vote by some 2 percentage points, Virginia by 3 points and Colorado by 4. Had he won those and come out on top in Florida — which was still counting results Wednesday — Romney would be the president-elect.
“Mitt ran a great campaign,” says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who traveled often with the candidate or stumped for him in battleground states. “He was a wonderful candidate; he was everything we had hoped he would be.”
Voters knew the country was off-track, Chaffetz said, but weren’t willing to change out an incumbent for someone new.
“Those aren’t the reasons Mitt Romney lost,” the congressman added. “I just think the president won. And there’s a difference.”
Needed to win • 270
President Barack Obama • 303
Mitt Romney • 206
Still counting — Florida • 29