Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Perry Counterfactual Just Doesn't Work

Do people really think this man could have become President?
Seriously?
I see Matt Yglesias is trying to play out counterfactuals where Rick Perry turns out to be able to string together two complete sentences, wins the Republican nomination, and then stands a better shot at winning the Presidency than Mitt Romney did. I've seen other versions of this story elsewhere, but I don't think they hold water.

It's true that Perry's path to the nomination would have been very straightforward. Win Iowa, lose New Hampshire, dominate in South Carolina and then Florida, at which point even if Romney wins Michigan (no sure thing, given how close Santorum managed to get), Perry would do extremely well on Super Tuesday thanks to the votes of a number of Southern states.

But I think the general election map is pretty unforgiving. I'm going to try to be as charitable as I possibly can to a Perry candidacy. Let's say that between being a proper Southern-fried candidate and having slightly less retrograde views on immigration, Perty manages to put Virginia and Florida completely out of play, and Colorado and Nevada (both states with decent Mormon populations) have the same level of competitiveness -- close, but still favoring Obama. The flip side of this equation is that lean-Obama states would have been pushed further into Democratic territory. New Hampsire would be unreachable; Wisconsin might have been as well; and the standard Republican "we're going to make a late play for Pennsylvania" script would be as revulsion to Perry's southern optics turns off just as many voters in the Eastern part of the state as it excites in the Central and Western regions. Iowa is tough to figure out; Perry's southern-ness would have been an asset in parts of the state and a liability in others. So Team Obama would be able to devote almost all its resources to the four true swing states: Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, and Iowa. In three of these states (all except Colorado), Democrats enjoyed a substantial advantage in early voting organization.

This is the map we would have been looking at in the closing days
of an Obama-vs-Perry campaign. Obama would have still
been the favorite, though perhaps by a smaller margin.
In this hypothetical, there are sixteen possible sets of outcomes for these for states. Of those sixteen possibilities, Obama wins 8, Perry wins 7, and one outcome is an exact tie, throwing the election into the House where Perry wins unless his southern-fried conservatism causes Democrats to pick up some seats in the Midwest and Northeast (Obama wins OH while losing the other three states). However, Obama would have had tactical advantages in all of those states. So again Republicans would have been behind the eight ball. The campaign wouldn't have been an exact replay of the one we actually got -- candidates would have been able to narrow their focus on swing states even further -- but it would have once again been true that the election more or less "all comes down to Ohio".

This exercise produces nearly identical results if you replace "Rick Perry" with "Mike Huckabee". Perhaps Huckabee would have fared better in Iowa, reducing the election to three states instead of four. But absent putting a very green Suzanna Martinez, Brian Sandoval, or perhaps Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush on the ticket, I don't see how to make Republicans the favorite on election day.
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