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2/01/2015 8:14 am  #1

The Power of Blue State Republicans

The Surprising Power of Blue-State Republicans
JAN. 30, 2015

There is a basic mystery at the heart of modern Republican presidential politics. The party’s voters, despite electing conservatives to the House and Senate, have repeatedly chosen relatively moderate nominees, like Mitt Romney and John McCain, in the primaries.

With the 2016 campaign underway, and candidates positioning themselves for money, endorsements and staff, the establishment of the party is again at the center of the conversation. Even though Mr. Romney said on Friday that he had decided not to pursue the nomination, a third Bush seems poised to run, and has suggested he will not bow down to conservative activists.

How does a Republican Party seemingly dominated by the South, energized by the Tea Party and elected by conservative voters also consistently support relatively moderate presidential nominees? The answer is the blue-state Republicans.

The blue-state Republicans make it far harder for a very conservative candidate to win the party’s nomination than the party’s reputation suggests. They also give a candidate who might seem somewhat out of touch with today’s Republican Party, like Jeb Bush, a larger base of potential support than is commonly thought.

It’s easy to forget about the blue-state Republicans. They’re all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats, and so officials elected by states and districts that supported Mr. Romney dominate the Republican Congress.

But the blue-state Republicans still possess the delegates, voters and resources to decide the nomination. In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.

Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama. Those states hold 50 percent of the delegates to the Republican National Convention, even though they contain just 19 percent of Republican senators. Just 11 percent of House Republicans hail from districts that voted for President Obama.

A Deep Blue Well of Republican Voters

These 18 states and the District of Columbia have voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections — the bluest of blue states.


These bluest states have dwindled to 7 percent of the G.O.P.’s Senate delegation …

But they still account for 4 in 10 voters in Republican primaries, helping swing results toward establishment candidates.

For all the legitimate attention that will be given to questions about whether an establishment favorite like Mr. Bush can win over deeply conservative voters, there are just as many questions about which conservative candidate can win over blue-state Republicans. Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney won every blue-state primary in 2008 and 2012, making it all but impossible for their more conservative challengers to win the nomination.

“There’s no question the presidential trail goes through places that congressional Republicans don’t always have to go,” said Ari Fleischer, the first White House press secretary for George W. Bush, the last Republican to win the party’s nomination largely because of strength in red-state primaries. Mr. Bush struggled in blue states, losing early primaries in New Hampshire and Michigan, but still secured the nomination.

The importance of blue-state Republicans makes it far less likely that the party will nominate a conservative firebrand or a favorite of the religious right, like Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee, than one might guess from the unwavering conservatism of the red-state electorates that hold sway over elected Republicans in Washington. It also makes the primaries the party’s best chance to moderate its image in hopes of faring better in presidential elections, as the Democrats did in 1992 by nominating Bill Clinton, a Southern Democrat. The pre-eminence of red-state conservative Republicans in Washington has made it all but impossible for congressional Republicans to compromise, moderate or rebrand the party ahead of the 2016 elections.

It would be hard for the Republicans to nominate a true moderate who disagreed with the party’s conservative base on more than a few issues. Most blue-state Republicans are conservatives, but they are nonetheless very different from their red-state counterparts. Moderate Republican politicians, like Mr. McCain or Mr. Romney, have been forced to evolve into more conservative candidates on issues like immigration or climate change. Yet Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney would have struggled to win the nomination without the blue-state Republicans.

The tendency of a national primary electorate to moderate a party isn’t new. And it’s not limited to the Republicans. Mr. Clinton won just three of the first 15 contests in 1992, losing relatively liberal Maryland, Colorado and New Hampshire before sweeping eight Southern primaries on Super Tuesday. Hillary Clinton would have a huge advantage over a candidate who challenged her from the left. Such a candidate might win San Francisco, Boulder, Colo., or Vermont, but would struggle to win relatively conservative Democrats in Appalachia or the South.

According to an analysis of Pew Research and exit-poll data, blue-state Republicans tend to be more urban, more moderate, less religious and more affluent. A majority of red-state Republicans are evangelical Christians, believe society should discourage homosexuality, think politicians should do what it takes to undermine the Affordable Care Act and want politicians to stand up for their positions, even if that means little gets done in Washington. A majority of blue-state Republicans differ on every count.

In recent presidential primaries, blue-state Republican voters have overwhelmingly supported so-called establishment candidates. On Super Tuesday in 2008, Mr. McCain all but locked up the nomination by winning delegate-rich blue states like Illinois, New York, California and New Jersey. Yet outside of his home state, he lost nine of the 11 red-state contests on that night. Mr. Romney lost all but one red-state primary held before his principal opponent dropped out of the race, yet he won the nomination by sweeping the blue states. He won 45 percent of the vote in blue-state primaries, but just 30 percent in the states that voted for him in the general election.

The More Moderate Blue-State Republicans
Blue-state Republicans are less religious, more moderate and less rural than their red-state counterparts. They were far more likely to support Mitt Romney or John McCain.

A credible conservative threat to whoever emerges as the Republican’s leading establishment candidate is likely to be posed by a candidate who can break the establishment candidate’s grip on the blue states. They would combine strong red-state appeal with at least modest blue-state support — more than Rick Santorum won in 2012 or than Mr. Huckabee did in 2008. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who has won elections in a blue state but who also appeals to grass-roots conservatives, is one possibility.

Here’s another way to think about it: If the Republican presidential nominee were decided by the red states — by the same electorates that send Republican officials to Washington and then dissuade them from even the most incremental compromises — then Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain probably wouldn’t have won the party’s nomination. Mr. Romney would have won a below-average share of the vote in 154 of the 247 districts represented by Republicans, as well as the states that contribute 38 of the 54 Republican senators, according to an Upshot model of Mr. Romney’s support in the 2012 primaries.

THE clout of blue-state Republicans is enhanced by an alliance with the party’s donor class. Republican donors, in general, are likely more concerned by electability and business issues than religiosity and the culture wars. But they also come disproportionately from the blue states, which accounted for 62 percent of all Republican primary fund-raising in 2012. A candidate like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or the former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in 2008 might be too moderate to win the nomination, but would have a far easier time raising money than a highly conservative candidate like Mr. Santorum.

The distance between the base of congressional Republicans and the more geographically diverse primary voters is far larger than it used to be. Heading into the 1992 presidential election, the Republican Senate was split nearly evenly — 55 to 45 percent — between senators from today’s red and blue states. Now the split is 81 to 19. That’s because the ranks of red-state Republicans grew enormously in 1994, 2010 and 2014, while blue-state Republicans suffered big losses in 2006, 2008 and even 2012. The share of Republican voters from the Obama states, meanwhile, has barely decreased at all.

The importance of the blue states doesn’t mean that a conservative to the right of the party’s center couldn’t win the nomination. Brad Todd, a Republican strategist, thinks that the support for Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain in the blue states was a product of the weak candidates they faced, not because the blue states were unwilling to support populist, conservative candidates. Some blue states, like Colorado or Nevada, might even contain primary voters who are “more conservative than in some red states,” he added.

A populist, conservative candidate has won the blue states before. George W. Bush was conservative, populist and evangelical, but also a Harvard M.B.A. and a scion of the establishment. He lost Manhattan, San Francisco and Alexandria, Va., but still managed to win the New York, California and Virginia primaries — along with the nomination. Mr. Walker, an evangelical Christian who rose to prominence by fighting labor unions, making him a demonstrated ally of the business wing of the party, has a similar profile with the potential to appeal to voters throughout the party.

The red-state Republicans aren’t standing around. The Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp, is organizing a so-called SEC primary — referring to the college sports conference — of Southern states on March 1, the first date when states other than Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire are permitted to hold contests. The potential effect is obvious: It could bestow crucial momentum to the candidate favored by the South, perhaps another conservative like Mr. Santorum or Mr. Huckabee, and the boost needed to win the Midwestern primaries where conservative candidates have struggled, like Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Even in that scenario, the conservative Republican would need to win in the blue states — and would hope to have an easier time doing so after red-state victories.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Kemp insisted that the SEC primary is not intended to provide a boost to any particular kind of candidate or even the candidate favored by the South.

The goal is to make sure Georgia voters “have a say-so in the election,” he said. “So I’ve been trying to position ourselves to be more influential without breaking the rules.”

Last edited by Goose (2/01/2015 8:22 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

2/01/2015 9:54 am  #2

Re: The Power of Blue State Republicans

This essay caught my eye for a reason.
I know that conservatives have not been enthusiastic about moderates winning the republican Presidential nomination in recent years, McCain in 2008, and Romney in 2012. It is confusing in light of the fact that the republican congressional delegations are very conservative.

I think that Jimmy and I were discussing this on the "old" Exchange (How about paleo-exchange?) when Mitt was flirting with a third try.
Any way, I think that this essay goes a long way towards explaining why this has happened, and why Jeb Bush is much more likely to win the nomination in 2016 than is Huckabee, for instance.

Whether this is good or bad is, of course, dependent on the individual.

Last edited by Goose (2/01/2015 9:54 am)

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

2/01/2015 11:41 am  #3

Re: The Power of Blue State Republicans

I'm not up on all the nuances that might be involved, but I'm wondering if the gerrymandering efforts that have been (and are) employed to secure congressional seats may not be as effective in the presidential election.  I say that because in the last election there were 2 million more votes for Democratic candidates than Republican, and yet the R-Tribe won most of the individual contests.


2/03/2015 11:10 am  #4

Re: The Power of Blue State Republicans

Interesting thought.
Here's another:
If 4 in 10 reublican voters come from the blue states, it it really the moderates who keep screwing up GOP presidential chances, or is it the base?

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

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