Political Prognostication

Uncertainty is the resounding theme as November elections approach.

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\After two days of analyzing industry data, metrics, benchmarking and store performance, one of the summit’s final speakers touched on one of the most significant uncertainties facing our nation: the 2012 presidential elections.

Jim Ellis, a senior consultant for Washington, D.C.-based PRIsmConsulting, provides daily political analysis and commentary to many large corporations and associations, including NACS. He shared his views on the potential outcome of this year’s elections with a few insights on who could receive the Republican presidential nomination. While all arrows point toward former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, nothing is set in stone.

“You’ll find right now that ‘probably’ is the accurate answer,” Ellis said in reference to Romney’s potential. The GOP nomination could go to an open convention, he said, which has not happened in modern times.

In a “delegates 101” summarization, Ellis described how 1,144 of the total 2,286 delegates in each state and six territories are needed to win the GOP nomination and offered possible scenarios that will seal Romney’s fate as the party’s frontrunner. “The bottom line is that he’s not the nominee, even if media is calling him that,” he said.

In fact, the road ahead for the potential nominee is rocky. “It’s really Romney against the 1,144 delegates—not the other Republican candidates,” said Ellis. He pointed out that so far Romney has been the weaker candidate in rural areas and in the South, which are typically recognized as the heart of the Republican voter base.

Adding more fuel to the fire, in an interview with Fox News in early March, Newt Gingrich, also a Republican presidential hopeful, said that Romney would fall short of the 1,144 delegate votes necessary to win the GOP nomination once all 50 states and territories have voted. Gingrich also said that he would stay in the race through the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., therefore adding more uncertainty about Romney’s path to the presidency.

Although Romney appears to be stronger in urban areas and cities, if he has to rely on these areas to get him into the White House, “he’ll have a serious problem,” Ellis said, because those areas typically lean in favor of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, should the nomination go to Romney, at minimum he’ll need to secure five states—Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Ohio—that all supported former President George. Bush twice and then switched to President Barack Obama in the previous presidential election. Romney will also need to secure the second congressional district of Nebraska (Omaha) to beat Obama. On the Democratic side, however, the road to victory would be significantly less of a struggle: “Obama only needs one of these states to win,” Ellis said.

Unanswered Questions

Current economic conditions will also play a vital role in this year’s elections not only for the presidency but also for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Unless voters feel that the economy is getting better, Obama could still be the scapegoat when Americans cast their ballots, Ellis said. The only president to win reelection when unemployment was around 6% was Ronald Reagan—and “Obama has to do this with unemployment above 8%,” he said. However, a victory is likely to land in Obama’s backyard if voters don’t feel like there is better-suited candidate to take over his job, even if his is currently trending a popularity rate similar to that of one-term President Jimmy Carter. In the U.S. House and Senate, Ellis said it could be a 50-50 split, but it’s possible the Senate will tilt toward a Republican majority. Meanwhile, the already-GOP controlled House could win an even stronger majority. (For more, see sidebar at left.)

Another big question is whom Romney would choose as his vice president. Ellis compared the GOP to the Kansas City Royals: “They have a good farm system, but not a good starting lineup,” meaning that the younger Republicans who are coming up through the ranks may not be ready for the job of vice president come 2013.

However, unlike President George W. Bush, who chose Dick Cheney as his vice president on the merits that he had ample experience in Washington and could help him govern, Romney would need to choose a running mate who can help him win. One potential vice presidential running mate for Romney could go to someone such as U.S. Senator Mario Rubio (R-Fla.), who is a young, up-and coming Hispanic politician with a bright future, Ellis said.

Although the Republican presidential nominee may be far from certain at this stage, one scenario is a sure bet: A lot could happen between now and November, so buckle up—it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Punditry at Work

Jim Ellis keeps good company inside the Beltway with political pundits such as Stuart Rothenberg, editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, and Morton Kondracke. As the 2012 election cycle continues to come full circle, very few in Washington are short on opinions—especially when it comes to debating the potential winners and losers.

In October 2011, Kondracke wrote in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication read religiously by most policymakers, congressional staff and bureaucrats in Washington, that if he would “bet a lot of money that Mitt Romney will be the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.” On March 29, fellow Roll Call contributor Rothenberg echoed comments Ellis made to NACS State of the Industry attendees that although Romney “has not yet accumulated the necessary 1,144 delegates to the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa,” the chances that he would be denied the GOP nomination are evaporating.

Since the summit ended, presidential hopeful and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has dropped out of the GOP race, pitting former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and U.S. Representative Ron Paul up against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Rothenberg also wrote in March that the “steady drumbeat of announcements of support for Romney from party insiders (or acknowledgements from uncommitted current and former officeholders that he will be the party’s nominee)confirms what we are already seeing and hearing from members of the Republican National Committee who will be delegates—that they are falling inline behind Romney.”Rothenberg also compares Romney’s chances of beating President Obama to that of Ronald Reagan’s campaign against President Jimmy Carter. Like Ellis,

Rothenberg wrote on April 17 that Reagan didn’t necessarily win because he was the better candidate with a clear vision, but that he won because the Carter presidency “was a disaster.” Which begs the question President Obama may face when voters hit the polls in November: Are we better off than we were four years ago?

“Romney now seems to have the opportunity to make the 2012 election about the president’s performance,” said Rothenberg.

And while the presidential hopefuls continue to lay the groundwork for paving their way to the White House, both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are at play. According to The Rothenberg Report, as of April 20 the House Republicans have a 242-to-191 majority (with two Democratic vacancies), while a Democratic gain in the single digits is likely. The Democrats would need a net gain of 25 seats to capture a majority. In the Senate, Democrats have a 53-to-47 majority. Republican gains of two to five seats seem likely, but the Republicans need four seats for a majority if President Obama wins re-election.

Learn how you can support the industry and make an impact on elections in your home state by contacting Robin Oxford, NACS political affairs director, [email protected].

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