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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Christie and the Bush Model

Jonathan Martin reports at The New York Times that Christie is hoping that a big reelection victory will launch a presidential bid.
At the Republican National Committee summer meeting in Boston last week, Mr. Christie and his aides repeatedly made the case that his re-election effort in heavily Democratic New Jersey this fall would offer a model for Republicans in the years ahead. And despite their claims to be focused only on 2013, his aides have also signaled to Republicans that the governor, if re-elected as expected, plans to begin visiting other states immediately after November.
...
 Senior Republicans who are familiar with Mr. Christie’s strategy say it is most closely modeled after Mr. Bush’s bid in 1998 for re-election as governor of Texas. The parallels are clear. Mr. Bush was considered a shoo-in for re-election to the governor’s office, but he and Mr. Rove became determined to win over Hispanic and black voters to demonstrate the governor’s broad appeal to a national audience. Mr. Bush won that race, with 68 percent of the vote, which included more than a third of the Hispanic vote, offering him a powerful credential when he ran for president two years later as “a different kind of Republican.”
The Christie team should think carefully before relying too heavily on the Bush model.

First, Bush won in 1998 because his opposition was so weak, not because his appeal was broad.  As Jim Gimpel explained:
[W]hat is often ignored about the 1998 Texas race was that George W. Bush won so easily because only 32 percent of registered voters turned out. Indeed, he won so easily because most of the Mexican Americans in Texas, stalwarts of the Democratic party, stayed home. Far from Latino converts being his key to victory, it was Latino apathy that allowed him to rack up such a huge advantage.

...
Take the Latino counties in South and West Texas: Cameron, Hidalgo and, say, El Paso (home to the cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, Edinburgh, McAllen, and El Paso). One need not take just these counties, after all, Texas has 254 (!) of them, but these three will help to amplify the turnout point.

At all three of these heavily Mexican-American and historically Democratic locations, Bush won respectable victories in his 1998 reelection bid — even taking 59 percent in Cameron (Brownsville). But the turnout figures in these counties tell us how he managed this: 27.7 percent in El Paso, 24.2 percent in Cameron, and a pathetic 21.4 percent in Hidalgo. Bush won these Democratic counties in 1998 because only the hardcore Republicans and Anglos showed up to vote for him. If turnout in the Mexican-American community would have been higher, as it was in the 2000 presidential race, he would have lost decisively — and he did — Gore won all three by significant margins with turnout figures in the 40-50 percent range. The moral of the story is again clear: Bush wins handily in Texas when Mexican Americans stay home. These facts are so plain, it is hard to believe that they could be so misunderstood.
Second, Bush won the nomination in 2000 by becoming the conservative alternative to John McCain. Romney's 2012 nomination campaign provides a  more plausible model for Christie.  As we explain in After Hope and Change, he consolidated the moderate/establishment vote early on, became at least tolerable to the right, and then let his rivals split up the conservative vote.