By MAGGIE HABERMAN
And the 2012 presidential race pretty much played out as predicted by public pollsters and observers. Except it was a better night for President Barack Obama in certain significant respects than was anticipated.
He defeated Mitt Romney in nearly all of the battleground states, including Virginia and Ohio, which had long been pegged as pivotal to the race, and he’s holding on to a lead in Florida.
Here are POLITICO’S 12 takeaways from the Obama win:
1. 2008 was not a drill
For months, Republicans had been working under the assumption that a bad economy would combine with an ebbing of the electorate that gave Obama victory in 2008. White voters would represent a higher portion of the electorate, black voters would never turn out again in such numbers, and Hispanic voters would be in play.
None of that turned out to be the case. The model predicted by Obama’s pollster, Joel Benenson, was right, and the one created by Romney pollster Neil Newhouse was wrong. And public polls, especially in battleground states, contrary to an Internet uproar, were not “skewed” as conservatives fiercely insisted.
Black voters turned out in huge numbers, helping the president in urban areas in Ohio and keeping the margins close in North Carolina, despite Obama’s loss there.
Black voters, in interviews ahead of the election, were vocal about their displeasure about questions about the president’s birthplace and some of the broader Obama criticism. And while Obama has not governed, as he’s said, as “the president of black America,” pundits and political watchers underestimated how black voters would feel this cycle.
Hispanic voters made up a higher segment of the electorate in 2012, according to exit polls. Romney’s camp assumed that the economy would be a winning message on its own, and that Latino voters would be so disappointed with the president over a failed promise of immigration reform that the Republican wouldn’t need to cut into Obama’s margins with them. That was not a safe assumption. If Obama wins Florida, black and Hispanic voters will be the reason why.
And in New Hampshire, voters seemed to prefer Obama as an authentic politician over the former neighbor-state governor. To be sure, Bill Clinton helped Obama with working-class white voters.
This was an ugly and bitter campaign, miles away from the “hope and change” prescription of four years ago. Obama has work to do to get past a fractious election.
Still, Tuesday’s results validate a few changing perceptions about the nature of U.S. politics right now. And they also are a reminder that a majority of voters do, as polls have shown, like Obama, and that their vote in 2008 wasn’t just an experiment — his presidency is not somehow illegitimate.
2. We now know who was bluffing
And it was not the Obama team. The Romney campaign made a late feint at map expansion and touted the prospect of winning 300 electoral votes by capturing historically blue presidential states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan.
Yet Romney made no real efforts in any of those states, other than airing some late-breaking ads. Republicans didn’t have any real ground game efforts in any of those states.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign invested in a serious ground game in every battleground state, and the Romney campaign didn’t, despite claims to the contrary. The Obama campaign knew the voters they had to target, and did so effectively.
The Romney campaign counted unanswered phone calls and door knocks in its tallies of voter contacts that it frequently released to the press. Political director Rich Beeson told reporters they saw huge momentum and movement, and were counting on enthusiasm, without offering much backup beyond expecting their voters to turn out on Election Day. In fairness to Beeson, he was one of the few out there on the record. Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades never publicly discussed strategy on a conference call, keeping a low profile that has also shielded him from a lot of blame.