Assessing the Election Results

A conversation with Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Steve Jarding

November 7, 2012

Steve Jarding, lecturer in public policy, is recognized as an expert in campaign management and political strategies. He has served as a senior strategist or campaign manager for numerous U.S. Senators and served as a senior advisor to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C. We spoke with him on the day after the 2012 presidential election to get his insights on the election results.
Q: In hindsight, how do you assess the Obama and Romney campaigns? Where did they succeed and where did they fail?
Jarding: I do think both campaign operations did a pretty good job in turning out their votes. Clearly, the Obama folks, as Democrats have normally performed in presidential races, had the upper hand in grassroots voter turnout. But I do not think Romney lost in any way because they did not turn his vote out. I think the Romney camp failed in that America rejected their vision for America.
Romney failed personally by reinventing himself so often that I think he turned voters off. He failed when he put up a false ad in Ohio claiming that Obama’s auto bailout plan would close Jeep plants and send them to China – it backfired when Chrysler publicly chastised Romney for the falsehood and exit polls show that auto workers in Ohio overwhelmingly went with Obama.
Q: Can you identify one or two significant turning points in the presidential campaign?
Jarding: The selection of Paul Ryan hurt Romney by frightening seniors and by making Romney’s backward looking agenda seem more real and scary. Ryan clearly was not ready for the spotlight. He looked overwhelmed in his debate and I don’t think it was an accident that he did not do any major public interview in the campaign after October 8 – pretty amazing.
The 47 percent secret tape was also a killer. It should have ended the campaign at that point and if it wasn’t for Obama’s weak first debate performance, it would have. Obama should have put Romney away when he had the chance – he didn’t and although Democrats are feeling very good today, they need to understand just how close they came to losing this thing.
Q: It appears the Democrats will gain seats in the Senate. Is this indicative of an Obama coattail effect?
Jarding: To some extent yes, the Democratic gains can be attributed to Obama, but not much. Obama did not do much for voter turnout in North Dakota, Massachusetts, Indiana, Montana, or Missouri where Democrats won. The truth is that Democrats did better than many predicted in the Senate because Republicans nominated candidates out of the 19th century instead of the 21st century.
Q: When does the 2014 campaign begin?
Jarding: It already has this morning.

Steve Jarding

Steve Jarding, lecturer in public policy

"To some extent yes, the Democratic gains can be attributed to Obama, but not much."


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