Republican strategist Ken Spain discusses the 2012 elections during a National Agenda presentation Wednesday.

National elections

Republican strategist sees close races at top of ticket, in the states

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4:44 p.m., Oct. 4, 2012--This year’s national elections are shaping up much like those eight years ago, Republican congressional strategist Ken Spain told a University of Delaware National Agenda speaker series audience on Wednesday night, Oct. 3, in Mitchell Hall, with tight battles at the top of the ticket as well as for seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

“I see a race like in 2004,” Spain said, with either Democratic President Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney winning by a margin of about 51-49 percent of the vote and neither party dominating in the polls across the states.

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On Election Day 2012, the former National Republican Congressional Committee communications director who helped engineer the 2010 GOP victory said the nation is not likely to see massive change.

“Despite the frustration with Washington and the hand wringing over paralysis in government, this is likely to be a status quo election,” Spain said. He foresees possible Democratic gains of six to 12 seats in the House of Representatives and Republicans gains of one to two  seats in the Senate.

“At the end of the day, the American public is going to vote for something very similar to what we have today,” he said.

Ray of hope

However, Spain said there is hope for post-election change largely because, for all the concerns about lobbyists and influence peddling, politicians as a rule are people who respond to “pressure” and “fear” in their constituencies.

Public approval “is an overwhelming driving force for them,” he said.

They are well aware of the public frustration with gridlock, Spain said, which could provide an opportunity for compromise and action in 2013 as leaders of both parties will be interested in creating a positive legacy for themselves and for the nation.

Spain predicted that the political leaders could “punt on a series of critical issues” -- the approaching “fiscal cliff” among them -- but then there could be action six to nine months out.

By punting, they will buy time to reach agreement on tax code reforms and revenue to close the deficit, he said.

2010 set the table

Spain helped the Republicans to historic gains in Congress in 2010, and he said that election “set the table” for 2012.

Beyond the seats won in Congress, the GOP claimed control of a number of state legislatures and hence the power to redistrict congressional districts.

He said the Republicans recruited a very strong class of candidates that year and that has helped the party recruit another strong class this year, one that he believes surpasses the Democratic class.

On the flip side, he said there are some candidates with “limitations,” citing Missouri’s Todd Akin who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat and has made controversial comments on issues of importance to women.

What should have been “an easy pickup” for the party is now a difficult race, Spain said, joking, “Christine O’Donnell’s ghost lives in 2012, if you will.”

Challenges facing the GOP

Whether or not Romney unseats Obama, Spain said the Republican Party faces a number of challenges moving forward given the nation’s changing demographics.

It has little standing with the African American electorate, who vote Democratic about 90 percent of the time, and trails among the growing number of Hispanic voters by a margin of about 70-30. There is also a large gender gap.

Although younger voters were enthusiastically for Obama in 2008, he does see possible gains for Republicans given the high unemployment rate.

The first step the party must take, Spain said, is acknowledging that it does have a problem.

He also said he believes the party must be careful in how it discusses immigration reform over the next few years.

About National Agenda

National Agenda, this year with the theme “Road to the Presidency,” is sponsored by UD’s Center for Political Communication. Sessions are moderated by Ralph Begleiter, center director.

The next event in the series is Delaware Debates 2012, featuring candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and for governor and lieutenant governor. Congressional candidates will be featured Tuesday, Oct. 16, and governor and lieutenant governor candidates on Wednesday, Oct. 17. Both are ticketed events.

Article by Neil Thomas

Photos by Duane Perry

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