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Romney's Loss -- It's Not the Asphalt

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
First things first.

Many a pundit, such as yours truly, wrote columns explaining the fact that so many polls in the presidential election were skewed in the direction of Democrats and thus not reliable. And while a poll I conducted in the decidedly "red state" of Georgia very accurately showed Mitt Romney enjoying a stronger result than John McCain in '08, my last poll of Florida -- like that conducted by another pollster for two other Florida newspapers, showing Romney winning comfortably in Florida -- was off. That hurts, because in 2008 it was on the money.

There used to be an old and worn-out joke about a smooth commercial airline flight ending with a very bumpy landing. The flight attendant announces: "That was not the pilot's fault. It was the asphalt."

Now I could try to give all sorts of excuses for why the poll showed Romney winning in a state where the vote remained inconclusive some three days after the election. But better to tell the truth and, in it, state some other blunt but obvious facts, as well.

In objectively weighting our poll, and in the GOP seeking a nominee for and trying to then win the presidency, I think we were all haunted by the "ghost of Ronald Reagan." I certainly don't mean to be turning the late president so many of us loved into a "ghost," but let's stick with the concept for a minute.

In one sense, we were "haunted" by not having learned more from his re-election bid in 1984. Walter Mondale had one strong debate against a seemingly out-of-it Ronald Reagan, much as did Mitt Romney against a really out-of-it President Obama. But Reagan turned things around and recovered from his one poor performance, and Obama did, as well. And President Obama is no Ronald Reagan.

What Mondale, and his team, still haunted by the ghost of FDR, lost track of in 1984 was the so-called "Reagan Democrat" voter that had materialized in 1980. They were blue-collar voters who had traditionally voted Democrat but formed a devotion to Reagan amidst the last few months of a tough Carter economy and ongoing hostage crisis in Iran. Reagan held and built upon his coalition of these Reagan Democrats and the emerging "evangelical movement" in winning re-election.

In choosing to weight a poll in Florida as more even in party affiliation, as likely did pollsters such as Rasmussen and Mason-Dixon, we followed surveys showing a more even split in such swing states. But what we missed, as did much of the GOP, was the fact that a new voter turnout model was about to assert itself in presidential years, particularly one in which an incumbent who is the nation's first minority president is the Democratic nominee.

From me, there will be no excuses. It's not the asphalt ... it's me.

But I just missed one poll. For the hundreds if not thousands of strategists, pollsters, ad experts, get-out-the-vote geniuses, paid pundits and general D.C. hucksters who make big bucks off these efforts, it was a much bigger miscalculation.

Let's start with what was not wrong: Mitt Romney. For this moment in time, the GOP had a very strong nominee. He looked good, spoke intelligently, avoided huge gaffes, had experience and a great family, was an expert at organization and worked tirelessly. His job is finished, and his personal performance has to be graded an "A."

As for the "establishment" of highly paid and omnipresent professional GOP campaign types, the grade is not so high. Here is a list of "asphalts" they must admit to.

One: They likely should have steered Romney toward Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as his running mate. He would have helped with the all-important Hispanic/Latino vote and could have actually delivered Florida, thus freeing up time and resources to win other battleground states.

Two: They probably should have taken the entire incident in Benghazi and turned it into what it was -- a national disgrace. That was an issue that could have survived the attention-grabbing nature of Superstorm Sandy, a last jobs report that sounded oh-so-rosy and more rape/abortion antics from Republican Senate candidates with just days to go before the election.

Three: In the primary, they should have avoided the temptation to take an extremist position on immigration just to outflank some other GOP candidates' more reasonable approach. It left Romney pinned against an increasingly important Hispanic/Latino vote with a position that really did not match his reasonable approach to issues in the past.

Yes, this is all second-guessing, and for every strategic or tactical move the GOP leaders made in the wrong direction, they made some really smart ones, as well.

But the Obama camp taught us that turnout is now a matter of identifying voters and their interests one by one and getting them to the polls through the new world of social media. The idea of evangelical leaders or newly minted conservative groups delivering the requisite numbers to the polls now belongs to the ages -- as does the memory of Reagan's great victory of 1980.

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