Here's something I've been trying to figure out since Obama's re-election on Tuesday, and which I included in my column in Townhall Magazine's December issue (so consider this a sneak peek!): Everyone kept saying the economy was the main issue; and the exit polls agreed. How did residents of swing states feel comfortable enough economically to think four more years of the same would help?
Of the “toss up” states in this election, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and Florida all elected GOP governors post-2008, and several have GOP senators. In fact, only two toss-up states in 2012 had Democrat governors.
Most of these GOP governors, in fact, have overseen significant drops in unemployment in their states. While it may have been “trending” downward, they deserve credit for how they’ve handled much of the economic mess they inherited, in all cases but Nevada’s, from a Democratic predecessor. Scott Walker took on the unions. Bob McDonnell announced a surplus. You can, in fact, compare some of these performances with a state like North Carolina, one of the few states that switched from Obama to the GOP column this year in the election: they still have horrible unemployment compared with most states, and they’ve been under Democrat governorship since the 2008 election. They picked a GOP governor this November. Perhaps they realized what my colleague Kate Hicks reported in July: all 17 states—swing or not—which elected GOP governors in 2010 saw a reduction in unemployment.
In other words, this whole “trending” in the right direction that President Obama touted had the advantage of being filtered through some fairly responsible GOP governors in swing states. Did GOP governorship and policies create enough of a comfort zone for swing state voters that they bought Obama’s getting better message? Though unemployment has crept up slightly again in a few of these states, it’s a fascinating case study of how the GOP (for once) might be a victim of its own competence. The only confusing states in this theory are Montana and Missouri, which have relatively low unemployment under Democrat governors and went for Romney, and then Indiana, which still has unemployment above the national average but will feature back-to-back GOP administrations. Indiana residents clearly attribute part of their employment issues to the national landscape, however, since they flipped their electoral votes away from Obama and into the GOP column for 2012.
But for now, we're left pondering if people's hope unknowingly stemmed from the industriousness of some hard-working GOP governors.