Hours before the polls closed Tuesday, I texted a few local Republican officeholders to ask for their predictions on the outcome of the presidential race. All said they expected Mitt Romney to win in a landslide with 300 Electoral College votes.
By 10 p.m., however, it became obvious those predictions were just partisan optimism. “I recognize defeat when I see it,” one GOPer texted me.
Pundits, politicians and other have spent the last few days analyzing what went wrong for Romney and Republicans who lost bids for the U.S. Senate. Party leaders who have studied the polling data say it is obvious the Southern strategy alone is no longer a winning formula for the GOP. To succeed, the Republican Party must go beyond its traditional base (white male voters) and cast a wider net.
“We need to do some soul searching as a party,” Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe told me last week.
Wolfe, who serves on the executive committee of the Tennessee Republican Party, said Republicans must “expand our coalition” by reaching out to Hispanics and other minorities. Failure to do so, he fears, could marginalize his party for years to come.
To avoid that, Wolfe said he would like to see GOP leaders implement an electoral Manhattan Project of sorts to diversify and grow the GOP’s base. “When you stop making friends, that’s when you start losing elections,” he said
The news wasn’t all bad for Republicans on Tuesday. The GOP kept its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and continued to capture seats in state legislatures all across the nation.
As in 2008, Tennessee proved to be one of the reddest states in the nation. Voters here went decisively for the Republican candidate for president, and gave the GOP super majorities in both chambers of the state General Assembly.
For his part, state Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethton said it “will be fun” to watch the dynamics of the new super majority in the state House of Representatives. With very few Democrats in the General Assembly to stand in their way, Williams — who denied the GOP one extra seat in the House by defeating Republican challenger Thom Gray last week — expects “there will be issues that will pit Republicans against Republicans.”
Williams, who was kicked out of the GOP after he voted with Democrats to elect himself House speaker in 2009, said many of those conflicts will be the same urban vs. rural differences that were evident when Democrats controlled the House. He also expects Republicans to differ on bills to close partisan primaries in Tennessee, to create state health care exchanges under Obamacare and to elect the president by a popular vote.
Despite their endorsement of his Republican rival in the general election, Williams told me last week he expects to enjoy a good working relationship with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City. In fact, Williams believes Ramsey has an “opportunity to have a legacy as big as (the late Congressman) Jimmy Quillen” if he applies himself to the task.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.