Hope Over Experience - A divided country gives Obama a second chance.

November 7, 2012

President Obama won one of the narrower re-elections in modern times Tuesday, eking out a second term with a fraction of his 7.3% margin of 2008, in a polarized country with the opposition GOP retaining and still dominating the House. Given that second Presidential terms are rarely better than the first, this is best described as the voters doubling down on hope over experience.

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Mr. Obama's campaign stitched together a shrunken but still decisive version of his 2008 coalition-single women, the young and culturally liberal, government and other unions workers, and especially minority voters.

He said little during the campaign about his first term and even less about his plans for a second. Instead his strategy was to portray Mitt Romney as a plutocrat and intolerant threat to each of those voting blocs. No contraception for women. No green cards for immigrants. A return to Jim Crow via voter ID laws. No Pell grants for college.

This was all a caricature even by the standards of modern politics. But it worked with brutal efficiency-the definition of winning ugly. Mr. Obama was able to patch together just enough of these voting groups to prevail even as he lost independents and won only 40% of the overall white vote, according to the exit polls. His campaign's turnout machine was as effective as advertised in getting Democratic partisans to the polls.

Mr. Obama also benefitted from his long run of extraordinary good luck. Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeast a week before Election Day, letting him rise for a few days above the partisanship that has defined his first term. The storm changed the campaign conversation and blunted Mr. Romney's momentum. The exit polls show that late-deciders went for the incumbent this year when they typically break for the challenger.

The President owes a debt as well to...

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