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President Obama's Six Keys to Victory

Inside the multicultural, center-left coalition that ensured four more years

President Barack Obama delivers his victory speech after being reelected for a second term at McCormick Place in Chicago.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
November 7, 2012 8:21 AM ET

President Barack Obama has won re-election – his lease on the White House renewed by a multicultural, center-left coalition that ought to give GOP consultants nightmares, producing an electoral college landslide that surprised everyone not named Nate Silver. (The Five Thirty Eight guru's reputation is as golden this morning as SuperPAC kingpin Karl Rove's is tarnished.)

With four more years, Obama can now cement his historic legacy, fully implementing Obamacare, the most ambitious renegotiation of the American social contract since the 1960s. The president broke ground on his second term with an electrifying acceptance speech that recalled the best of 2008's candidate Obama, and 2004's convention Obama. He hit again on the touchstone of his presidency, his belief "that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people."

This race wasn't close. Obama secured a convincing win of the popular vote. And from his 2008 state-by-state haul, he surrendered only Indiana (which was never truly in play) and North Carolina (a surprise squeaker) to Mitt Romney. Every other swing state – Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire – tipped again into Obama's victory column. When counting is complete, Florida, too, appears poised to go blue.

In the end, Obama's dedicated campaign volunteers proved themselves worth far more than anything the GOP's moneymen could buy. Voters rebuked the mendacious Romney and his villainous platform to lard the rich and destroy the social safety net.

How did team Obama defeat Romney? Here, the six keys to victory:

1) The Turnout Machine
I reported on Obama's re-vamped get-out-the-vote machine this spring, previewing the technology that would enable the campaign to network its GOTV operations far beyond campaign offices and into the garages and dorm rooms of its supporters.

At the time, campaign manager Jim Messina and field director Jeremy Bird were making an early, unprecedented investment in the ground game – and that bet paid off like gangbusters. In a contest that couldn't compare to 2008's electricity, the 2012 Obama campaign reproduced – through brute force, dedication and will – a turnout in the swing states that in some cases bested the campaign's remarkable performance of four years ago. Yes, Obama lost North Carolina. But his final tally there was actually 35,000 votes greater than when he won the state in 2008.

2) Younger Voters
Sorry, Boomer Nation: President Obama owes his second term to Generation Y. Voters under 30 turned out in greater numbers than senior citizens and broke for Obama over Romney 60-37. Gen X wasn't too shabby, either: Voters 30 to 44 gave Obama a 7 point edge. (Romney, on the other hand, won convincingly among voters 45 and older.) The numbers in Florida are particularly striking. According to exit polling, the Obama campaign not only improved turnout among the under-30 set there, it ran up the margin, too: Young Floridians broke 67-31 for Obama, better than the 61-37 margin over McCain in 2008.

3) The Latino Vote
With 4 million more registered voters in 2012 than in 2008, Latinos accounted for one in every ten voters in 2012, and these voters broke for Obama by an epic 71-27 split nationally. That is almost exactly the margin Bill Clinton hung on Bob Dole in 1996, when there were only half as many Hispanic votes. Messina told me earlier in the campaign that he was "obsessed" with the Latino vote, and that reproducing Clinton's numbers against Romney this year would mean Game Over for the Republican. He was absolutely right – particularly in Colorado, where the split was even more lopsided: 75-23, up from 61-38.

4) African-Americans
The historic turnout of African-Americans from 2008 held steady in 2012 at 13 percent of the electorate, nationwide. And the Obama campaign actually managed to increase black turnout in pivotal states like Virginia, where one in five voters was African American. Romney earned only 5 percent of that vote, compared to the 8 percent won by John McCain.

5) Ohio Working Stiffs
Call it the "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" factor. In Ohio, where the auto industry employs one in eight workers, Obama actually gained ground – 2 points – among high-school educated voters without college degrees, about a quarter of the state's electorate. Compare that to Wisconsin, where Obama lost 6 points among this cohort. Or North Carolina, where the dropoff was 11 points.

6) All the Single Ladies
Romney was haunted by a yawning gender gap, particularly among unmarried women, who accounted for 23 percent of voters (up three points from 2008). While Romney himself took awkward pains to reach out to female voters, he was yoked to his running mate's moves to redefine rape, and to the GOP's broader agenda to limit access to not only abortion but birth control. Obama took this voting bloc by a 67-31 margin, nationally, and by nearly identical tallies in Ohio and Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin. The intersection of race and gender was especially powerful for the president in states like North Carolina, where black women accounted for 14 percent of the electorate – and 99 out of 100 voted to defeat Mitt Romney.


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