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Romney Scores With Gun and Bible Toters

Posted: Oct 17, 2012


Art by Zak Wilson / www.zakwilson.com

There were two telling moments in the second debate that passed under the media radar but pointed to a troubling sign for President Barack Obama. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney evoked God and defense of gun ownership. It was a subtle reaffirmation of a political chit that Romney banks on: a wipeout of Obama with the rural vote.

Then-candidate Obama gave the GOP endless battering points when he told a San Francisco fundraising crowd in April 2008 that rural folk zealously cling to their guns and Bibles. Obama’s off-the-cuff remark in the hyper-liberal, urban and cosmopolitan city of San Francisco fueled the Republicans’ image of Obama as an elitist urban politician. In fact, Obama was close to the mark in sizing up exactly the problem he and other Democrats face in trying to get a hearing with rural, mostly white, and very conservative voters. They’ve been a tough sell for every Democratic candidate for the past two decades.

Two recent polls by GOP and Democratic polling firms show that Romney has a commanding lead over Obama in rural areas. The only hitch for Romney was that for a while, some rural voters held back their full support for him due to their suspicion that he was too moderate, too accommodating to Democrats, and worse, too much of an out-of-touch, elitist, big city politico himself.

There was little chance that their suspicion of Romney would ever translate into votes for Obama. Even when he was suspect, Romney maintained a comfortable double-digit lead over Obama among rural voters. This lead has now nearly doubled in size.

The rural vote, which is largely white, conservative, and heavily Evangelical, is a huge staple for the GOP. This is in part because many of the nation’s big cities have become majority-minority cities, where non-white voters now outnumber white voters. Democrats seem to have a tight lock on the votes in these cities. In order to offset the urban vote, the GOP needs to appeal to more white voters in the countryside. The standard break point for Republican presidential candidates to win the White House is that they must get 60 percent or more of the 104 million white voters, who make up close to 75 percent of the nation's voters.

But it’s not just the raw numbers that count. It’s where rural voters reside that could be of crucial importance to the final election tally. The general consensus is that the swing states that Obama and Romney are battling over will determine who wins the White House. Iowa and New Hampshire have 50 percent or more of their population living in rural areas or small towns. And another six states – Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin -- have far larger percentages of voters that live in the rural areas or small towns than the national average.

Here’s where Obama’s alleged guns and religion faux pas in 2008 could come back to haunt him. In surveys in 16 states where exit or entrance polls have been conducted, a large percentage of voters describe themselves as conservative, and an even bigger number label themselves as born again or Evangelical Christians. An estimated 17 million Christian Evangelicals, the overwhelming majority of whom were registered Republicans, stayed home on Election Day in 2008. Then-GOP presidential contender John McCain was no George W. Bush, who with his outspoken conservatism and evangelism was a darling with rural voters. This cost the GOP big in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. Obama won these states by single-digit margins.

The gun issue is also vital to presidential and local politics. The majority of independents and a whopping majority of Republicans said that they would go to the barricades to protect gun owners’ rights. No Democrat will dare risk uttering a peep about tougher gun control laws. This includes President Obama. Both parties know that the gun control issue is a surefire loser for a candidate.

In the closing days of his campaign, Romney is pulling out all stops to make sure these rural, white voters go to the polls en masse on Election Day. His hope is that they will help him replace the man in the White House – who supposedly would take away their guns and Bibles.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.




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