Mitt Romney was born in Michigan. His father was governor of the state and his brother was once an unsuccessful candidate for Attorney General there. Mitt Romney nonetheless lost Michigan to Barack Obama by around ten points. It is true that Michigan has not voted for a Republican for president since the 80s, though it presently has a Republican governor. But Romney’s vote there could hardly be considered impressive. It was a much closer run than John McCain, who lost by 17 points, but nowhere near as close as in 2004, when John Kerry defeated George W Bush by just three points. Michigan, therefore, has mirrored movements in the national vote. Though sitting just on the Democratic side of America’s median voter, the margin the Democrat has won there has moved in line with the party’s national fortunes.
Mitt Romney actually ran closer in Pennsylvania, where he lost by just five points. That was true of McCain, too, but George W Bush lost both states by similar margins. This suggests that Romney’s connection with the state made little or no difference to the outcome of the vote there.
Romney has a house in New Hampshire, a state covered by the Boston media market, and where many people would therefore be familiar with him from his time as governor of Massachusetts. He lost New Hampshire by five points, a better performance than McCain (lost by ten points) but not as strong as Bush, who won the state in 2000 and lost by three points to another Massachusetts politician in 2004. Romney’s connections with New Hampshire also seemed to make no difference to the election, though Kerry’s might have in 2004.
Could it be that local connections to a state no longer matter? Perhaps issues and campaigns override any ‘favorite son’ connection. If so, then parties need to bear this in mind. If presidential candidates – let alone their running mates – have no better chance in their home state than any other member of their party then that’s an interesting development.
Romney has lived in Utah, and is a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, which is headquartered there. The state gave him a stunning margin of 48 points, much more than Oklahoma (McCain’s best state). Utah was the best state for Bush (though with a smaller margin) in 2004, though Wyoming was his strongest state in 2000. Romney’s local connections may have helped him outperform a generic Republican in a state no Republican will ever lose. He performed slightly better than either McCain or Bush in deep blue Massachusetts, and Kerry’s local connections helped him win there by a bigger margin than Gore had four years earlier.
Speaking of Gore, he lost his home state of Tennessee when running for president, though Arkansas native, Bill Clinton, had carried it twice. Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, was supposed to help in North Carolina, yet Bush won by 13 points a state which Obama was to carry just four years later.
So perhaps local connections can help widen or narrow the margin in states like Utah and Massachusetts, but get swamped by the intensity of the campaign in any vaguely swingy state which either party might reasonably hope to win.
Elections may be fought and won in the states, but the relevance of local connections in modern, cosmopolitan, America, seems to be minimal.
Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com