Former Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints head coach Mike Ditka had a penchant for smash mouth football. To implement it, he recruited what he called his “Grabowskis.” They were big, beefy offensive linemen who would run headlong into a freight train to make a play. They usually were recruited from solid football schools in the upper Midwest. They came from families of European descent who were blue-collar, hard-working, and Catholic—the same profile as the voters who on November 2 stood the Democratic Party and many of its candidates on their heads. Ditka would call these voters Grabowskis; political scientists and pundits call them Reagan Democrats.
When the White House political operatives surveyed the carnage of the election returns from the Rust Belt on election night, they must have felt like the Japanese flag officers reacting to the loss of four of their aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway: it didn’t mean that the war in the Pacific was lost, but it definitely meant that they would be playing defense instead of offense until its conclusion. President Obama and his advisors will definitely be playing defense between now and November of 2012.
The assault by the Reagan Democrats against the Democratic standard bearers in the upper Midwest on November 2 redefines the calculus for the next presidential election. The math is ugly if you are President Obama. Democrats were crushed in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. These industrial bastions that have suffered severely during the current recession weren’t buying Obamanomics, ObamaCare, higher taxes, or the president’s penchant for favoring the public sector over the private sector. They were willing to run headlong into the freight train of Democratic dominance in Washington—and they stopped the train. The five states mentioned above represent 79 electoral votes. It is highly unlikely that President Obama would have won any of them if he had been on the ballot November 2. Without them—and accepting as a given that he would have not come close to carrying any of the states John McCain carried in 2008—he would have been only 14 electoral votes above the amount needed for re-election.
Unfortunately for the president, the current state of his electoral math has problems beyond the Midwest. He will have an uphill climb recapturing Florida (27 electoral votes), Virginia (13), and North Carolina (15). He has no hope of winning re-election if his popularity in the Rust Belt continues to decline. His best hope for turning that problem around is to bring the Reagan Democrats back into the Democratic fold. But that will not be easy to do.
President Obama must shift from a public sector agenda to a private sector one to make a comeback. He will be reluctant to do that since much of his money and get-out-the-vote machinery comes from public sector unions that have thus far disproportionately benefitted from his policies. It is interesting to note that the union vote on November 2 split 60 percent for Democrats and 40 percent for Republicans. It is likely that, if that vote were broken down between private sector union members and public sector ones, the blue-collar private sector union members probably voted in the majority for Republicans. Many of them live in the upper Midwest, have a vowel at the end of their names, and a baptism certificate signed by a priest.
The “Grabowskis” feel they are taxed enough; they worry about job security and are very resentful of what is going on in Washington. They voted on November 2, and they will vote again on November 6, 2012. They just might decide that election.