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2012 Election Was 'Collision' Between Two Americas

Dan Balz is a political correspondent for <em>The Washington Post. </em>He is also the author of <em>The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election.</em>
Melina Mara
Courtesy The Washington Post
Dan Balz is a political correspondent for The Washington Post. He is also the author of The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election.

Dan Balz, one of the nation's most respected political reporters, has written his review of the last presidential election — what happened and why.

It's called Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America.

The chief correspondent for The Washington Post, Balz is the author of several books, including one on President Obama's first election — The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election — written with Haynes Johnson.

Balz talked to Morning Edition co-host Linda Wertheimer about his new book, Collision 2012, which offers an insider's account of the forces that shaped the political strategies of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and the flaws and misfires that led to Romney's ultimate defeat.

Interview Highlights

On how he came up with the book's title

"I thought that this was, in a sense, a collision between the America that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and made him president and the America that swept Republicans into the House in 2010, and I thought that the 2012 campaign was going to be, and was, a collision between those two Americas."

On the outcome of the 2012 election — and what, if anything, it resolved

"No, that's the interesting thing, I mean after billions of dollars were spent and millions of television ads seem to be rained down on people in the battleground states, that we ended up with kind of a status quo election and beyond that, you know, we used to think that elections resolved big debates in the country, that they could be turning points in that you would have an argument between two candidates and the public would signal a direction the way they wanted to go. In this case, I don't think that happened. We did not get an outcome that resolved the disputes that we had had; we're as polarized today as we were going into the election and maybe even a little more."

On the shape of the 2012 Republican presidential primary

"There were a number of people who, had they run for the nomination, might have given Gov. Romney a stronger race than the people who ultimately did run. Mitch Daniels, Gov. Chris Christie, Haley Barbour, but yes, and in the end, he was left with a relatively weak field. In fact Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, joked long after his campaign had collapsed, he said, 'I ran against the weakest field that the Republicans had ever run and they kicked my behind.' "

On Mitt Romney's awkward fit as the Republican primary front-runner

"I don't think anybody doubted that Gov. Romney was at least a nominal front-runner, but he was not a dominant front-runner as we've seen in some past campaigns, and as he said he wasn't sure that he was the perfect fit for the party that came out of 2010. Stuart Stevens, his chief strategist often said to him: 'This is a Southern-based party, you're a Northerner; this is an evangelical-based party, you're a Mormon; this is a very conservative party, particularly the electorate in the primaries, and you're a more moderate conservative ... and a former governor of Massachusetts.' So it was always going be a struggle for him to get there."

On the role of technology in the 2012 campaign

"[The Obama] 2008 campaign went beyond what we had experienced prior to that but I think that the gap between 2008 to 2012 was even bigger in terms of the advances they were able to make. I mean they had this advantage: They had an enormous amount of money, and they had an enormous amount of time to do this. In essence, they did it over a four-year period. They never stopped working at preparing for the re-election campaign. You know, smartphones were not as significant in 2008 as they were in 2012. Twitter was not a factor in the 2008 campaign, it was 2012. The Obama campaign invested more in technology software. They created tools all designed to put people on the streets with better information about the voters they were contacting."

On the role of technology in future campaigns

"[We've] already seen the Republican National Committee push very hard to bring the Republican Party up to speed on this. Linda, you know this, this is something that ebbs and flows. One party gets an advantage, and then the other party catches up and sometimes goes beyond. We will see a lot of that. There is a question of ultimately how decisive all of this is. I mean I think it works at the margins in these races ... so in a very close election it can make a difference. Overall, did it decide the race? I don't think so ... but everybody will be replicating what the Obama campaign did on that front ...

"[Hillary Clinton's] 2008 campaign was hampered because they were not as up to date or up to speed on some of these things as the Obama campaign. I think it will be a challenge for Secretary Clinton, if she decides to run, to make sure that she's got the people around her who can do this."

On the prospective 2016 Republican presidential field

"You could argue that this is an election in which it would be beneficial to them to have a relatively big field of strong candidates. The Republicans were a generation away in 2012 in being able to field some of the brighter stars in their party. In 2016, a lot of those people will be ready: Gov. Christie or Gov. Walker, Gov. Jindal, Sen. Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul, maybe Sen. Cruz. I mean there are a lot of people who are looking at this who, on paper at least, look like they could be strong candidates. They are likely to have a debate about what the future of the Republican Party ought to be ...

"The list is long, but obviously Congressman Ryan, if he decides to run — and I think there are some questions among people in Washington about whether he wants or will — but if he does, given that he was the vice presidential nominee, he'd be in the top tier definitely."

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