Reince Priebus’ 50-State Strategy

For those of us old enough to remember the Republican Electoral College Lock of the 1980s, or even Howard Dean’s plea for a Democratic “50-State Strategy” seven years ago, it was interesting to read these words from Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus via an interview with the Des Moines Register:

If the GOP is going to win presidential elections, candidates can’t compete just in Iowa and the seven other early states, the party’s national chairman said during a visit here Thursday.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, thinks Republicans shouldn’t assume any state will be blue forever.

“The issue is that in the past, it wasn’t just Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. It used to be that we fought over states like Washington and California. We actually fought in the Northeast. And we were winning in places like Delaware and New Jersey. Now we’re not winning any of those places.

“So my point is we’re not going to improve as a party if we’re holding a national election in eight states,” he said in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

This all sounds healthy, until you realize that of the first eight states holding Republican nominating contests in 2012, five were in general election battleground states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada and Colorado) and a sixth (Minnesota) was in a near-battleground state. Michigan, Ohio and Virginia were not far behind.

The problem wasn’t that Republicans were focused on atypical or unimportant states; it’s that the nature of the Republican primary/caucus electorate and the candidate field drove the contest into far-right territory the ticket had trouble escaping during the general election. Consider this: Rick Santorum came within a few thousand votes in Michigan, one of those blue-tinged states Priebus is talking about fighting for, and in Ohio, the ultimate battleground state, of throwing the whole nomination contest into doubt and perhaps chaos.

So there’s your problem, Mr. Chairman, if you dare admit ideology rather than geography is worth reconsidering.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.