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CNN commentator analyzes election and Republican Party

Speaking at the recent Western Growers convention, CNN political commentator David Gergen said it was a superior ground game by the Obama campaign that won the President re-election.

As the featured speaker at the Political Action Committee fundraising luncheon on Nov. 13 in Scottsdale, AZ, Mr. Gergen said President Obama won re-election for several reasons but chief among them was that the "Obama team outplayed Romney. They played a smarter game."

He quipped that if one scored the 365 days preceding the election on a daily basis, the tally would be 364-1 in favor of President Obama, with Gov. Romney only winning the day of the first debate. He said incumbent presidents rarely lose re-election and the Obama team did everything they needed to do — including having a superior ground game — to win.

After watching what he called a "surprising election" and analyzing the results, he listed the campaign team, Gov. Romney's shift to the right during the primaries and the changing demographics in the United States as the three reasons for those results. Eighteen months out, he said it appeared that the President would have difficulty being re-elected.

He said Obama's team was more experienced and was focused on re-election from the day the President took office in January of 2009. Mr. Gergen said Obama's political team made up the center core of his inner circle whereas most presidents in the past have not operated in that manner. The longtime senior advisor for four presidents (Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Clinton) did not seem to be criticizing this dynamic but rather admiring it. He said it was very important to President Obama to be re-elected to preserve some of his achievements such as health care reform as well as to accomplish other objectives that are still on the table. Mr. Gergen remarked that the political team no doubt had Ohio circled on their 2012 election map when the President helped bail out General Motors in 2009.

Mr. Gergen said that same team jumped out ahead of Gov. Romney to define the Republican candidate before he could define himself in the swing states. They painted a picture of an out-of-touch "plutocrat married to a known equestrian," Mr. Gergen quipped.

He added that it was only Gov. Romney's stellar performance — and lack thereof by the President — during the first debate that prevented the election from being a runaway and giving President Obama a "mandate" victory.

Speaking about the future of the Republican Party, the typically center-right commentator believes the party is not that far off track. "I believe this is still a center-right country," he said. The problem is that the far right wing of the Republican Party, characterized by the Tea Party, "sucked" the governor to that side of the political spectrum while he was battling other Republicans in the primary. Mr. Gergen said the governor's move back to the center, where he ideologically lies, was awkward in the general election and didn't play well with voters.

Mr. Gergen also said the Republicans have to understand that winning the majority of white male voters is not enough to capture the White House. They must appeal to women and minorities or they will forever be the party on the outside looking in. He does not believe that will requires a drastic change in principles, but he does believe there has to be a shift on issues such as immigration reform, reproductive rights and pay equity for women. He said the state of Virginia was lost when the Republican governor and Republican legislators introduced a bill requiring transvaginal sonograms. Mr. Gergen indicated that most people find that to be a "barbaric" idea.

The country is changing demographically as minorities are adding an average of 2 percent more voters every four years. In 1992, minority voters represented 12 percent of the voting population. This year that number was 28 percent. Mr. Gergen indicated it is not possible to win future elections when only achieving a sliver of that vote, as Gov. Romney achieved this year. But he added that George W. bush did much better so the opportunity is there with some change in thinking.

"The immigration issue is a wall between Latinos and Republicans," he said.

Because of the large Latino turnout and exit polling showing that most Americans (by a 2-1 margin) would rather see illegal immigrants already in the country granted a path to citizenship rather than be deported, Mr. Gergen said that any immigration reform package should include that path. He argued that it would do Republicans no good if immigration reform is not comprehensive with more than just the granting of legal status. That won't satisfy the large voting bloc of Hispanics, and he believes Republicans will continue to suffer at the ballot box until that issue is off the table.

But Mr. Gergen said what really worries Republican strategists is the potential "Californiaization of the country." It is well known that many trends do start on the coast — particularly California — and spread across the country over time. California has become a very Democratic state with its very diverse population. Mr. Gergen said if that is a precursor of what's to come, Republicans won't win a national election for years to come. He said the Democratic candidate starts every election with California and New York's Electoral College votes in the bag, putting the Republican candidate in a hole on day one. It is very difficult to overcome that, he said. In fact, Mr. Gergen said there are 18 states that have sided with the Democratic candidate for the past five elections. Those states account for 243 electoral votes, or a whopping 90 percent of what the winner needs. That's very difficult to overcome.