Sunday, November 9, 2008

Palin is center of GOP gravity, but demographics pull in opposite direction

Almost a week after their party was soundly defeated in the presidential and congressional elections, the Republican faithful is in deep denial.

A Rasmussen poll last Friday has 66% of Republican men and 61% of party women supporting Sarah Palin for President in 2012. These numbers collide with New York Times/CBS polling held shortly before Election Day showing that 48% had a "very negative" or "somewhat negative" opinion of Palin -- way up from early September when adverse opinion of Palin totaled 27%.

It's a long way to 2012, but Palin, for all her negatives, is the gravitational center of the GOP. As she gains more experience and exposure as governor of Alaska, and possibly becomes a replacement for Alaska senator Ted Stevens -- a convicted felon -- Palin may become an even more commanding figure within her party. Her only serious competitors -- at this time -- are Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, neither of whom wears the mantle of elected public official.

Some elected Republicans are saying their party has to move beyond the iron circle of the base. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is urging his party "not to get stuck in ideology," and "let's go and . . . fund programs if they're necessary programs." And here are four Republican governors -- all of them re-elected last Tuesday -- talking about a bigger-tent party, in David Broder's column.

These successful Republicans understand the implications behind this year's returns. The once extensive national pattern of Republican states is shrinking to red patches in the Deep South and the Plains. In deep-red Texas, Democrats are strategizing -- not just dreaming -- about winning statewide elections in 2010. Montana went for Bush 67 to 30 in 2004, but McCain won the state by just 50 to 47 this time. Longtime red states North Carolina and Virginia and Indiana and Ohio all went for Obama.

Driving this transformation are what demographer William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., calls "Melting Pot Metros," fast-growing urban regions where blacks, Hispanics and Asians are or soon will be the majority. In a new Brookings report, Frey and Rudy Teixeira, also of Brookings, say Barack Obama won so big -- 52.6 to 46.1 -- because he "connected the party to potent demographic trends," which Frey mapped in his earlier study. His "Melting Pot Metros" are located in states that are becoming more deeply Democratic blue -- like California and Washington -- or turning from red to purple -- like Nevada and North Carolina.

"Melting Pot Metros" also tend to mirror the so-called "New Economy" metros with large and growing numbers of knowledge workers, who vote disproportionately Democratic.

To avoid becoming the semi-permanent minority party they were for four decades -- from FDR's first election in 1932 to Nixon's re-election in 1972 -- Republicans will have to appeal to steadily growing minorities and knowledge workers. Yet during the campaign, Palin, while appearing at a rally in Greensboro, N.C., said she liked visiting "pro-America areas of this great nation" -- a remark for which she later apologized. Oddly enough, Greensboro is part of the demographic changes favoring Democrats. It went from being 77% white in 1990 to 67% in 2004, according to Frey, and it ranks 45th among the Top 50 in the "Metropolitan New Economy Index" produced by the Progressive Policy Institute. Living up to its Melting Pot/New Economy profile, metro Greensboro voted 59 to 41 for Obama. In 2004, Kerry barely beat Bush 50 to 49 in greater Greensboro.

What do Republicans plan to do about this continuing demographic transformation -- filibuster against it?

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