SAN DIEGO – The party’s Midwestern resurgence signals serious trouble for President Barack Obama’s reelection bid, GOP governors asserted Thursday at the Republican Governors Association meeting in San Diego.
Following a string of GOP wins in Senate and governors’ races across the Midwest in states Obama carried in 2008, Republicans believe the party’s presidential nominee in 2012 will have a much broader map to compete on, with some states that Obama won already off the table.
“Going all the way across from New Jersey, he won all of them,” Haley Barbour said. “Now, seven of nine of those states have Republican governors.”
“In the industrial heartland, the area that very often decides the presidency of the United States, we had a very good year,” noted Barbour, a prospective presidential candidate who served as chairman of the RGA in 2010.
While Sen. John McCain’s 2008 campaign was forced to pull out of electoral vote-rich states like Michigan and lost even a typically red state like Indiana, Republicans posted big wins in each state in 2010, capturing control of the governorship and the legislature in Michigan and an open Senate seat and the legislature in Indiana.
The GOP also picked up the governorship and a Senate seat in both Ohio and Wisconsin.
Republican governors and prospective candidates consistently pointed to five states Obama won in 2008 as looking especially promising in 2012: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Having Republican governors win in those places “absolutely makes those states competitive,” said Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal. “It’s a very good signal that voters in those swing states voted for Republican governors.”
“North Carolina and Virginia are already gone,” added former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “If things don’t change, 2012 could be worse for Democrats than 2010 was.”
Gingrich predicted that “unless Obama profoundly changes direction, virtually every state in the union is up for grabs.”
Examining the potential 2012 map during a press conference, Tim Pawlenty, the outgoing Republican governor of Minnesota–where the governor’s race is headed to a recount–declared the Midwest would be the key battleground territory for the GOP.
Pawlenty, who also saw his state vote for Obama in 2008, said that the new GOP governors, if successful in their first two years in office, will prove invaluable to whichever Republican wins the nomination.
Michigan Governor-elect Rick Snyder “is going to revitalize Michigan in a powerful way,” Pawlenty insisted. “That is going to be a great kind of example” for the eventual GOP presidential nominee.
Obama’s team has expressed confidence that the 2010 results won’t affect the electoral map in 2012.
“There’s a lot of attention paid to the 2010 electorate, and the 2012 electorate is going to be fundamentally different than the 2010 electorate in many, many ways,” David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager in 2008, said during a recent speech at the University of Delaware.
But several Midwestern Republican governors-elect believe Obama will face the same headwinds as in 2010.
“If this economy stays the way it is today, Obama will not get elected,” declared Ohio GOP Governor-elect John Kasich. “By us doing a good job in our states, we’ll have a say in how  turns out.”
Scott Walker, the governor-elect of Wisconsin, pointed out that Republicans not only won governorships across the Midwest, but also won control of many state legislative chambers.
“In many cases we not only have Republican governors, but the leadership in state legislature switched,” said Walker who saw control of his state legislature flip to the GOP, along with Rust Belt neighbors Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Still, not all Republicans are entirely confident that 2010 is an omen for 2012. Asked how the 2010 gains will impact the electoral map, Indiana GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels responded simply, “I don’t know.”
“There are all sorts of ways this thing could play out,” Daniels said. “Whether Obama takes the real lessons of this election, who the nominee is, whether there is a third party – it all plays into it.”