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Exclusive: If Mitt Romney capitalized on President Obama's weakness by reaching out to moderate and conservative Democrats, he could win.

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Dem primary voters to Obama: ‘You’re no Bill Clinton’

Exclusive: If Mitt Romney capitalized on President Obama’s weakness by reaching out to moderate and conservative Democrats, he could win.

With almost all votes counted from this year‚??s presidential primaries, it is now clear that Barack Obama has failed to match the strength Bill Clinton displayed in 1996 as an incumbent President with a similar situation in the 1996 Democratic presidential primaries.

This original research is based on data from state elections officials and the Federal Elections Commission.  Obama won only 65 percent of the Clinton vote in 26 state primaries where valid comparisons can be made for 2012 and 1996.  This is after the vote was adjusted for changes in voter registration and turnout.  Overall, Obama won 7,434,848 votes in the 2012 presidential primaries compared to 9,110,963 for Clinton in the 1996 presidential primaries.

Although voter registration increased from 85 million in 1996 to 107 million in 2012 in these states, Clinton still out-polled Obama by over 1.6 million votes.¬† As a percentage of voter registration, Obama received only 6.9 percent of the 2012 voter registration in these 26 states compared to Clinton‚??s 10.7 percent of the 1996 voter registration.¬† So all things considered, Obama as an incumbent in 2012 has only 64.7 percent of Bill Clinton‚??s strength as an incumbent in 1996.¬† And this is just when considering the Democratic party base ‚?? those who turnout to vote when an incumbent President has little or no opposition.

On the surface it may seem that Obama and Clinton have equal strength as incumbents when you look at their overall percentage of the Democratic primary vote.  Obama in fact received 91 percent of the total Democratic 2012 presidential vote in these 26 states compared to 89 percent for Bill Clinton.  But this is in part due to the undemocratic strategy that the Obama campaign employed in 2012, which resulted in no one filing against him in 20 presidential primaries. In 1996, Bill Clinton employed a far more democratic strategy of allowing almost any candidate to run against him in the primaries.

Manipulating the opposition

President Obama had opponents in only six states compared to Clinton having opposition in 20 of the 26 states.  In the six states where both Obama and Clinton had opponents, both candidates had lower support but Clinton was far more popular.  Bill Clinton won 83 percent of the Democratic presidential primary vote in these six states, with Barack Obama winning only 75 percent.  Also, in these six states, Obama won only 42 percent of the Bill Clinton vote when adjusted for differences in voter registration and turnout.

Obama did much better against Bill Clinton in states where he was the only candidate on the ballot.  He received almost 100 percent of the 2012 Democratic presidential primary vote (against a few write-ins) in these 12 states where Obama was the only name on the ballot.  Clinton received a lower 94 percent of the 1996 Democratic presidential primary vote because he had the disadvantage of having opponents in most of these states.  Also, these states skewed our analysis in favor of Obama because they had over five times more Democratic presidential primary votes than the states where Obama had on the ballot opponents.

The fact that Obama received less than 60 percent of the vote in three of the primaries where he had opponents may indicate why the Democratic presidential primaries in 2012 were far less open to opposition than they were in 1996.  If more opposition had been allowed in the 21 other states, Obama undoubtedly would have had more embarrassingly low numbers against unknown opponents, including a felon who was in jail and a six-time election loser.

This is a common strategy imposed in the world of Chicago hard ball politics where most incumbents have little or no opposition in party primaries.  In fact, Obama was nominated for the first time in a Democratic primary for the Illinois state senate by successfully disqualifying his opponent from getting on the primary ballot by challenging her petition signatures.

In fact, the Obama strategy of discouraging primary opposition may have resulted in the Democratic Party cancelling primaries in six states in 2012 where there were presidential primaries in 1996. These included such key states as Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington state.

No easy victory for Obama

This analysis definitely shows that Obama cannot expect to coast to victory as Bill Clinton did in 1996.¬† He has only 65 percent of Bill Clinton‚??s strength among core Democratic Party voters.¬† This means that there are millions of Democrats who are reluctant to turnout to re-elect Obama.¬† Also, there are even a majority of Democrat primary voters who are open to an appeal from other candidates especially in states and counties where Obama received less than 60 per cent of the vote.

Obama needs to work to bring back enough of these largely moderate to conservative Democratic voters who mainly reside in the South and the border states as well as parts of the Midwest.¬† He must rein in the divisive appeals to the left wing of his party which obviously have alienated a significant share of his own party‚??s presidential primary base.

Romney needs to reach out to these Democrats and convince them to crossover and pull the Republican lever as Nixon and Reagan did in the past.  He needs to speak directly to them in his convention speech, by pointing out that millions of Democrats are not represented by the failed left wing policies pursued by Obama.

This analysis definitely shows that over one-third of Democratic primary voters are now disappointed in Obama and will likely be the decisive factor in the November election.

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Written By

Jay O'Callaghan is a longtime observer of election results -- down to the precinct level -- and has worked on Capitol Hill for many years and often on redistricting at the state level.

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