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National Review Online


Retaking the Cities

December 17, 2012

By Brian C. Anderson

Republicans cannot afford to sacrifice the urban vote

Shortly after Barack Obama’s reelection, former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan blamed cities for the defeat of the Romney-Ryan ticket. “The surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race,” Ryan said. One can point to many reasons for the GOP loss — Mitt Romney’s failure to connect with white working-class voters and minorities, an idea-light campaign, the almost comically biased elite media — but getting crushed in urban areas undoubtedly hurt. Big-city voters not only turned out; they chose Obama by a seven-to-three margin, as they did in 2008. Philadelphia alone gave the president an advantage of nearly half a million votes, putting Pennsylvania out of reach for Romney. The lousy Republican performance in cities goes well beyond presidential politics. The Republican caucus of the U.S. Conference of Mayors is “little more than a social gathering,” Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett, who heads it, recently grumbled to The New Republic.

Cities’ rejection of the GOP shouldn’t be so surprising, given that the party has all but ceded urban America to the Democrats, targeting suburban and exurban voters instead. A campaign story reflects the deliberate neglect: Ryan wanted to stump in inner cities, heralding individual empowerment as the best way to beat poverty, only to have Romney strategists shoot down the idea as a waste of the candidate’s time. This attitude of ignoring cities clouds the party’s future. More important is that it’s bad for America.

The numbers underscore the GOP’s need to compete for urban votes. While the big-city component of the electorate remains only about 11 percent, census estimates suggest that, for the first time in a century, the populations of big cities are growing faster than those of their suburbs. Exurban growth, meanwhile, hit a wall with the 2008 housing collapse. With Democrats now fighting to a draw in the suburbs — Obama won the suburban vote in 2008 and lost it only narrowly this time out — and reportedly doing somewhat better in the exurbs, Republicans can no longer afford to lose cities in landslides. “The combination of a fickle suburban vote and a Democratic urban hammerlock is a formula for defeat in many states,” observes Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian. The minority voters who clobbered Romney and Ryan on November 6 tend to live in cities, too, so the GOP’s urban problem overlaps with its demographic problem.

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