The recent direction of Mitt Romney's campaign may seem perplexing — the candidate's birther joke, those ads accusing Obama of gutting welfare reform, John Sununu's jab that Obama needs to learn how to be American, and veep pick Paul Ryan's pride at bitterly clinging to guns and God — but it can all be explained with just one number: 61 percent, which is the share of the white vote Romney needs to win.
In June RealClearPolitics' David Paul Kuhn looked at the demographic break down in vote projections and concluded, "The white margin to watch: 61-39. That’s the rough break-even point. Obama likely needs more than 39 percent of whites to assure re-election." To put that into context, Kuhn notes, "Whites favored Reagan in 1984 by a 64-35 margin. They favored Bush in 1988 by a 59-40 margin. Four years ago, whites favored McCain by a 55-43 margin." When Kuhn was writing in late June, he noted in an average of four polls, Obama was a couple points below the 39 percent mark -- and Romney was far from his 61 percent target. The New Republic's Nate Cohn pointed out that averaging more polls, whites were splitting for Romney by 52 percent to 39 percent. With Romney making little headway with black or Hispanic voters — polls typically put his support among non-white voters in the high teens to low 20s — the best remaining option is to get to that 61 percent threshold with whites. And if the Republican primary taught us anything — think back to Donald Trump's birther bubble and Newt Gingrich's South Carolina victory after doubling down on his charge that Obama is the "food stamp president" — these racially tinged campaign barbs are sure crowd pleasers among white Republicans.