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posted: 11/14/2012 6:33 PM

GOP's problems were bigger than just Candy and Sandy

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The 2012 presidential election is at last over. And despite all of the political spinning, huge expenditures of money, media driven hoopla and an ongoing terrible economy -- the final totals were not much different from the 2008 results.

To be sure President Barack Obama's popular vote margin over his Republican opponent was diminished, but the president still won a landslide electoral vote victory and in the end carried only two fewer states than he did in 2008 (Indiana and North Carolina).

Instant pundit analysis suggests the country's changing demographics (whites cast only 72 percent of the vote and young people once again overwhelmingly supported Obama) trumped Mitt Romney's mantra that he could end the high unemployment rate and diminish the nation's huge deficit. OK -- but in my view other crucial factors were involved in Obama's re-election win.

Many election contests, especially in the closing weeks, have unforeseen events impact a campaign's direction. In 2012, Romney took a late game double political hit, "Candy and Sandy".

As we all know in the third presidential debate geared to foreign policy -- Romney brought up the confusion surrounding the murder of four American officials in Benghazi, Libya. The question raised was whether the president called the event a terrorist attack or did his administration blame an anti-Islam amateur video for the assault. Debate moderator CNN's Candy Crowley unfortunately entered the substantive debate by agreeing with the president's questionable account that he did call it a terrorist attack. Her action was the equivalent of a boxing referee suddenly throwing a punch at one of the fighters in the ring. Romney never recovered in the debate and the issues actually lost much of its "zip" for the rest of the campaign.

As for Hurricane Sandy -- politically it came at the absolutely worst time for challenger Romney. This tragedy stalled his campaign as election day neared and at the same time gave Obama a chance to combine "good government with good politics" as he dominated the media as a caring leader comforting victims and promising federal help to all.

Though important, neither of these two events were "game changers." Why? Obama won this election in large part due to his personal Chicago political machine that had four years to sharpen its campaign operation. This Obama machine was not a remake of former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's political organization. Rather, it was an updated high-tech modified mechanism.

What about Illinois and especially its Chicago suburbs? Obama's landslide win in Illinois was based on his near 1 million vote margin in Cook County and his winning four of the five collar counties surrounding Cook. Not so long ago, a Republican candidate would have shaved a Democrat's Chicago margin with a solid suburban vote. Now Suburban Cook and the Collars have become vote allies of Chicago Democrats. Look at suburban Cook County -- Romney won only five of thirty townships, and only two of them (Barrington and Palatine) were located in the once GOP-vote-rich Northwest suburbs.

Unbelievably, in the months ahead, most political chatter and combat will be about possible Democratic intraparty rivalries with the GOP assuming a "conscientious objector" status.

My advice to the few, "the unhappy few," Republican operatives is to send out to all party members and supporters a copy of Bob Dylan's "Times they are a changing". A political party needs to be responsive to the electorate and not act like a private downtown Chicago club. As the late Mayor Daley often said, "you win elections by addition" -- Illinois Republicans need to wake-up and see who is living in Illinois -- today. And by all means look at the exit poll data that shows 44 percent of Illinoisans view themselves as Democrats while GOP identifiers measures 27 percent. Enough said.

• Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.

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