I always felt this election was between a weak incumbent and a weak campaign, and that view has not changed. I knew it was going to be very close at the popular level, and said to several friends that the only way Mitt Romney stood a chance electorally was to win Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. He lost all three.
So why did we have this outcome? There are a lot of reasons, but in my view the main ones are these:
The incumbency is a powerful thing–always has been, but all the more so today when the (office and position of the) Presidency has gained more power (too much power?) than before.
The Republican primary season was too long, and focused way too much on small ball.
Mitt Romney ran a weak campaign. He failed to criticize the President’s policies effectively, and to articulate a positive alternative vision that would excite the country.
The Democrats ran an effective campaign, and this in two senses. First, they made a strategic decision to make the campaign more about attacking their opponent than anything else. Further, they did this by deploying material early in order to paint Mitt Romney as someone from the elite upper class who was not able to identify with ordinary Americans. I have seen precious little good analysis on this, but class was one of the most important aspects of this election. It remains one of the biggest in this country (race is there for sure, but I believe class is the most important). The Republican campaign did not have an effective response to this attack.
Second, the GOTV (get out the vote campaign) and so-called ground game was more effective by the Democrats–again. I was surprised by Virginia and Florida both of which exhibit the skill here.
Finally, this is about electoral advantage. In the current make up of the country, the Democratic candidate has a much bigger starting Electoral College advantage than many have appreciated. The President invested heavily in the key battleground states as a result of being assured of so many easy wins in places like New York and California. It was this combined with the powerful ground game that won them a solid electoral majority, even though as of now it appears as though it will come from a narrow popular vote majority.
In the end, it is this simple: a weak incumbent beat a weak candidate because the election was always the formers to lose, and it didn’t happen, especially electorally.
Let me end on a positive note–I am so glad we have a clear victor, and it looks like in both votes. I really do not want to go through a 2000 contested election into December again. Thankfully, it was avoided.
Let us remember that governing is MUCH harder than campaigning, and the two are not the same. And let us continue to pray that God has mercy on America–KSH.
Update: I found it interesting to go back and reread what I wrote about the 2008 campaign–Why What Happened Happened in Election 2008.