Who won the last Republican debate?

Ultimately the winner of the debate was the man in the White House, President Obama.

Why? Because the Republican candidates took positions that will undermine them in the general election. These affect particular populations, who care about those issues more than others.

1. On having insurance companies cover birth control, all the candidates took a position that over 60% of Americans disagree with. Women, who are a majority of voters, strongly disagree with the candidates.

Majorities of both men and women said they are in favor of the mandate, though support among women is especially pronounced, with 66 percent supporting and 26 percent opposing it.

2. Taking hard-line positions against the auto companies mean that Republican candidates are unlikely to win Michigan and other U.S. car-producing states in the general election.

In fact, the Obama campaign just started running this ad in Michigan.

3. And, with endorsements of the Arizona law regarding immigrants, Republican candidates will find it awfully hard to appeal to the fastest growing population group in the United States — non-Cuban Hispanics.

George W. Bush did not win a majority of the Hispanic vote, but he did fairly well. As Bloomberg News reports:

In the 2004 race, Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts won 53 percent of the Hispanic vote, while George W. Bush got 44 percent — a record for a Republican presidential candidate, the polls found.

But John McCain did far worse.

President Barack Obama won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 election while his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona, won 31 percent, according to exit polls.

More recently, as Politico reports:

Just 26 percent of Hispanic voters told NBC pollsters last month that they’d support Romney over Obama. In November, the respected Pew Hispanic Center found just 16 percent of Hispanics named the GOP as the party to which they felt closest. For Romney — still viewed as the party’s most likely nominee — the goal of reaching Hispanics probably didn’t get any easier Wednesday night, after he praised some of Arizona’s stringent immigration policies as a “model” for the nation.

The president’s campaign staff must be happy with this Republican debate.

To be sure, the fall election is a long way from now. A good deal can change between now and November, particularly if there are problems in the middle east that lead to higher gas prices and economic travails. In general, the economy is the most important issue.

But should crisis not strike the economy, these positions will hurt Republican candidates in key demographics and key states and help the president’s re-election chances.

Between the four men on the stage for the Arizona debate, Mitt Romney looked the best. Now fighting off the surging social conservative, Rick Santorum, Romney may very well win in Arizona and Michigan and again look like a front-runner. And it is possible that Super Tuesday will finish the nomination contest with Romney the last man standing. But, in the meantime, Romney’s image and political position has taken a hit.

This is what’s happened with women voters. [Source]

Talking Points Memo chart of Romney and Obama favorability among women voters

No wonder the president seems pretty relaxed lately.

Obama sings with BB King and others at the White House

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.