Richard Reeves

The Next America

LOS ANGELES -- Assuming that neither man faints on the stage at their final debate on Monday, the Obama-Romney race now depends on three smoking guns rarely discussed by candidates: geography, demography, and getting out the right vote.

Geography first. There is much fundraising but little campaigning in person or even on television in the three largest of the United States. Why? Because California is safely Democrat, and so is New York. Texas is safely Republican. Why bother? The campaign is being waged, at least in person, in the so-called "battleground" states, beginning in Ohio and stretching to the vast wastelands of Nevada.

If you happen to live in California, as I do, you are saved from nasty television commercials, but you are also removed from real live national political people. We get five minutes or so on nightly news programs, or we can depend on talking and shouting heads. So much for being the biggest state.

Is this a problem? Yes. The coming together of the old Electoral College and the new technologies, particularly the speed-polling made possible by computers, is bypassing "safe" states for both the Democratic and Republican campaigns. We might as well live in a yellow submarine.

Demography is destiny, someone once said. It certainly is political and governing destiny.

Gallup tracking polls show the outlines of the generation gaps that could decide this election. Last month the Gallup organization released these numbers: 61 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 approve of the job being done by President Obama; that figure is only 48 percent for people between 30 and 49, 46 percent for those from 50 to 64, and 41 percent by those over 65.

"The numbers tell the tale," writes Renee Loth in The Boston Globe. "Minorities have accounted for 85 percent of the country's population growth over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A record 24 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election, up 22 percent from 2008. Meanwhile, 87 percent of registered Republican voters are white. And whites have declined as a portion of the electorate in every presidential elections since 1992."

Do the math. Minorities as a group will vote for Democrats. That leads to two questions: What will Obama's margin be, and how many minority voters will get to the polls?

For the Republicans this year, and in future years, that is a critical question -- a crisis. In very rough terms, a few Republican voters die every minute and a number of Democratic voters come of age.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Romney supporter, put it this way: "The demographics race we're losing badly. We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."

There is a demographic revolution coming. In fact, it may already be here. That new nation is called "The Next America" by the National Journal, which features columns by scholars such as Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, authors of the new book "Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America."

Ironically, this is all happening when an aging population is at the heart of the domestic issues being debated by Obama and Romney. When the subject turns to the economy, pensions, Social Security and Medicare, what they are really talking about is the fact that the United States, in more prosperous and optimistic times, created a national safety net for people who lived to be 65 -- once an old age. Now, more and more people are living healthily into their 80s. The question is whether the social programs can deal with that change, much less with young people who can't find jobs or are not skilled enough to understand work in the changing America.

How those things work out will be the business of the next administration and those that follow. So who wins? The candidate whose organization turns out the voters destined to support them. One way or another, we will live in that next America, deciding whether we are all in this together or we are all on our own, buddy.

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