Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney speaks with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during a meeting at Artus Court in Gdansk on July 30.
Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney speaks with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during a meeting at Artus Court in Gdansk on July 30. Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images
Nate Cohn is a staff writer at The New Republic
After months defending traditionally red states like North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, Romney has finally decided to launch an offensive. Where? Poland: The predictably undefended flank of Obama's route to 270 electoral votes.
Poland is the ancestral homeland of about 3 percent of the American population, but a higher share of a few traditionally Democratic but potentially competitive states, like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where Polish-Americans constitute between 7 and 10 percent of the population. Most American Poles are Catholic, adding another reason besides geography to suggest they're a competitive group. Romney's visit to the old ojczyzna is sure to appeal to the hyper-nationalist descendents of immigrants that abandoned their country.
But most striking is Romney's decision to visit Poland at all, given that the Romney campaign isn't airing advertisements in Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. And if the Romney camp isn't well positioned to take advantage of gains among Polish-Americans, they would have been better able to exploit a visit to the Netherlands, since Romney is counting on the strong support of Dutch Americans to win Iowa, a state that figures increasingly prominently in the Romney camp's electoral calculus, or Michigan, a longer shot where Romney needs both Poles and the Dutch. Santorum crushed Romney in the heavily Dutch and evangelical counties of northwestern Iowa and western Michigan, so Romney presumably has some work to do to ensure the great performance necessary to carry either state.
Given the importance of the Dutch vote to Romney's chances, his decision to fly to Poland instead of the Netherlands might be a strong indication of his confidence in their ability to wrap up the Dutch vote and go on the offensive with swing constituents. But while that explanation is superficially appealing, Romney was recently playing defense in Holland, Michigan — which is about the closest thing to the Netherlands in the New World. Of course, the Netherlands would be a difficult place for any Mormon to campaign, given the difficulty of finding a city of sufficient stature where the candidate didn't risk a contact high. It's also possible that the Romney campaign was frightened by Obama's stop in Poland, Ohio during his quick jaunt across western Pennsylvania and northern Ohio. Given the importance of the Polish vote, a decision to one-up the President by flying to the real Poland would be quite understandable and appeal to strong conservative support for flying to "real" countries, rather than flying over them.
Regardless of which explanation underpins Romney's calculus, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the election will come down to his stop in Poland. If his speech writers don't include anything about Polish death camps, it might be time to start reallocating intellectual and financial resources toward the fight for control of the Senate.