How’d that defense jobs circus work out for you?

With the end of the election campaign, the season of sequestration and budget deals is upon us. But was sequestration — the "fiscal cliff" — and its supposedly devastating impact on defense a big issue in the election itself? Clearly, some folks thought it would be. The Aerospace Industries Association drummed up a major study ...

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With the end of the election campaign, the season of sequestration and budget deals is upon us. But was sequestration -- the "fiscal cliff" -- and its supposedly devastating impact on defense a big issue in the election itself? Clearly, some folks thought it would be. The Aerospace Industries Association drummed up a major study arguing that going over the cliff could cost a million defense jobs. The National Association of Manufacturers argued the same.

With the end of the election campaign, the season of sequestration and budget deals is upon us. But was sequestration — the "fiscal cliff" — and its supposedly devastating impact on defense a big issue in the election itself? Clearly, some folks thought it would be. The Aerospace Industries Association drummed up a major study arguing that going over the cliff could cost a million defense jobs. The National Association of Manufacturers argued the same.

Some analysts took these claims seriously and argued that defense workers could actually determine the outcome of the election in key states. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute wrote: "The simple truth is that Obama lacks many of the electoral advantages he had last time around, so obscure issues like sequestration of the military budget could be decisive in a tight November race. That argues for doing something now to avert sequestration, rather than waiting for action by a lame-duck session of Congress after the election." He pointed in particular to Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania as states that could be swung by defense workers and could, in turn, decide the race.

Senators John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Lindsey Graham actually cooked up a "defense jobs" travelling show around these claims, going from base to base and plant to plant to rally defense workers and communities in the hopes that Mitt Romney would become president and stem the tide of cuts.

I wondered how that actually worked out, so, with the help of my intrepid colleague, Nate Levine, I took a look at where the McCain-Ayotte-Graham side show set up its tent to see how much of a difference it made.

The "defense jobs" circus visited Fayetteville, North Carolina, a state Romney carried 51-48, so maybe defense workers made a difference there — or maybe not.

But it goes downhill from there. The circus travelled to Tampa, Florida, where the the last statewide count had the president ahead by 43,000 votes. It spent time in Norfolk, Virginia, but the president carried the commonwealth 51-48. It went to Merrimack, New Hampshire, but Obama prevailed there 52-46. And Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, a state the president carried 52-46. And Colorado Springs, Colorado, a state he won 51-47. And Dayton, Ohio, but the whole state went 50-48 for the president. It didn’t go to Pennsylvania, but the president scooped that one up, too.

If you focus on some of the key congressional districts where these bases and plants are located, the picture is pretty much the same. The Democrat in Florida carried the district. The Republican in North Carolina won. The Democratic incumbent in Virginia won, as did the Democrats in New Hampshire and Nevada. And the independent in Colorado.

What these outcomes suggest is something I have been arguing for some time, and, by now, it is pretty obvious: This election was not about defense. A very large and expensive lobbying effort to make it about defense failed. It was about the economy, yes, and jobs, and debt, and the deficit. But it was not about defense. That is a pretty clear signal that at least the part of the sequester theater that focused on a "doomsday" for defense was not very compelling when the rubber hit the road. And it suggests that the decisions about a budget deal may include more cuts to defense than anyone projects so far.

Gordon Adams is a professor of international relations at American University's School of International Service and is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. From 1993 to 1997, he was the senior White House budget official for national security. Twitter: @GAdams1941

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