Many political pundits have assumed that President Barack Obama will be reelected and that Mitt Romney’s defeat is a foregone conclusion. History suggests that Obama is in a strong position given that 78 percent of incumbents have been reelected. In fact, the only presidents in recent memory who have lost had strong primary challenges: President Gerald Ford (R-MI) was challenged by California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1976, President Carter was challenged by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in 1980 and President George H.W. Bush was challenged by former Nixon Aide Pat Buchanan in 1992. All three incumbents lost their reelection bid in part because the primary challenge weakened them significantly.
Conventional wisdom suggests that an incumbent who is not challenged will easily be reelected. In modern history, Presidents’ George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are good examples of this. But there is a contradicting fact that is troublesome for President Obama. No president in modern times has won reelection unless his approval rating was at least 50 percent at the beginning of his reelection year. President Obama’s has hovered in the 46-48 percentage range and he has not been able to move it to the 50 percent range. To put this in better perspective, Obama is in slightly better shape than President Carter but not quite as good as President George W. Bush at this point in the cycle. This factor alone means we will likely have a close presidential contest. If Mitt Romney picks a strong vice presidential candidate like Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) or Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), he will produce a ticket that will be very competitive. There are other good choices but these three seem to be getting a great deal of attention.
Romney must prove he is not George Bush, that he does have a plan for economic growth, and that he is not simply a big business oriented blue-blooded American that is out of touch with working America. He also has to work harder on his likeability and accessibility. Oddly, President Obama is also seen as aloof and less accessible than his original candidacy would suggest. Neither one of these candidates have the Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan touch. They are both intellectuals who don’t enjoy small talk or endless campaigning. They both have strong families, a close tight knit group of loyal friends and strong wives that are liked better than they are. But they both lack that back slapping pal quality that produces a greater likeability with the average voter.
Obama clearly has some advantages since the public respects him, basically trusts him and thinks he is on the side of the average person. Obama polls well on foreign policy which helps him with independents and takes away a traditionally strong Republican issue. Obama also has a very powerful reelect organization that understands how to use social media, understands how to mobilize voters, is well-funded and very well-organized. The Obama team was vastly superior to the McCain team in 2008, when it came to money, organizational strength and the ability to get out the vote. Romney will be much better than McCain on this score, but his long primary fight and the many attacks waged by members of his own party have wounded him some and have him behind in the fundraising arena as well. Many think that the advent of Super PAC’s (individuals who can put an unlimited amount of money into political advertising) will help him even the score. Republican fundraisers will insure that Romney is not outspent. McCain was badly outspent by Obama in 2008.
A weak economy, the failure by unions and a well-organized Democratic effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and tepid support after the mesmerizing “hope and change” campaign of 2008, will hurt Obama. Even his most ardent supporters think he over-promised on social issues and under-delivered on the economy. Obama’s best argument is that he wants to make sure the rich pay their fair share of taxes, that he is working for middle class growth and that George W. Bush left him with two wars and the worst economy since the height of the great depression. Obama needs to say that it will take at least four more years to get rid of these wars and get rid of the economic damage done by Bush and the Republicans. His push for the so-called Buffett rule on wealthy Americans shows he supports the “ninety nine percent versus the one percent.” He can also run against a Congress that has blocked him at every turn and been an active opponent in preventing his style of tax and fiscal reform.
There will be two Supreme Court decisions that may make a difference in this election. The Supreme Court could either strike down the entire health care law (not likely), uphold the entire health care law (not too likely) or leave the law intact while striking down the mandate based on the 10th Amendment to the constitution. The third option is most likely because it deals with mandating a mandatory product, then taxes people for its use, which many believe is far beyond the power of the federal government. Other experts believe the tax system, the requirement for participation in the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA), (Social Security), Medicare and Medicaid are all examples of mandatory products that Americans must purchase. Also, the Supreme Court will decide the Arizona Immigration case, regarding whether states have the right to have police check the immigration status of the people they stop for other reasons. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Utah and Arizona have laws that allow the police to make this check. The Obama Administration filed against these states and most experts think Arizona will win.
Various polls including Gallup, New York Times, Rasmussen and other reputable ones predict that this presidential race will be very close. Obama holds a small edge in each poll but all are within the “margin of error,” meaning the president’s lead is very small. With five months to go, many things can happen, but all indicators show seven swing states (perhaps Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin) will likely decide this race. Perhaps more importantly, about eight percent of the voters are truly undecided. This small, highly educated and influential group will almost certainly pick the next president. This race will be a lot more like the Bush-Gore race in 2000 than the Obama-McCain race of 2008.
The last, but not least, important part of this election involves Congress. In 2010, House Democrats lost 63 members (costing them the majority), the biggest loss since the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. Most pundits feel that Republicans will lose five to 10 seats but hold on to their majority. The Senate math favors the Republicans since twenty three of the thirty three seats up for reelection are held by Democrats. Today, Democrats have a 51 to 49 lead, a margin of only two seats. But so far it appears that Democrats are doing better than expected and may hold the Senate by a small margin, approximately the same as it is now.
This election will decide many issues, as they all do. But the over $3 trillion a year Bush tax cuts expire on the last day of this year, and it is unclear if they will be partly or wholly extended, or simply allowed to expire. If they expire, this would be a tremendous shock to our economy. Today, the US government is borrowing forty two cents on every dollar that it spends. If interest rates go up at all, and if the rate of spending increases based on current law, the U.S. government will spend almost $1 dollar in interest for every dollar that is borrowed. This is a rate of spending that could cripple our economy beyond repair. Both political parties are in fervent disagreement on the tax versus spend issues and today there is virtually no common ground. This impasse cannot continue without dire consequences.
Today, the election is almost a toss-up, but the stakes have not been this large since the great depression. If our government does not respond to this “fiscal cliff,” now, it may be too late by the time of the 2016 election.
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