A Political Preview: Handicapping the 2012 Presidential Race

Posted In: Politics, National, Opinion,   From Issue 733   By: Matt deHeus

29th September, 2011     0

This Fall's election season will also mark the ramp up of the seemingly perpetual Presidential race, where voters will have the opportunity to return to the polls and decide if they would like to repeat the historic mandate that ushered a junior Senator into the White House in 2008. 

A lot can happen in a year.  Maybe President Obama will decide one term is enough.  Or perhaps the State will make a printing mistake and we all win the lottery - crazy stuff that could shift the landscape dramatically.  But given the hindsight of three years of this Administration and the foresight earned through a few cycles of “been there, done that,” here are one guy's more mainstream thoughts on how this might play out. 

Five Reasons Barack Obama Will Lose 

The Reagan / Clinton Road Maps 

Being fair, even the most liberal pundit would have to admit that we didn't get quite what was advertised with President Obama.  Instead of a polished and precocious amalgam of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, we got a moderate that has governed like he was the love child of Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush. 

Between “Are You Better Off Than You Were 4 Years Ago” and “It's the Economy, Stupid,” the GOP has two good roadmaps for taking out a weak incumbent who has had the unfortunate luck to show up in office when businesses weren't hiring.   

Obama, on the other hand, will have some difficulty translating his somewhat meager accomplishments into a message as succinct as the “Hope” and “Change” platform he rode into office the first time. 

Voter Turnout 

The 2008 Election was historic not only for who won it, but for who elected the candidate.  Enormous numbers of first time voters - the minorities and young people that politicians have always coveted, but rarely attracted - showed up at the polls.  Both the history of this type of voter and the remarkably poor ability of the Democrats to draw these voters back to the polls in 2010 do not bode well for a re-election campaign whose first victory was based in large part on overwhelming majorities in these newly tapped demographics. 


The Supreme Court's “Citizen's United” decision, which granted corporations many of the rights of individual citizens and loosened dramatically the rules for donations to PACs by large corporations, cast a huge cloud over the 2010 mid-term election.  We ain't seen nothing yet.  With the experience of the last presidential campaign and successful conservative election efforts in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, the PAC's and their soft money will be an even bigger influence in this cycle.  Odds are this will be the most expensive election in history by a long shot. 

By contrast, in the last election Obama relied on a substantial number of small donations from individual voters.  It is very likely that this type of donation will drop off, for the same reasons that voter turnout may lag.  The novelty has worn off.  While he may see an increase in corporate money, much of this will come from organizations playing both sides of the fence, so it's a wash.  The pressure put on unions from years of concessions and shrinking membership means they don't have the power at this point to offer some balance to the conservative PACs.  There is a real possibility that Obama will get outspent and that is usually not a good thing for a candidate.  

“The Woman Problem” 

The Obama Administration has gone into active damage control over accusations he has a “Woman Problem.”  In 2008, Obama garnered the support of nearly 60% of all women, in contrast to 38% of male voters.  Recent polling shows support nearly unchanged in potential male voters at 36%.  The same poll, however, shows that his support among women has dropped as low as 46%.  Going into the election will less than 50% in both gender groups is going to make it a very difficult path for Obama, especially with the strong possibility that the Republicans will once again have a woman on the ticket. 

Politics Are Politically Incorrect 

One of the most consistent of human behaviors is that, when times get tough, people revert to what they know. It has worked before and there is a comfort in the familiarity of your solution, even if it isn't the most appropriate of remedies in the current situation.   

It's probably not the most provocative statement to say that what has worked for a lot of American voters with respect to the Presidency are focused upon salt and pepper haired white guys.  Straight teeth and a smooth voice help.  It is not hard to see there are a lot of voters that still have a significant level of discomfort having a black man as President.  Given historic precedent, having a woman or a Latino ascend to the White House immediately after the first black President would simply be out of character for what is still a pretty conservative electorate.  Advantage, Romney, Perry, et al.  Disadvantage, those who would like to see us hire the best candidate regardless of race, creed or gender. 

Five Reasons Barack Obama Will Win 

1. Signs of Recovery 

The economic arguments work here, too.  Simply put, if pluralities of voters who show up next November believe their pocketbook issues are being addressed, Barack Obama gets four more years.   

In truth, many economic indicators aren't that bad.  The problem is, for the most part, jobs have not followed.  There is a successful path to be followed in laying the blame on corporate interests, who many people will automatically associate with the Republican Party. He just needs a simple way to package that message.  Something as simple as “Hope” or at least that the “Change” is finally going back in your pocket. 

2.  He Is Still the Incumbent 

President Obama does have one asset that none of his competitors will - his title.  He is still the incumbent and that has been important in Presidential politics.  Since WWII, only two Republican and one Democratic incumbent Presidents have lost (Ford, Carter, Bush).  Delving a bit further back, 21 of the 31 times that an incumbent has been on Presidential election cycles, it resulted in the incumbent winning.  And anyone who wagers will tell you those are really good odds. 

This is a good place to discuss the “wild card.”  The working belief is that a significant national security event in the vicinity of the election weighs in favor of the incumbent.  In any event, the bully pulpit of the Presidency is a huge advantage when you are in the business of attracting media attention.  It's a really tall platform from which to campaign, for sure. 

  A Weak Republican Slate 

The GOP has a couple of problems in this regard.  First, the “light and fluffy” nature of their candidates has to have Obama smiling.  The early debates have allowed most of the candidates to expose their relative lack of heft, albeit under the less than bright lights of early election cycle coverage.  The people watching these events already know which way they are voting, if not for whom. Unless one of these potential nominees polishes their act very quickly, it will be a real irony to hear Obama play the “Experience” card four years after the Republicans tried to play 52 pick up with his own modest deck of legislative accomplishments. 

Second, everyone who is running on the Republican side is well aware of the “Why Obama Might Lose” list.  He is seen as vulnerable and the election winnable for the right challenger.  The primaries will be brutal, with the right to vie for the Office of the Presidency the prize that justifies the bloodshed.  The worry is always that the “winning” candidate emerges wounded or the party fractured.  One would think the Republicans would try to unite behind one candidate as quickly as possible, but we are a long way from any such decision.   

4. Backlash 

The 2010 mid-term elections were a debacle for the Democrats.  Many losses in the House and Senate and key Midwestern States elected conservative governors.  It was described in cataclysmic terms like “land slide” and “tidal wave.”  And those elected on those conservative mandates began their legislative flood. 

Then the backlash began.  A “Sit In” at the Wisconsin Capital carried the headlines for awhile this summer.  Controversial cuts to education, encroachment on collective bargaining rights and changes to tax policy caused a lot of voters to wonder if they really wanted what they had wished for.  And now “Recall So and So” stands and signs dot street corners and campuses across our region.  People are mad.  While they may not get the recall election they pine for, next November offers a chance to get back to the polls and deliver critical Electoral Votes on the path to 270 as the Liberal wing takes their turn weighing down the see saw. 

5. He Will Win “The Campaign” 

There used to be a saying in national politics that “The Republicans don't know how to win and the Democrats don't know how to govern.”  It reminds me of something I learned in business, when you realized that the best chemists weren't always the best lab managers.   

Barack Obama is a brilliant campaigner.  He's smooth.  He's smart.  He gives good teleprompter.  And he has done this before.  In fact, his whole team has done this before.  He will have a tremendous advantage out of the gate for this reason.  McCain was never able to match the Obama organization and the current group of GOP hopefuls doesn't contain anyone with McCain's experience or connections. (Editor's Note:  With the possible exception of Ron Paul.)  

Five Things That Would Be Really Interesting to See 

  A Viable Third Party Candidate 

Two of the three most recent one term Presidents lost in an election that featured a viable third candidate.  As with John Anderson in the 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992 e, a third option would dramatically shake up the race.  Names ranging from Michael Bloomberg to Susan Sarandon have emerged in some circles.  Seriously. 

If there is one thing we might want to note about this phenomenon, it's that both Reagan and Clinton were relatively effective Presidents.  Perhaps there is a claim to be made that increased choice is good for the process. 

2. Hillary Clinton As A VP Candidate 

There are a number of good reasons to reach out and see if Ms. Clinton would consider sliding into the VP slot.  First, it might bridge the gender issue a bit, as Hillary is far more accomplished and popular than any of the women that the Republican might be able to place in either spot on their ticket.  Also, the VP position on a winning ticket would provide a good platform for another Clinton run for the Presidency in 2016. 

3. Hillary Clinton As A Presidential Candidate 

Forget 2016, a lot of liberals want a mulligan for 2008, when they selected Obama over Clinton to begin with.   Hillary Clinton continues to have the highest approval rating of any leading Democrat.  Even those who voted for Obama might wish to ask themselves when, exactly, should we begin our search for a more effective leader? 

4. Honesty 

2010 marked an all time low for truth in political advertising.  Organizations ranging from Factcheck.org, Lippman and NPR all indicated that better than 90% of the ads aired by Congressional candidates rated either “Untrue” or “Barely True.”  The process deserves better than that.  We deserve better than that.  But, I am not holding my breath on this one. 

5. “Independence Day” 

The only predictable thing about politics is that something unpredictable will happen.  Who knows, Facebook apparently facilitated changes in the regimes in Egypt and Libya.  Maybe all of America's byte-nerds and disaffected youth will rise up and shake things up a bit.  I'm not advocating civil disobedience; I'm just saying it makes for good TV. 

And this is where potential volatility possesses the capacity to shake things up. Again, Ron Paul has managed to garner a broad cross-section of youth and possesses one of the more effective online mobilization campaigns.  He has registered close to the top in all the straw polls and is the only candidate advancing total withdrawal from the wars in Iran and Afghanistan, which to date have done considerable damage in terms of bankrupting our country. 

Better yet, what if we had a real life version of the film Independence Day, and our alien forefathers return to see how we have done with our colony.  We can only hope that that they grade on a curve.  And, I guess, they don't decide that it's time to give the Mayans they bring back a new American homeland. 


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