Let's get serious about the chances of President Barack Obama's reelection. Polls show that the president's job approval has slid from 65.5% in February 2009 to 43.7% this month. Another poll indicates that 70% of Americans believe the country is "on the wrong track," a strong negative response to the president's (and Congress') performance during the current financial crisis. For these reasons and others, Obama's reelection is not a sure bet by any means, assuming Republicans do not nominate a candidate who would be too right of center to be competitive in the general election.
The president's advisors are surely considering what Obama should say and do in the next 14 months to increase his chances of being reelected. There are several major circumstances and perceptions that the White House political team should consider in their deliberations. First, the direction of the economy (specifically jobs) is front and center with Americans and is generally considered the most important political issue. Second, the persona and charisma of the president has been impaired by vicious attacks by his opponents on the campaign trail and in Congress. These have been Obama’s strong suits and must be restored. Third, the successes of the president have been few and far between, yet they need to be re-introduced to the voters. And finally, the president’s fund raising acumen and use of financial support will be critical.
The economy: If unemployment remains at the current 9.1% level, I believe the president is likely to lose in 2012. During Obama’s term, virtually every talking head, pundit, activist, and business leader has indicated that jobs are the key to political success in this economic environment. Nevertheless, the administration has not convinced voters that job growth is its highest priority. It is highly likely that Obama will change this perception in his speech tonight.
Obama must be the person who promises real change: It is doubtful that Obama can do anything to temper partisanship in the nation’s capital. The only tangible thing that might be possible is a new legislative initiative important to both political parties. But, it is unlikely conservatives will cooperate.
However, the president might still be able to “re-inspire” his base with promises of better conditions and a plea for more time to address the most difficult economic conditions in many years. Obama’s oratory skill is one of the last arrows remaining in his quiver.
Obama should reiterate his successes: Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so health care, which is often presented as the president’s greatest achievement, may not sell well with some voters. The principal reasons are that a significant number of people promised health care have not received it, and health care costs continue to skyrocket. But, there have been other successes such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Osama bin Laden’s killing, and the successful bank bailouts, which should be emphasized.
Obama should destroy his opponents in debates and with TV ads: Aggressive tactics in which Obama tries to convince voters that his Republican adversary is too conservative, too uncaring, too religious, too much like George W. Bush, and the like are the road to victory. Obama’s ability to raise money in spite of his declining popularity will enable him to attach unkind labels to those who challenge him.
The election of 2012 is going be a dark time in American politics. Hardball tactics, mudslinging, and contentious debate in the media and on stage will serve to make the voters even more disenchanted with our political system.
In the end, if I had to make a bet, Obama loses. This result will be a sad moment for so many Americans as their dreams are unrealized.
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