Crisis claims another leader, is Obama next?

2012-05-08 09:00
Washington - The transatlantic economic crisis has scythed through Europe's leaders. So, as November looms, can Barack Obama avoid becoming the highest profile victim of a trend shaping world politics?

US President Obama lost a flamboyant, sometimes erratic but ultimately trusted partner in Nicolas Sarkozy after France picked Francois Hollande, its first Socialist president in a decade, to pull it out of the slump.

Sarkozy on Sunday joined Britain's Gordon Brown, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Ireland's Brian Cowen, and leaders of Denmark, Spain and Portugal sent packing since Obama took office himself in 2009.

Though each election featured unique national factors, those leaders paid for their failure to mitigate the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

Obama now faces a battle in November's election to ensure that the "Great Recession" does not send him back to hometown Chicago after a single White House term.

He has similar challenges as his European counterparts: High jobless rates, slow economic growth, bulging national debt and pervading middle class pessimism.

Toss-up election

Economic woes and Europe's capacity to further damage the fragile US recovery, represent Obama's deepest electoral vulnerability.

"There's one universal truth that's told about elections, it is about the economy, and how people feel about the economy, whether it's getting better or worse," said Heather Conley of the CentRE for Strategic and International Studies.

In a new Politico/George Washington University poll on Monday, Obama led his Republican opponent Mitt Romney on issues including foreign policy, the middle class and on values.

But the election is still a toss-up because of the economy. Obama is ahead 48% to 46% on who would better create jobs. Romney is up 3% on who would be a better steward of the economy.

That said, some unique factors on the US side of the Atlantic could shield Obama.

The electoral system, of a series of state-by-state races, could deliver battlegrounds doing better than the rest of the country - like Ohio and Virginia for instance - into Obama's column in November.

Growing economy

Though jobs growth is slowing – 115 000 new positions were created last month - unemployment is nowhere near the staggering proportions it is in Europe.

Unlike European states slipping back into recession, the economy is still growing, albeit at only 2.2% in the first quarter.

Dante Scala, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, said it was unclear whether Obama could get a pass from voters because the crisis pre-dated his administration.

"It is pretty well established in political science literature that it's typically the current incumbent, not a past incumbent, who bears the burden at the ballot box of a weak economy," he said.

"Would [voters] be willing to go back four years and say 'well things were really bad in 2008 and things are a little better now?'"

"Political scientists don't have a lot of confidence that voters have a really long memory."

Sow recovery

Obama may be lucky in his enemy: The starchy, corporate Romney has an even tougher job connecting with hurting blue-collar voters than he does.

But the president's biggest problem may be that the recovery is too slow for large numbers of Americans to feel and Romney is playing up the sense of gloom.

"The president's a nice guy, but he's never had a job in the private sector. He's never created a job. I think it helps to have had a job to create a job," Romney, a multi-millionaire venture capitalist said.

Obama's vulnerability was obvious at his first campaign rallies in Virginia and Ohio on Saturday, as he bemoaned jobs lost, high deficits and a weak housing market.

He cannot make the classic argument of presidents running for re-election - that voters are better off than when he took office.

So Obama has come up with a vow to build an equitable economy, with the rich paying their "fair share" and is asking voters to look forwards, not backwards.

Changing the subject

"You know what, the real question - the question that will actually make a difference in your life and in the lives of your children - is not just about how we're doing today. It's about how we'll be doing tomorrow," he said.

"When we look back four years from now, or 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, won't we be better off if we have the courage to keep moving forward?"

But Romney will not to let Obama change the subject.

"President Obama would like for voters to believe he hasn't been president for the last three years," said campaign spokesperson Amanda Henneberg.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections  |  economy

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