2012 US race likely to be tough

2011-11-06 14:45

Washington - One year to go until Election Day and the Republican presidential field is deeply unsettled, leaving President Barack Obama only to guess who his opponent will be. But the race's contours are starting to come into view.

It's virtually certain that the campaign will be a close, grinding affair, markedly different from the 2008 race. It will play out amid widespread economic anxiety and heightened public resentment of government and politicians.

Americans who were drawn to the drama of Obama's barrier-breaking primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the up-and-down fortunes of the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin, are likely to see a more partisan contest this time, with Ohio and Florida playing crucial roles as they did in 2000 and 2004.

Failed leader

Republicans have their script; they just need to pick the person to deliver it. It will portray Obama as a failed leader who backs away when challenged and who doesn't understand what it takes to create jobs and spur business investment.

Obama will highlight his opponent's ties to the conservative tea party movement and its priorities of advocating deep spending cuts and opposing tax increases. He will say Republicans are obsessed with protecting millionaires' tax cuts while the federal debt soars and working people struggle.

On several issues, voters will see a more distinct contrast between the nominees than in 2008. Even the most moderate Republican candidates have staked out more rigidly conservative views on immigration, taxes and spending than did Arizona Senator McCain.

Democrats say Obama has little control over the two biggest impediments to his re-election: unemployment and congressional gridlock.

The jobless rate will stand at levels that have not led to a president's re-election since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Largely because of that, Obama will run a much more negative campaign, his aides acknowledge, even if it threatens to demoralise some supporters who were inspired by his 2008 message of hope.

Appeal to independents

The tea party, one of the modern era's most intriguing and effective political movements, will play its first role in a presidential race. After helping Republicans win huge victories in last year's congressional elections, activists may push the Republican presidential contenders so far right that the eventual nominee will struggle to appeal to independents.

"It's going to be extremely different, with much more hand-to-hand combat, from one foxhole to another, targeted to key states," said Chris Lehane, who helped run Democrat Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

Republican consultant Terry Holt agreed. "You can expect a very negative campaign," he said. "In 2008, Barack Obama was peddling hope and change. Now he's peddling fear and poverty."

Obama and his aides reject that characterisation, of course. They say the Republican candidates are under the tea party's spell, noting that all of them said they would reject a deficit-reduction plan even if it included $10 in spending cuts for every dollar in new taxes.

Both parties agree that jobs will be the main issue. The White House predicts unemployment will hover around 9% for at least a year, a frighteningly high level for a president seeking a second term.

Raise taxes

Republican lawmakers, who control the House of Representatives and have enough power in the Senate to use procedural manoeuvers to prevent votes on legislation, have blocked Obama's job proposals, mainly because they would raise taxes on the wealthy. The candidates, echoing their Republican colleagues in Congress, say new jobs will follow cuts in taxes, regulation and federal spending.

With the economy struggling and Obama hemmed in legislatively, his advisers sometimes say the election will be a choice between the president and his challenger, rather than a referendum on the administration's performance.

"That's a very genteel way of saying 'Were going to rip your face off,'" said Dan Schnur, a former aide to McCain and other Republicans, and now a politics professor at the University of Southern California. Obama has little choice but to try to portray the Republican alternative as worse than his own disappointing record, Schnur said.

Some Republican candidates would be tougher targets than others. Texas Governor Rick Perry promotes his state's significant job growth, leaving Democrats to grouse that he was a lucky bystander rather than the cause.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney says his years in the private sector make him best suited to lead an economic expansion. But Obama's allies have gathered details of jobs that were eliminated when Bain Capital, a takeover firm that Romney headed, restructured several companies.

Revive the economy

Obama can't fine-tune his strategy until Republicans pick their nominee, and that may take months. So he's spending part of this year travelling to some of the most contested states, telling disappointed liberals he still deserves their strong backing and trying to convince centrists that he can revive the economy.

Obama's overall job-approval rating was 46% in an Associated Press-GfK poll from October. Only 36% of adults approved of his handling of the economy, a worrisome number for any incumbent.

Yet 78% said he's a likeable person, which forces Republicans to be careful. It's possible Obama will run a more cut-throat campaign than will his challenger. For now, anyway, Romney calls Obama "a nice guy" who doesn't know how to lead.

Republican insiders see Romney as their most plausible nominee. He has run the steadiest and best-financed campaign thus far, relying on lessons and friends picked up in his unsuccessful 2008 bid.

But the Republican race has been unpredictable, and Romney has struggled to exceed one-fourth of the support in Republican polls. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota emerged as his main challenger last summer, only to be supplanted by Perry. A few halting debate performances hurt Perry, and former pizza company executive Herman Cain replaced him at or near the top of the polls, along with Romney.

Political experience

Last week, Cain tried to swat down allegations of sexual harassment from the 1990s. Party activists are waiting for the impact. Some, however, think Cain's lack of political experience and his unorthodox style, which includes largely ignoring Iowa and New Hampshire, the states with the first two nominating contests in January, are more likely to bring him down.

Two schools of thought run through Republican circles. One holds that Romney is the logical nominee and will consolidate the party's somewhat grudging support after conservatives stop flirting with longshots such as Bachmann and Cain. Republicans have a history of nominating the runner-up from previous primaries, and Romney fits that bill.

The competing theory holds that Americans are angrier at government and the two parties than political pros realise, and the tea party is just the start of a potent, long-lasting movement. Under this scenario, Romney can never placate conservative voters because of his establishment ties and the more liberal positions he once held on abortion, gay rights and gun control.

If this view is right, the shifting support for Bachmann, Perry and Cain is more than a flirtation, and someone will emerge as the "non-Romney" who wins the nomination.

Veterans of past presidential campaigns tend to doubt this outcome. But even with Obama's economic woes, plenty of Republican insiders worry that Romney's inconsistency on important issues and voters' doubts about his authenticity could let the president slip away.

Third Bush term

Romney should have put his Republican rivals "in the rear-view mirror" by now, said Mike McKenna, a Republican lobbyist who has tracked focus groups and polls in various states. "The problem is, a huge part of the party views him as a third Bush term."

McKenna said pundits don't realise that the tea party movement was as much a rejection of the high-spending, high-deficit practices of President George W Bush and Republican lawmakers as it was a reaction against Obama's health care reform plan. With his ties to the northeastern New England states and the party establishment, Romney "looks like the lineal descendant of Bush," McKenna said.

He said he fears that a lot of conservatives will sit out the 2012 election if Romney is the nominee.

Plenty of strategists reject that view. They think conservatives' deep antipathy toward Obama will cause them to overcome their misgivings and fully back Romney.

David Axelrod, Obama's top political adviser, points to issues Obama can cite success on, from health care and undermining al-Qaeda to reviving the auto industry and ending the Iraq war.

"We're going to have a very robust debate," he said. "The Republicans say if we just cut taxes and spending and regulations, we will grow. And I think the American people understand it's more complicated than that."

  • goyougoodthing - 2011-11-06 15:55

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. There is no real difference between the 2 sides, it used to be Republicans went to war and Dems brought them home. Not anymore. Bg business buys elections so 'looking after taxpayers' is a noble joke, a blatant lie. Obama used the race card to win last time, unfortunately he doesn't have that luxury this time, will the people still come out to support him, i doubt it.

      Darryl - 2011-11-06 16:25

      "it used to be Republicans went to war and Dems brought them home. Not anymore" strange statement considering that Bush went to war and Obama is bringing the troops home and closing Guantanamo Bay. Last I checked Obama had kept quite a large percentage of the promises he made when running for election, so the public pretty much got what they asked for. No way could any President solve the disaster of Bush's administration mid the worst recession in decades. The fruits of Obama's labour will only show in the next 2-3 years. If he gets voted out now the next guy will get the pat on the back he deserves, just as he is being unfairly targeted for the mess Bush made.

      goyougoodthing - 2011-11-06 16:27

      @DieSkim, it's not that simplistic on one hand and on the other he blatantly lied, saying all troops would be home within a year. He either went back on his word or did not understand the situation fully when he made the promises. Make no mistake, the Bush cartel is the real axis of evil, but the Dems are not what they once represented, not by a long long way.

      DSBennie - 2011-11-07 08:06

      @DieSkim On Jan 7, 2011, President Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill which contains provisions preventing the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the mainland or to other foreign countries, and thus effectively stops the closure of the detention facility. He also promised that troops would be out of Iraq, 16 months after taking office, that was August 31, 2010. Promises about PolitiFact's he promised to create a foreclosure prevention fund for homeowners, this fund has failed to deliver on what he promised. He has failed to centralize ethics and lobbying information for voters. A major one to the American people was his promise that lobbyists would not serve in his administration... they are... He failed to create a cap and trade system with interim goals to reduce global warming

  • Oneant - 2011-11-06 15:59

    so you get to vote once every four years and in between its anything goes. you would think in the 21st century with instant everything politics would have evolved.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2011-11-06 22:36

      One vote, once, every four years is not democracy.

      DSBennie - 2011-11-07 08:37

      Presidential elections are held every four years, the house though is held every two years so if the president does not preform, he will lose his majority in the house and thus be unable to enact legislation so easily, under Obama the Democrats lost 63 seats in the midterm election, this biggest loss for a party since the 1930's

  • Dave - 2011-11-06 17:06

    I would not be suprised if Oprah tried to be nominated as Obama's VP.

  • Mthuthuzeli - 2011-11-06 23:09

    O good voter, unspeakable imbecile, poor dupe... —Octave Mirbeau, Voter’s Strike! "On election night, when the three major television networks announce the next president, the winner they announce is not chosen by the voters of the United States. He is the selection of the three networks themselves, through a company they own jointly with Associated Press and United Press International." That company is called News Election Service (NES). Its address is 212 Cortland Street, New York City." "News Election Service provides “unofficial” vote tallies to its five owners in all presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial elections. NES is the only source Americans have to find out how they, as a people, voted. County and city election supervisors don’t come out with the official totals until weeks later. Those results are rarely reported in the national media." The US government does not tabulate a single vote. The government has granted NES a legal monopoly, exempt from antitrust laws, to count the votes privately. (From the book, "Your are being lied to, edited by Russ Kick, pg 145)

  • Marco - 2011-11-07 07:09

    Here I thought that it was only American national media omitting Ron Paul from the news.

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