Monday, February 28, 2011

Obama's road to re-election fraught with obstacles

Business Times - 01 Mar 2011

Obama's road to re-election fraught with obstacles

A recent poll shows he runs even with a 'generic' Republican presidential contender


HIS public opinion poll numbers look much better than they did last year in the aftermath of the impressive Republicans' wins in the midterm elections. But despite some signs that more Americans now approve of his leadership style and the direction of his policies, US President Barack Obama and his political aides recognise that his road to getting re-elected to a second term are stacked with many obstacles.

President Obama's handling of the shooting tragedy in Tuscon, Arizona, including his calls for more civility in American public life, helped him win praise from both Democrats and Republicans and scored many political brownie points with the American public. There have been some signs that the American economy is starting to recover - the stock market seem to be roaring and more Americans are shopping - and if, big 'if', the trend continues, it will certainly improve President Obama's electoral standing.

Non-drama politician

And it also seems that his cool and calm handling of the recent international crisis, including the political uprising in Egypt and other Arab countries by the non-drama Obama has helped solidify his position as an effective foreign-policy president.

Indeed, the attempts by some Republicans to denounce Mr Obama for 'betraying' the toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and to compare the current White House's management of the Middle East crisis with former president Jimmy Carter's disastrous response to the 1979 revolution in Iran have gone nowhere. In fact, most Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have expressed support for Mr Obama's pragmatic diplomatic approach.

Yet a new Gallup poll released this month suggested that notwithstanding this good political news, President Obama was running even with a 'generic' Republican presidential contender in a 2012 general election. Both Mr Obama and the generic Republican candidate would win 45 per cent of the vote in a hypothetical election.

That should come as bad political news for the current White House occupant since it clearly suggests that President Obama continues to be electorally vulnerable and that the Republicans have a realistic chance of unseating him in 2012.

But having a realistic chance doesn't mean that a Republican candidate will be able to beat Mr Obama next November. It depends in part on who will be the Republican presidential nominee - and on the way, the political and economic environment in which the election will take place. Hence the weak economic recovery could come to a halt if the Mideast crisis continues to lead to big increases in energy prices and ignites inflationary pressures which could create the conditions for another recession and an almost certain electoral defeat of Mr Obama next year.

Strong contenders

The results of a recent opinion poll should lift the political spirit of two leading Republican White House hopefuls, who seem to be now within striking distance of beating President Obama. According to a recent Newsweek/Daily Beast poll, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney were even or just a few points behind Mr Obama, respectively, in the 2012 president election. The poll indicated that Mr Obama and Mr Huckabee tied at 46 per cent, with Mr Obama enjoying a 49-47 per cent lead over Mr Romney.

Most political experts predict that the chances of Mr Romney - a former Governor of Massachussetts and a successful business executive - in getting nominated by his party as next year's presidential candidate are better than even. Mr Romney came close to winning the Republican nomination in 2008 and the Republicans have a tendency to select the candidate who had come second in their last presidential primaries as the nominee in the next elections.

But Mr Romney could face strong opposition from many Republicans in an election year in which the Republican presidential primaries are going to be dominated by members of the Tea Party and the right-wing Republican activists who suspect that Mr Romney - who was elected as governor in one of the most liberal states and where he helped pass a health-care insurance programme that is quite similar to the much derided 'Obamacare' - is a closet moderate and perhaps even - God forbid - a liberal.

Moreover, Mr Romney is a member of the Mormon Church aka The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) which was established in the US, is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah (a state founded by Mormons) and has 13 million members worldwide. Although many members of the LDS have occupied leading positions in Americans politics and business, some conservative Republicans regard Mormonism as nothing more than a religious cult.

Interestingly enough, the outgoing US Ambassador to China and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is also contemplating a presidential run next year.

But the fact that Mr Romney, who is charisma-less and regarded as a boring speaker, and Mr Huckabee, a social conservative who is strongly opposed to abortion and gay marriage and who is not well-known by most Americans, are doing so well in a hypothetical race with Mr Obama points to the fact that the President will find it difficult to win voters next year by repeating his electrifying campaign performance of 2008, especially if he fails to regain the support of independent voters who seemed to have abandoned him and his party in the 2010 midterm elections.

The same public opinion poll also showed that President Obama does enjoy a wide lead over former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, with 51 per cent of likely voters saying that they would vote for Mr Obama in a hypothetical presidential race against Ms Palin, compared to 40 per cent who would back Palin.

Popular Palin

But Ms Palin continues to be very popular among members of the Republican Party's political base - those who tend to go out to vote during presidential primaries - and she could probably still muster enough support to win the Republican nomination or at least, to help pick-up the winner.

Other Republican figures who are expected to join the race for the presidency include; the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich; former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty; Indian Governor Mitch Daniels, libertarian Republican Congressman Ron Paul; former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Even businessman and television star Donald Trump is considering entering the Republican race. And there is also some talk about former Florida governor Jed Bush joining in.

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