Obama's uncertain road - Macleans.ca

Obama’s uncertain road

Despite Republican struggles, the President faces key challenges that make the next election anything but a lock

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In the wake of Mitt Romney’s lacklustre performance in Mississippi and Alabama, the discussion has centered on how the Romney campaign must retool as he is emerging as a weaker candidate from the primary process. Both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have indirectly pushed this narrative with their attacks on the frontrunner, despite Romney’s obvious delegate advantage for the nomination. In light of this, however, it would be foolhardy for Obama supporters to conclude that this election may not be as close as predicted with the President pulling off an easy win.

The reality is that recent polls show a decrease in Obama‘s approval members, largely attributed to the gas prices. Romney has actually narrowed the worrisome gap of recent weeks, and in some polls, he is actually ahead. Even Obama’s lead over the more polarizing Santorum is not wide enough for the President to feel any comfort. It is clear from these poll numbers that America is still fundamentally a 50-50 country.

Whether it is a President from one party, or a House from another, when the presidential results hover around the 50% mark, no party or ideology clearly dominates the political landscape. Many would be tempted to predict that the Democrats with President Obama may win next November, but few would predict that he will recapture the House in the process. This is why the Republican primary spectacle, disheartening as it is to many veteran Republicans, is not a forerunner of an electoral defeat for their nominee come November.

There are three factors that the Obama campaign see as being serious obstacles to reelection. One is the Republican obsession with defeating Obama at all costs. The animosity directed against an incumbent President has never been as vitriolic in recent decades. His birthright has been questioned, he is described as a radical, European socialist, and there is the implication is that he acts un-American when he apologizes to other countries about America’s role in past conflicts. All this is part of the fictional Obama syndrome created by GOP spin-meisters, but it is also an indication that even an unloved Mitt Romney is by far more acceptable to Republicans than Obama. Expect Republicans to rally around Romney because their dislike for Obama far surpasses their reservations about the former Massachusetts Governor’s conservative credentials.

A second factor is the economy, considered by all as the overriding issue in the fall campaign. Despite encouraging job numbers in recent months, the recovery is still not robust and gasoline prices are beginning to modify the rhetoric of a sound economy. With Americans travelling more in the summer months and with events in the Middle East remaining uncertain, it is possible that higher gasoline prices could spark an economic slowdown in the months leading up to the election. This accounts for Obama’s increasingly public presence to explain why gas prices are on the rise, and how his energy policy is not to blame.

A final, even more uncertain factor is events in Syria, Afghanistan and Iran. At best, it is difficult to predict circumstances in each country. At worst, events could mushroom out of control with Obama appearing weak and ineffective in the process. Granted, foreign policy rarely trumps domestic issues, but there could be a cause-and-effect outcome on the U.S. economy if the situation deteriorates in those countries.

President Obama remains the best campaigner of the lot and he has recovered much of the mojo lost in the debt ceiling debate of last summer. The Tea Party is less of a factor than it has been, and the Republican alternative fails to impress. But when key factors are somewhat beyond the full grasp of the White House, it is fair to conclude at this juncture that Obama’s reelection prospects are on an uncertain road.

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