Many Democrats have been relishing the extended run of “Saturday Night Live”-like performances that the Republicans have been providing via their extended presidential nominating process. If the cast of characters the party has paraded around the country for the last six months hasn’t been the actual actors on the venerable NBC comedy show, it certainly has been a reasonable facsimile of them.
Watching one after another of the candidates play the fool has led many Democrats to believe their man is in a strong position to secure a second term when the votes are counted this fall. But they are deluding themselves if they continue to be lulled into that sense of security.
The actual election figures to be a nail-biter, perhaps even resulting in another popular vote winner losing to the Electoral College winner, as we saw in 2000. Here are some of the reasons that prediction is far more plausible than you may think:
1) Anybody but Romney will turn into Anybody but Obama – Yes, most of the rank and file Republicans who are voting in these primaries and caucuses would rather not have Mitt Romney as their candidate. Their reasons range from the perception that he isn’t a true conservative to his seeming insincerity to his inability to project a “real human” image on the stump to his “cult” religion. But those concerns will pale in comparison to the real goal they have in the general election. And that goal is to defeat Obama.
The 35-40 percent of the country that aligns with the Republican Party wants nothing more than to limit Barack Obama to a single term, and they will rally around their nominee like flies to horse manure once the primary season is over.
2) It’s the Economy, Stupid – While recent news on the economic front has been generally favorable, the fact remains that unemployment is still over eight percent and not likely to get much lower. In fact, as the ranks of those seeking work grow (as they did last month and will for much of the rest of the year), the rate is very likely to bump up a bit, even with continued good job growth.
The simple reality is that many voters will decide whom they vote for based on their feelings about the current state of the economy, and 8.5 percent unemployment (or higher) will spell big trouble for any incumbent.
And so will high gas prices, such as we are seeing now. True, the president cannot control these prices, but most voters won’t care if they are paying four dollars or more for a gallon of gas come the fall.
3) Afghanistan – Yes, he got bin Laden, and yes, he’s kept the country free from terrorist attack, but most Americans are sick of the war and recent events don’t make them feel any better. Whether for good reasons or bad, Obama has been hawkish on the war, following the advice of his military advisers from the onset of his presidency. When voters start wondering if the country is in another Viet Nam, the incumbent president is going to be in trouble.
4) Money – Don’t look now but a lot more money is pouring into these primary campaigns than the country has ever seen before. With the Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, campaign financing has become open field for the country’s wealthiest individuals via the so-called Super PACs. As a result, the big financial advantage that Obama had in ’08 will be a distant memory this year. He’ll be lucky if he and his Super PACs can match the Republicans’ versions of the same. And that fact leads to the next concern team Obama should have.
5) Swift-boating – The Republicans invented this campaign tactic, and they are still the masters of it. It consists of telling a lie often and convincingly enough that voters believe it. They used it to defeat John Kerry in 2004, with many voters really believing that he was a war coward (or, even worse, a traitor), rather than the war hero he was. They’ll use some version of it again this year, and the Democrats won’t return fire with fire because, well, because they’re Democrats.
6) The Electoral College – Bona fide election prognosticators already know that the election will be won or lost in eleven or twelve key “battleground” states. Those states could swing either way, and which way most of them (or those with the majority of electoral votes) go will determine the ultimate winner of the election.
The math isn’t all that complicated, as Tim Russert proved with his mini-chalkboard on election night back in 2000. The key number is 270, which is the total a candidate must amass to win the election. (In 2000, George W. Bush, with the Supreme Court ultimately awarding Florida’s 25 votes to him, had 271.)
With the Democrats dominant in the Far West and the Northeast, and the Republicans in control in the South and much of the heartland of the country, each party’s candidate can count on close to 200 Electoral College votes (absent a landslide, which no one is predicting this year). The swing states comprise the remaining 125 to 150 votes, and Obama is at risk in most of them.
Democrats like to say that they have any number of different plans on how to get to 270, but all of those plans require the president to win a number of those swing states, and none of those states are in the bag or figure to be so until all the votes are counted.
It’s true that Obama won most of the swing states in 2008 on his way to a mini-landslide 365-173 Electoral College victory, but some of those were very close and are considered near locks for the Republicans this fall.
And so, Democrats should stop their chuckling. The Republicans may look pretty inept right about now, but in six months they’ll have a nominee who will be a formidable opponent to Barack Hussein Obama.