Predicting the results in a presidential election is always precarious, especially over 100 days before the actual voting. But conflicting polls notwithstanding, Barack Obama is facing a triple threat to his re-election that will be very hard to overcome.
The triple threat includes one obvious problem, one readily apparent problem, and one very subtle problem. And none of them are fixable by anything Obama can do at this point.
The obvious problem is the economy. On this one, Obama is stuck with what it is. Nothing he can do, at this point, is going to have any real impact on the numbers that will be forthcoming (primarily the monthly unemployment figures) between now and the election. And those numbers are not going to be pretty. At best, the unemployment percentage might tick down to 8.0, maybe even 7.9. But even if it does get that low (it is currently at 8.2), the public perception is going to be that the economy is in a rut, as in stalled, and that Obama wasn’t able to get the car completely out of the ditch (to use the metaphor he has used in the past).
Regarding the economy, Obama will try to paint the Republicans as the problem, claiming that they put the car in the ditch and then blocked the tow truck he wanted to use to get the car out of the ditch.
It is a nice metaphor, and it might sway some independents (those critical swing voters) who find Mitt Romney completely unacceptable as an alternative to Obama. But it won’t help him with the voters who don’t pay that much attention to the campaign rhetoric but instead just vote what they feel the country needs. And on the economy, most of them are going to feel the country needs a change.
Obama will also continue to try to make Romney appear completely unacceptable, and on this point, he has a great target, because Romney is a God-awful candidate. He has virtually no discernible people skills, probably because he knows relatively few real people, and he is so anxious to say the right thing at the right time to the audience of the moment that he has created a flip-flop, empty-suit image of himself that even staunch Republicans acknowledge is a problem.
But if the car is still in the ditch, as it will be, most voters are going to ignore the fact that the driver of the other tow truck is a scoundrel and will vote for him anyway.
The readily-apparent problem is the fund-raising deficit Obama faces. It’s bad enough for Obama that the Romney campaign and the Republican Party are way ahead of the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party in their respective fund-raising results to date. The most recent figures from last month have Romney raising over 105 million to Obama’s 70. And those figures match the disparity from previous months.
But the real money threat to Obama will come from the right-wing Super PACs, which is where Romney will have as much as a billion dollars at his disposal. (Obama will be lucky to end up with half that much.)
And never mind that the Super PACs are supposed to be independent of the actual campaigns. When you have a political operative like Karl Rove running one of the biggest Republican Super PACs, you can be sure there will be sufficient coordination to push Romney’s candidacy most effectively.
Obama will attempt to combat the money disparity by using the powers of his office, granting certain contracts to districts where he can be a hero and otherwise doing things that only presidents can do. George H.W. Bush tried a bunch of those moves in 1992, when the economy was also bad (albeit not as bad as this one), and we know how successful he was in his efforts.
Money absolutely can buy an election, especially when the economy is stuck in a ditch. Romney and his Rove-directed Super PACs will flood the airwaves with anti-Obama ads. They will also use direct mail campaigns, robo-phone calls, and a bunch of other neat gimmicks to create the impression that Obama is a jerk. They also might try to make Romney look like a good guy, even though that would be a waste of their money. But, trust me, they’ll have enough of it that it won’t matter.
The very subtle problem is the explosion of voter suppression laws in many states. These laws have been enacted under the guise of preventing voter fraud, even though actual accounts of voter fraud are almost non-existent.
Their real purpose is to suppress the vote of those more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans; hence the laws are being enacted in states where Republicans control the state houses and legislatures. Such laws, requiring government-issued identification cards, some of which must be specially applied for as much as 60 days before the election, will depress the vote of those more inclined demographically to vote Democratic (i.e., low-income minorities, the low-income and shut-in elderly, and students).
The effect of these laws can be immense, especially in an otherwise close election. And, since the country votes for president state-by-state (the popular vote is not determinative, as we learned all too well in 2000), in tightly contested states, a voter ID law can swing the state to Romney by depressing the vote that Obama would otherwise have received.
Pennsylvania is a good example of this possibility. There, where a new voter ID law is in effect, the Republican Speaker of the House recently stated that the new law would “allow Governor Romney to win Pennsylvania.” Predictions of as many as 750,000 suppressed votes in that state support his statement. Other “swing states” with similar laws are Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan.
Obama’s campaign will certainly try to get their voters to the polls, but in closely contested states, those laws may be too much to overcome.
Obama is personable, he is intelligent, and he can deliver a great speech. But against this triple threat of obstacles, if he is going to win re-election, it will take a much larger miracle than the one that got him elected four years ago.