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Economy Or GOP Nominee Will Influence Obama’s Re-Election Chances, Experts Say

Monday, March 5, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: By Wayne Dawkins, NABJ Journal Staff
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By Wayne Dawkins,  NABJ Journal Staff

Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th U.S. president and first African-American commander in chief, has endured an unapologetically hostile Republican-majority Congress ["You lie!” bellowed South Carolina representative Joe Wilson during Obama’s 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress], confronted feckless Wall Street investment bankers who wrecked much of the U.S. economy yet cried foul at any suggestion of government regulation, and ordered the killing of public enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden.

After a challenging three of four years on the job, will voters renew Obama’s contract and re-elect him in November? A handful of political journalists and political scientists interviewed in December took differing paths to make these universal predictions: Obama at this writing is vulnerable because of the fragile economy that includes nearly 9 percent unemployment, yet his chances for re-election are also promising because the Republican opposition appears dysfunctional and weak.

The experts also agreed that predicting an election about one year out is a perilous gamble. Nevertheless they offered many clear-eyed historical clues. Let’s examine their insights.

All about the economy

USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham said this of Obama’s re-election chances: "He’s vulnerable because of the state of the economy, just as George W. Bush was when Obama ran against his economic policies in 2008, which hurt [GOP candidate] John McCain. That’s the similarity between 2008 and 2012.”

Alphonso Jackson, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the George W. Bush administration, said because of the struggling economy, "I’m convinced that Obama’s team has told him that right now he’s losing.

"A year out, a generic Republican is beating him by 10 points,” Jackson continued. "When you put a name on a candidate, they’re tied with Obama. That’s not a good sign.”

Jackson currently is a distinguished professor at Hampton University, and since fall 2008, has directed HU’s Center for Public Policy and Leadership.

"Scientifically, if ([Obama’s] tied with [Mitt] Romney or [Newt] Gingrich, he’s behind 5 points because he’s lost the independent voters. Independents are totally not for him because of the economy.”

Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University and director of the Wason Center for Public Policy, said the issues and challenges Obama faces are the economy, health care law challenges, and taxes and the wealthy. His odds of re-election are 50-50 or better.”

Kidd added that predicting the outcome was perilous for this reason: "Go back to 1991. President George H.W. Bush had the highest approval rating in history, and he lost it to an unknown governor from Arkansas. A year is a lifetime in politics.”

GOP field helps incumbent

While the weak economy could lead disappointed voters to deny Obama a second term, a motley crew of Republican challengers could boost the incumbent’s re-election chances this fall.

"You can’t win a horse race without a horse,” said Wickham, an NABJ founder and former president. "The Republicans don’t have a horse; they have pack mules and they are all damaged.”

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and business executive, appears formidable, but he is loathed by conservatives. Newt Gingrich of Georgia has three drama-filled marriages to explain, plus policy ideas that run counter to GOP orthodoxy. Ron Paul is consistent and resolute, but appears to be too extreme to be elected [he wants all foreign aid cut, a position so extreme the Texas Congressman was not invited to a December candidates forum hosted by Jewish Republicans since his recommended cuts include Israel]. During a fall 2011 televised debate, Rick Perry could not remember the U.S. Cabinet agencies he vows to abolish.

Meanwhile, Herman Cain suspended his candidacy on Dec. 3 after an Atlanta woman said she had a longtime sexual relationship with the former pizza chain executive who has been married for four decades. When Cain, the lone black GOP candidate, surged to the top of the seven-member Republican field last fall, Mary Curtis, a Charlotte-based journalist and political commentator, noted Cain’s remark: "Black people who don’t give the GOP a chance are on the [Democrats’] plantation.”

"So,” Curtis wondered, "You insult voters [in order to get their support]?”

WVON-AM Chicago talk show host Salim Muwakkil believes Obama will win a second term as president. "Obama’s re-election chances are strong if his opponent is someone like Gingrich, or another partisan who has less appeal to so-called centrists, who pundits say are the target audience. Romney is not as strongly identified as a rabid partisan. Obama’s chances for re-election would be worse against him. At this point, Obama’s chances are relatively good.” Muwakkil is also the longtime senior editor of In These Times, a lef-leaning political journal.

Interest groups are wild cards

Obama will win or lose his re-election bid based on the performance - or lack thereof - of several key voting blocs, political journalists and political scientists interviewed for this article agreed.

Regarding Black America, Curtis said "Polls show the economy hit them hard, but they are more optimistic than many people who are doing better. They’re realistic about what a president can and cannot do and they see there is not a lot of cooperation in Congress, and it appears to be personal, not political. There is resentment that Obama is being disrespected.

"Many African-Americans are frustrated but will not sit home; they believe the president was not given a chance,” Curtis continued. "They also see things that he has done, i.e. foreign policy successes [toppling Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi with little-to-no-loss of American lives, and the killing of Osama bin Laden].”

"As for the struggling economy, voting blocs will consider the alternatives,” she adds. "Hispanic voters wanted more from Obama, but they hear the harsh rhetoric from Republicans about immigration.”

In Virginia, Obama in 2008 captured white, suburban, well-educated college grads that were middle class and needed their jobs, said Kidd of CNU. "These are the people who swung against the president in 2010 [and after midterm elections handed Congressional Republicans a House majority]. They are also the people who give Congress 9-percent approval ratings.

"Obama’s real challenge in Virginia is winning moderate middle-class voters and young voters,” Kidd continued.”African-Americans won’t abandon him, but they may not show up in the same numbers as 2008.”

Muwakkil said "Obama has estranged components of his original coalition. Some young voters are less enthusiastic. African-Americans are less enthusiastic. Some Latinos are less enthusiastic. There has been some erosion.

"Yet recent elections indicate some buyer’s remorse.” Muwakkil referenced the November elections, where in Ohio, voters rejected the GOP governor’s plan to end collective bargaining for public union workers, and in Wisconsin, voters attempted to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker. "After the 2010 midterm Congressional elections, said Muwakkil, "the Republicans may have overreached. There’s some movement back to the president.”

Jackson of HU said he was not worried about the constantly shifting GOP field. "Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did not resolve things until June 2008 [a month before the Democratic National Convention]. They were cutting each other up. It just shows how fluid this [presidential campaign] is.”

Wayne Dawkins is an assistant professor at Hampton University Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications. The recipient of the 2011 E.L. Hamm Teaching Excellence Award, Dawkins is author of "City Son,” a biography about Andrew Cooper, NABJ’s 1987 Journalist of the Year.


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