As Economy Weakens, Romney’s Chances Improve
So here we are now less than five months before Election Day and the Obama-Romney race is shaping up as extremely close.
The less than stellar recent economic news followed by Governor Scott Walker’s recall election victory in Wisconsin mean an uptick in Romney’s chances, at least for the moment.
I realize that between now and November there will be many ups and downs for both candidates. And I think it’s important to track them because I really do believe we are looking at a very close election, maybe something close to the 2004 race between President George Bush and Democrat John Kerry that came down to one state—Ohio. Possibly even as close as the 2000 Bush-Gore match ultimately decided by the Supreme Court — not that anyone wants a repeat of that scenario.
More than anything, this year’s election will probably be decided first of all how people feel about the economy, and secondly, how they feel about the candidates.
We know the Republicans seem unified in their dislike for President Obama and a strong desire to throw him out of office. This anti-Obama feeling will likely trump any conservative hesitation about Mitt Romney not being enough of a true-believer to turn out the party faithful.
The best thing Romney has going for him right now is how negatively Republicans feel about the president — and not any enthusiasm they may have for the former Massachusetts governor.
On the economy, the latest meager jobs numbers and a looming sense that the country may be headed for more rocky times in the months ahead are clearly bad news for the president. This will help the Romney effort to make the election simply a referendum on President Obama, a simple thumbs-up or down on his first three years in office.
A Referendum or a Choice?
The Obama team, on the other hand, wants voters to look at the election as more of a choice than a referendum. So the president and surrogates like former president Bill Clinton continue to warn that electing Romney will be turning the reins of power back over to the same crowd responsible for the economic meltdown in the first place.
The president desperately needs better economic news at some point, either on jobs, economic growth or housing. Minus that, the Democrats will really need to fire up their base supporters and try to replicate the massive turnout they had in 2008 that propelled then-candidate Obama to a comfortable victory over John McCain.
But few believe that the Democrats can get a repeat of the turnout among young people, especially in 2008, so they have their work out for them in the months ahead.
So yes, five months is a long time for the voters to decide. But recent presidential election history shows that many voters begin to make up their minds at this point in the election cycle, and that relatively few minds can be changed between now and Election Day.
If it’s true that the cement is beginning to set, the Obama White House may not have a lot of time to change the dynamics of a race that shapes up as a straight up or down vote on how this president has handled the national economy.
Lessons from Wisconsin
Republican Scott Walker’s relatively easy win in the Wisconsin recall election has a lot for Republicans to cheer and just as much for Democrats to be concerned about. Walker became a lightning rod for union activists and Democrats after he pushed the Wisconsin legislature to strip away most union collective bargaining rights.
The showdown over Walker’s efforts to cut the state budget energized Democrats both in Wisconsin and around the country and sparked a recall effort to try and oust him from office. But the recall attempt also energized Republicans.
Walker has become a conservative folk hero around the country for taking on unions and their Democratic allies in the legislature, just the kind of fight conservatives and Tea Party supporters were spoiling for.
The New York Times reports that some conservative activists are already talking Walker up as a possible candidate for national office one day. It says some might be tempted to push him as Romney’s running mate this year, though that seems unlikely.
Democrats first were divided over who should run against Walker, eventually settling on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who was not a favorite among the union activists. It then came down to a turnout fight and in a possible harbinger of what may come in November, Republicans rallied to Walker’s side with help from independents and even a few Democrats who opposed the recall.
… For Both Republicans and Democrats
Some of the analysts I’ve talked to say there are lessons for both parties in the Wisconsin vote. Republicans should be encouraged they were able to best Democrats in terms of turnout and keeping the support of a majority of independent voters. They should also be optimistic that the public does seem to have an appetite for cutting the size of government and dealing with debt and deficits, a theme we can expect the Romney campaign to focus on in the months to come.
For President Obama and the Democrats, the best thing to come out of Wisconsin may have been an early warning that 2012 will not be a repeat of 2008 when Republican turnout was depressed and the Democrats came out in record numbers to support Barack Obama. Democrats now have fair warning that they will need to redouble their turnout efforts this year to compete with an energized Republican Party determined to deny the president a second term.
The Democrats also are going to have to find a way to appeal to the dwindling number of independent swing voters still undecided. Those swing voters tend to be more conservative on budget and fiscal issues and more liberal on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
Finally there is the issue of money and outside fundraising groups that can have impact. Walker and Republican allied groups outspent Democrats by about Seven-to-one in the Wisconsin showdown.
Romney seems a very able fundraiser and the mega-fundraising unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision two years ago means the most expensive presidential race ever is now in the offing for November.
Democrats had better wake up to this. Their challenges are now clear both in the area of spurring voter turnout and in being able to match the Republican money machine in what is likely to be a costly and very negative race for the White House in 2012.