South Carolina Preview and Obama’s Precarious Poll Position

Posted January 19th, 2012 at 3:30 pm (UTC+0)
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Can Romney Be Stopped?


We’ll know a lot more by Saturday night after the results are in from the South Carolina’s  Republican Party presidential primary voting. Late word is that Newt Gingrich may be surging and that could thwart Mitt Romney’s goal of all  but sewing up the party nomination early.


The makeup of the Republican Party in South Carolina should be far more welcoming to Gingrich than what he faced in Iowa and New Hampshire. Social conservatives and retired  military folks who demand a strong national defense could be drawn to Gingrich in South Carolina, and many of them who attended a debate in Myrtle Beach on Monday seemed to cheer him on.


Gingrich has a tendency to get in the face of liberals and others who disagree with him. Partisan Republicans like the confrontational tone and may be willing to give him a close look in South Carolina before pulling the lever for Romney. Another conservative contender, Rick Santorum, is also trying hard to be the “non-Mitt” but so far he seems to be stalling even after the endorsement of a group of evangelical Christian conservatives who met recently in Texas.


Both Santorum and Texas Governor Rick Perry turned in decent debate performances this week and that could keep the anti-Romney vote split among three or four contenders, which in the end continues to help Romney.


Gingrich desperately wants to be the only conservative alternative left standing so he can go one-on-one with Romney and take his chances. But Gingrich has to have a strong showing in South Carolina to keep that hope alive.


The Foreign Policy Sideshow


The 2012 U.S. election clearly remains focused on the U.S. domestic economy and President Obama’s record. But there have been some strange detours into foreign policy in recent days, including Jon Huntsman’s decision to say a few words in Mandarin during a Republican debate, something that had to be a first. Huntsman left the race after his third place showing in New Hampshire, where he had camped out for much of the past year.


Mitt Romney tried to use Huntsman service as U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama against him. But Huntsman had a pretty good comeback in the second New Hampshire debate to the effect that he would always put country ahead of party. Huntsman got a lot interest from independent voters and the Washington elites, but never caught on with rank and file Republican voters who were looking for a more combative, in-your-face partisan to take on the president in November.


I talked to a lot of voters in New Hampshire who liked Huntsman and said it came down to a choice between Huntsman and Romney. Maybe if Romney wins the general election in November Huntsman could be in line for a cabinet post, though it’s been said they the two men aren’t close.


Obama Still Teetering


Let’s move beyond the Republican nomination race for a minute to consider the latest Washington Post/ABC News public opinion poll and President Obama’s political fortunes heading into the election year. The big question remains how will the public view the domestic economy as the election approaches?


There are indications that the economy is improving. Though not nearly as fast as most people would like. The unemployment rate has been falling, now down to 8.5 percent, and if that continues throughout the year it could have a huge impact on how the public views the economic recovery.


But the Post-ABC survey still shows some danger signs for Obama. The poll found that only 41 percent of those asked approve of the president’s handling of the economy despite some recent upticks, and 57 percent disapprove. In addition, in a head to head matchup with Mitt Romney, Romney prevails by a margin of 47 to 46 percent.


In addition, the president’s overall approval rating is at 48 percent positive, 48 percent negative, split right down the middle. Obama’s rating is actually up from some recent surveys, but still precarious for an incumbent president.


Obama will need to get continuing good news on the economy and he’ll probably have to run a negative campaign against Romney to get re-elected. Romney on the other hand will hope that the president fails to win the battle of public perception over the economy and that he can convince enough voters, especially independents who supported Obama four years ago, that it is time, once again, for a change.




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Jim Malone

Jim Malone

After a stint in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Jim joined VOA in 1983 as a reporter and anchor on English broadcasts to Africa.  He served as East Africa correspondent, then covered Congress in the early 1990’s.   Since 1995, Jim has served as VOA national correspondent responsible for coverage of U.S. politics, elections, the Supreme Court and Justice Department.  Jim has been involved in VOA’s election coverage since the 1984 presidential campaign and has co-anchored live VOA broadcasts of numerous national political conventions, candidate debates and election night coverage.


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