Advancing a Free Society

Conversely, Four Encouraging Signs For President Obama

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Recently, I authored a post on this site positing four reasons to be encouraged about Mitt Romney’s candidacy – (1) national polls showing a real horse race; (2) Romney offering a sensible big-picture message; (3) his campaign smartly exploiting opportunities; (4) the Obama economy hardly a hothouse of growth.

In the spirit of “fair and balanced” (and because I can’t bring myself to write about the intricacies of Tuesday’s Delaware primary), here are four reasons why President Obama’s followers can keep the faith, the past week’s spate of bad headlines notwithstanding.

To wit:

1)  The House Always Usually Wins. If you want to lay down some money on the presidential election (we’re talking overseas gaming, as opposed to a down-payment on a federal appointment), here’s a betting line – Obama’s the favorite, Romney’s a 2-1 underdog. The White House isn’t a casino. That said, in presidential elections as in Vegas the odds are definitely with the house. Including this year’s contest, over the past century elected incumbent presidents (this rules out Coolidge, Truman, LBJ and Ford) have sought re-election a total of 14 times. Their record: 10 wins, 4 losses. But in three of those contests, the incumbent faced in intraparty challenger. The lone exception: Herbert Hoover, 1932. If Obama survives this fall, history will show his first break was avoiding a sideshow challenge from a liberal gadfly. This is not to suggest that Romney has a 1-in-14 chance of unseating Obama – the weak economy and a “leg thrill” gone missing make this a more competitive race. But it does suggest that matters could be far worse, as far as dissatisfied base and unhappy convention are concerned.

2)  Not So Gr8, Not So Much H8.  The temptation is to dismiss most spring election-years polls. At this point in 1992 and 1980, Gallup had Jimmy Carter and the elder George Bush with double-digit leads over Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, respectively. Still, a couple of trends stick out. First, according to Gallup, Obama’s job-approval numbers have returned to where they were before slumping last fall. Historically, Obama now finds himself in the same neighborhood as the last two incumbents who had their tickets punched. Second, there’s the matter of candidates’ likeability. A recent CNN poll is something of an outlier as it puts the race at Obama 52%, Romney 43%. Take a look at this pdf – page 19, in particular, and the question of likeability. Obama doubles up on Romney – the so-called “beer-buddy” dynamic is a bigger divide than gender, age or other political schisms. Writing over National Review’s web site, John Sullivan wonders if Obama can keep his iciness in check (his “inner Spock”) through November. Other conservatives wonder why it is that the class-warfaring President is deemed to be charming?

3)  Purple States, Blue Tint. Remember, it’s a democratic election in which the popular vote takes a back seat to the electoral tally (a recurring Democratic nightmare: Obama winning big in California, New York and Illinois, but pulling up just shy of 270 ev’s ala Al Gore in 2000). Let’s go to the map.  Start with the 2008 results, and then hand back Indiana and North Carolina to the Republican “red” column. That leaves Obama with 332 electoral votes, a cushion of 62. But take away Florida and Ohio and the count is down to 285 – striking distance for Romney. But that’s if the GOP can claim those two states that went “red” in 2004 and “blue” in 2008. Recent polls show Obama with narrow leads in both Florida and Ohio. Any question that the White House lacks a purple passion for the purplish swing states is quickly answered by Obama’s travel schedule: he’s talking student loans in North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado; in six swing states, his campaign’s just announced Hispanic outreach directors.  One last thought about Obama Goring his ox: Romney has a slight edge right now in New Hampshire, which snuck into the red column in 2000, much to the Democrats’ surprise/chagrin.

4)  Divided Government.  All incumbents need a foil: Bush 43 had bin Laden; Bill Clinton had reform-crazed Republicans (or so he had seniors convinced heading into 1996). Congress, with its whopping 17% approval rating (sad as that sounds, it’s been as low as 10%) is Obama’s obvious target – a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate; rubberstamping Rep. Paul Ryan’s Rep. Paul Ryan budget (Obama calls it “thinly veiled Social Darwinism”). Sometimes, an incumbent can overplay the scare card: for example, this dopey attempt to link Romney to 1987’s Bork nomination fight (what’s next: James Watt and the environment?). Still, consider what’s happened in the past three congressional elections. Democrats picked up a combined 52 House seats in the 2006-08 election, running against Republican control of Washington; Republicans gained 63 House seats by going after Democratic control of the town. If, in theory, the public wants a split control of the two government branches, then Obama can easily run as the Democratic safeguard against a GOP war on (fill in the blank: the poor, the enfeebled; abortion; Mother Nature). That, of course, would require the Obama to throw his some of his party’s congressional candidates under the bus. Then again, divorce proceeding may already be underway – in West Virginia, at least.

Btw, if you’re a fan of a different form of legalized gambling – i.e., playing the market – here’s how Obama’s re-election chances are trading (as well as Romney’s) are playing over at Intrade’s prediction market.

Care to make a wager?