Saturday, September 17, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

The famous Democrat political strategist James Carville offered some advice to his party this week. Panic. The "Ragin' Cajun" said that things are so dire that Barack Obama needs to fire a whole bunch of people working for him, citing examples of previous Presidents and candidates, including his old boss Bill Clinton, who were able to rebound after major personnel changes.

While grumbling about Obama's reelection prospects are increasing in his party, and some speak of "buyer's remorse" in regards to the rejection of Hillary Clinton four years ago, and any remote possibility that she might somehow challenge the incumbent or encourage him to step aside for the good of the party, the White House does not seem to be panicking. In fact, Obama recently spoke about how he viewed his 2012 reelection campaign to be less of an uphill battle than his initial election in 2008. If I were a Democrat, I would be quite taken aback by that statement, realizing how much easier it would have been to replace an unpopular Administration on the wings of "hope and change" than it will be when the candidate is now the incumbent, with an unpopular Administration of its own and with a very poor record to defend.

The major political news of the week occurred on Tuesday, when as I predicted on my blog earlier this week, two Republicans won special elections to the U.S. House of Representatives. While special elections are not always about national trends or issues, I do feel these results were very much about Obama and should cause Democrats great concern.

In a Nevada district, which John McCain carried in 2008 by under 1oo votes, a Republican beat a highly touted statewide elected Democrat official by 22 points. A Republican winning there might not be shocking, but the margin had to have been eye opening. Shocking though was the fact that by a relatively solid margin, a 70 year old Republican, who had never won elective office, defeated a Democrat to take the seat that was recently held in New York City by the disgraced Congressman and one-time liberal champion Anthony Weiner. That result proved the axiom, "erections have consequences."

Much as been made of the result in the Brooklyn and Queens based district, which has a significant Jewish population, and which the highly experienced Democrat nominee was himself an Orthodox Jew. His loss to the Catholic Turner, which is owed a great deal to the enthusiastic involvement in the race of Jewish Democrat Ed Koch, the former Mayor of New York, who supported Turner could have major national significance. Obama had carried the district in '08 with 55 percent of the vote, reasonably competitive for NYC standards, but certainly a district that should have been safe for the party who had held it since 1922.

Republicans were able to turn the race into a referendum on the economy and also on Obama's treatment during his Presidency of America's stauch ally, the State of Israel. Jewish voters, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, who have typically voted Democrat, decided to send a message in their special election vote, expressing their disapproval of Obama on Israel. Since my fellow Jewish-Americans make up such a traditionally loyal part of the Democrats' voting and financial base, this example has to be of great concern to the White House as it relates to how movement of the Jewish vote to a Republican nominee next year could make the difference in a handful of key, big population swing states.

So is Carville right and should Democrats panic? As a Republican, my answer is yes, but only to an extent. Nearly fourteen months is still a long time in politics, but it is hard to see how economic confidence and the unemployment race may be significantly improved by Election Day. That is very bad news for the incumbent and his party.

However, Obama's Republican opponent is now extremely likely to be either Mitt Romney or Rick Perry. My personal opinion, as a long-time political junkie, (and loyal Republican) is that Romney would defeat Obama, but Perry would lose and bring about four more years.

It might be that I, a vocal Romney supporter, am underestimating the economic factor and unpopularity of the current President, and that any credible Republican, including the long-time big state Governor of Texas with a record of success can defeat him, but I just would be very concerned that Perry is the wrong person to put up, and that the Democrats would be able to harmfully paint him as an extremist on the issue of Social Security, among other things.

Democrats, if they truly remain confident that Obama has any chance, should be rooting for Perry to capture his party's nomination. However, I think that as we get deeper into the Republican primary process, the electability gap between Romney and Perry will be so apparent, that it will be a major boost to the nomination hopes of the former Governor of Massachusetts.

Despite some seeming shrinkage in his lead, Perry remained ahead this past week in national polls and those in some important primary states. In just about every general election match-up survey released this week, nationally, and in states of varying political stripes, Romney runs at least a bit stronger against Obama. For example, Rasmussen Reports, which Republicans tend to put credence in, showed Romney ahead of the incumbent by three points, while Perry now trails by seven.

In many ways, this was a rough week politically for the conservative Texan. Early in the week, the eight most major GOP contenders met for a CNN debate in Florida, sponsored by the group Tea Party Express. While Perry went into the night with many supporters in the often boisterous (in which a small handful of people shamefully applauded a hypothetical example of a man without health insurance being left to die), he actually seemed to end the night with less of them in his corner. Perry's defense of his state's immigration policies was greeted with boos at one point and the overall conventional wisdom is that Perry once again seemed to not quite be as strong as he needed to in the debate form of defending himself.

While Newt Gingrich and to an extent Herman Cain mostly tried to tamper down any intra-party debate fighting, all of the other candidates seemed to focus on trying to take the supposed GOP frontrunner, Rick Perry, down a notch or two. Ron Paul criticized him on taxes, Mitt Romney attempted to minimize Perry's job creation argument by stating that he was lucky to enough to be dealt "four aces" in governing the economically favorable Texas, and Jon Huntsman claimed his jobs record in Utah was far stronger. In regards to the former Governor of Utah, Huntsman's debate performance was perhaps a bit odd, in which he made a Nirvana song reference and in a supposed sarcastic way accused Perry of treason. That all seemed to go over the audience's heads though. Despite this, Huntsman was endorsed yesterday by Tom Ridge, the moderate former Governor of Pennsylvania and Secretary of Homeland Security.

However, along with the issue of immigration and in-state tuition, it was Perry's one time executive order mandating that all 11 year old girls in his state be given a vaccine to prevent an STD that could lead to cervical cancer made the most headlines. Assisted on hammering Perry on the issue by Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, who has seen drastically falling poll results and the stepping back of her one time touted campaign manager Ed Rollins, went after Perry with rhetorical guns blazing, and many in the Tea Party debate audience seemed to be on her side.

While Perry has acknowledged that he made a mistake in trying to set in place the mandate by executive order, he has stood by the correctness of the action. Santorum inferred that it sent the wrong message to young girls and families while Bachmann pointed out that the maker of the vaccine was a drug company which had given money to Perry's Texas campaigns and that employed as a lobbyist the Governor's former Chief of Staff. Perry bristled at the allegation of unethical conduct, saying he was offended by the notion that he could be bought off for just $5000. At the time, while I understood what Perry was saying, I immediately thought his answer was perhaps a bit too "cute" and would come across badly to the viewing audience.

After the debate, Bachmann continued to fire away, perhaps irresponsibly so against Perry and the Gardasil drug, saying that a woman had come up to her moments before in tears saying that the vaccine had caused "mental retardation" in her daughter, a claim that medical experts say has no basis in fact. At the same time, Sarah Palin, (who has a new book coming out about her that even the New York Times claims is full of unsubstantiated gossip) went on Fox News for some post-debate analysis and in sounding very much like a future candidate seemed to be critical of the other candidates, especially Perry on the issue of "crony capitalism." To think, that it was just a couple weeks ago when Perry backers were confidently anticipating a Palin endorsement.

While it may be the immigration issue that will ultimately give Perry the most problems on the right, the brouhaha of Gardasil must have been a welcome development to Romney, who was able to remain silent on the matter as Bachmann's claims and allegations got the brunt of media attention after the debate and for the rest of the week. It remains to be seen whether Bachmann's actions can rescue a fledgling campaign, but she may hurt Perry nonetheless.

The Tea Party audience may not have been the friendliest group of people for Romney to face competitors in front of, and at times the audience applauded supposed political points scored on him, but still, most debate watchers came away with the impression that Romney was, for the fourth consecutive debate, once again quite strong, both substantively and stylistically.

"Romneycare" is always going to be brought up to the former Governor in these forums, but he has seemed to find a way to nimbly sidestep the issue and frame in a way that moves on to more favorable ground. Whenever a questioner or a fellow candidate, such as Perry, tries to throw a political punch against him, Romney has reacted in a pretty unflappable way with quick, confident retorts.

Perry may remain ahead in national polls for a while further, but each debate performance in which Romney is seen as the winner over Perry, is going to eventually have a cumulative effect. The GOP candidates will be at it again on a Florida stage, this coming Thursday night, on the Fox News Channel.