Saturday, May 26, 2012

Race for the White House

Memorial Day Weekend brings about the unofficial start of summer, and at this point in the campaign, incumbent Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney continue to appear to be at a dead heat. Nobody knows for certain what the numbers will look like when Labor Day rolls around, but at the end of this summer, it is likely the race will still be extremely competitive.

While Obama's overall approval numbers in the polls seem to be a few points higher than they where through most of the 2010 midterm election year, there is reason to believe that the first several weeks of the general election campaign have not gone nearly as smoothly as Democrats have anticipated.

It is clear that the mission of the Obama campaign was to define Romney early as an unacceptable choice, using a perceived strength against him. In this case, it involved his record as a businessman who ran Bain Capital for many years, before leaving to run the Salt Lake City Olympics and eventually becoming Governor of Massachusetts. Many have looked to Romney as an expert on the economy and job creation who would be well equipped to help turn a struggling economy around, but Democrats have attempted to point to failures in Romney's business career which they complain led to many jobs being lost, while Romney still got rich in the process.

These points (which failed to harm the presumptive GOP nominee in the primary, and which had been used against him previously in his political career to mixed success) have hammered home in a series of television ads and speeches by Obama, Joe Biden, and their surrogates. Supporters of Romney are quick to point out that Bain Capital had an 80 percent success rate in a risky field of business when Romney was at the helm and that indeed many of the specific failures being featured in these attack ads happened after Romney had left the company. It is also pointed out how many top executives at Bain at Democrats who are big money donors and actively involved in the Obama campaign.

While it has been the official party message to paint Romney as a discredited, and somewhat heartless businessman, not everyone in the party has fallen into line. A handful of prominent Democrats, such as former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. have taken issue with the message and intent of the attacks on Romney and have spoken about how inappropriate it is to run against private equity in general.

The biggest firestorm along those lines began this past Sunday when the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, who had been considered a rising star nationally in the Democrat Party appeared on Meet the Press and said that (along with a line of attack against Obama that many Republicans want to use), the attacks on Bain Capital were "nauseating."

Republicans were quick to pounce on Booker's remarks, with the RNC running web ads featuring it and attempting to raise money with the tagline "I Stand With Cory." With the primary message of the Obama campaign suddenly being ripped apart from within the party, there appeared to be a serious fissure among Democrats. At first, Booker stood by his remarks while saying he felt taken advantage of by Republicans, apparently not understanding they were just quoting him. Booker continued to do damage control this past week, going on to attack Romney himself, in a video that Republicans quipped resembled a hostage tape.

It is certainly no great secret that Obama and the Democrats would try to use Bain Capital against Romney, but by launching these attacks so early, and so sloppily, it has to be considered if they wasted a major political bullet to minimum effect too early. Obama and Biden have found themselves on the offensive as they try to try to explain why their attacks on Romney are fair game. Republicans are feeling confident that they will be on the winning side of this debate, or at least avoid it being something that is politically fatal, as the narrative has been risen that Obama is actually running a campaign against capitalism.

Wrapping this week's post up, I have to take a brief look at the primary results this past Tuesday, which saw Mitt Romney easily capture over 2/3 of the vote in both Arkansas and Kentucky. It was not too long ago, when pundits expected the race to be still be going on when those states voted and pointed out that Romney would struggle mightily with GOP voters there.

On the other side, Obama, the incumbent President, fared far less well with the voters of his party in those two southern states than Romney did with the voters in his, as he failed to capture even 60% of the vote in his anemic wins over "Uncommitted" in Kentucky and a no-name opponent in Arkansas. (You cannot spell Uncommitted without Mitt!)

Supporters of Obama have poo-poohed the results in those states, as well as what had happened earlier in places like West Virginia and Oklahoma by saying that Obama had failed to win the primaries there in 2008, did not carry those states in the general election, and was not expected to do well in them in the fall of this year either. Somewhat predictably claims of racism being a factor were put out there, even though these voters in question who choose to not support Obama were all registered Democrats.

Of course it is true that these are states that Obama is going to lose big to Romney in November anyway, but these trends should still be concerning to supporters of the incumbent. Had George W. Bush come anywhere close to seeing these sorts of protest votes against him in the primaries while running for reelection against nobodies in states like Vermont or Rhode Island, it would have gotten far more media attention than what has happened in recent weeks to Obama has received.

While the vast majority of liberals and what would be considered "national Democrats" are expected to stand with Obama throughout the campaign, what we have seen in the Democrat primaries in various states is an example of a motivated base of voters, certainly not limited to strong Republicans, to vote against Obama, based on unhappiness with this record. That is a factor that he, as a challenger himself in 2008, did not have to contend with.

Obama should be expected to win by a far wider margin this Tuesday as Texans go to the polls for their primary election. With the Presidential nominations decided, all the action in the Lone Star State revolves around Congressional and local races, but Republican voters there will also have the honor of officially putting Mitt Romney over 1144 delegates, mathematically clinching the nomination of his party. One of those Romney votes in Texas will come from the state's Governor, who just about nine months ago was considered by many to be an impossible obstacle for the now presumptive GOP nominee to overcome.


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