An all but certain loss for Obama

Aaron Guerrero Contributor
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With Election Day finally here, President Obama has decided to hunker down in D.C., where, like the rest of us, he will watch with a careful eye returns from across the country. The consensus is that the president and his party are in for a sobering evening. A sagging economy and a sour electorate have put the president and his congressional majorities at risk, and a steady stream of polls have shown an electorate anxious to get out to the voting booth in order to deliver a message of displeasure and rejection to all those in charge.

But despite his party being on the rocks, the president hit the campaign trail hard over the weekend. He whisked through key states like Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois, and Ohio, in hopes that his final argument would rally the Democratic base while persuading independents that the Republicans of 2010 are no different from the Republicans they fervently voted against in 2006 and 2008.

Like a boxer pummeled through 11 rounds, Obama came out for the 12th, hoping to land a few lucky haymakers that would change the outcome of the fight. Putting forward his case for why voters should resist putting the GOP back in power, Obama blasted the opposition for sitting on the sidelines and casting cynical judgments over his efforts to halt the economic slide. He warned voters about how Republican chieftains on the Hill would behave if granted majorities in Congress. Specifically calling out John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, Obama talked up the two as uncompromising partisans whose main focus over the next two years would be to ensure his defeat rather than putting the unemployed back to work.

But Obama also tried to sprinkle in rhetoric that recaptured some of the winning aura from Campaign ’08. “Now, Chicago, in three days you have the chance to set the direction of this state and this country for years to come,” he said during a stop in his home state in Illinois on Saturday. “And just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom.”

Towards the end of Campaign ’08, a sense of inevitability overtook Obama’s candidacy. Political events had tilted so strongly in his favor that he could practically glide into the White House: it was his time and the presidency his destiny. But that same sense of inevitability that pointed towards victory then points towards resounding defeat now. The once-bold proclamations of change and promises to usher in a new political era have been swapped for pleas to dispirited supporters to come out and vote for his allies at the state and federal level. A Republican Party once exhausted by the political challenges of the Bush years is now “Fired Up, Ready To Go.”

The president’s political predicament isn’t the only thing that has radically changed since his historic victory. His rhetoric has too, specifically towards Republicans. The same people who he promised to build bipartisan bridges with have become his “enemies.” As Democratic prospects have worsened, so to have the allegations towards the GOP. Classic charges that the GOP would privatize Social Security, along with accusing them of using foreign money to buy an election, have made Obama appear to be a willing participant in the kind of politics he openly decried two short years ago.

Barring an outcome defying political gravity, Obama’s constant campaigning and kitchen-sink strategy are likely to go for not. It will be a strange twist to see Obama, a man who’s political career has been marked by victory upon victory, end up on the losing side of the political equation.

Obama may not have much to hang his hat on later this evening. But a new set of political challenges loom in the weeks and months ahead. If he can navigate them in a skillful way, he can be a political winner again.

Aaron Guerrero is a 2009 UC Davis graduate who majored in political science and minored in history. He formerly interned for Rep. Dan Lungren and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a freelance writer.