Obama’s not-so-turbulent path to re-election

Ford O'Connell Chairman, CivicForumPAC

Shortly after Election Day 2010, famed political observers Larry Sabato and Alan Abramowitz sarcastically said: “President Barack Obama is down for the count, will have an early lame duck presidency, and will be out of the White House in two years.” As a conservative, it pains me to say this, but given what has taken place during the 2010 lame-duck session, Sabato and Abramowitz might be on to something: President Obama will probably be reelected.

Let’s review. Charles Krauthammer is right; President Obama did indeed pull off the “swindle of the year” with the tax cut legislation. The tax deal might have set off howls of anger among Obama’s liberal base and significantly increased the nation’s debt, but it was a defensive play designed to bring certainty to Main Street (small business in particular), the unemployed and the American taxpayer — a true three-fer. Next Obama delivered on the campaign promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in an effort to pacify progressives — another tall order. Now that the START treaty is on a trajectory to be ratified, Obama will be able to chalk up a foreign policy victory to his list of achievements, at least on paper. Frankly the only two men who have had a more successful December than Obama are Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

According to Sabato and Abramowitz, in mid-November of 2010, Obama could count on 200 electoral votes for his re-election bid. I have no reason to disagree with their assertion; it is not like the liberal base, particularly in California and New York, is going to abandon Obama in favor of Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin. Still, what Sabato and Abramowitz ironically described as a heavy lift to assemble the additional 70 electoral votes needed for victory doesn’t look quite so impossible after the president’s December pirouettes.

With President Obama capable of raising close to $1 billion for his re-election bid, money will not be an obstacle. What about turnout, could this be a problem for Obama? Not likely either. For all of the gains the GOP made at the ballot box in 2010, the Republican Party fell short of converting enthusiasm into voter turnout. As Rhodes Cook notes in The Wall Street Journal, “the turnout in 2012 will be quite different [than 2010] — larger, more youthful and rainbow-hued, and quite possibly, less Republican.”

So who or what does Obama need to target if he is going to win re-election? According to the recently released 2010 Census data, Obama should primarily be focused on the economy and jobs as it relates to independents and Hispanics in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico. All of these states have newly minted Republican governors who are under the gun to improve the economic plight of their respective states. If these governors stumble, their constituents will be looking for a quick fix and they won’t hesitate to pull the lever again for Obama.

Just a month ago, President Obama’s chances of winning re-election looked bleak. He and Axelrod still have a lot to work on, but Obama’s poll numbers are improving. If the president focuses on jobs and the economy for real this year, it may be the GOP’s presidential prospects that turn into a rocky road for 2012.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, national political commentator and former presidential campaign advisor, is the Chairman of CivicForumPAC and co-founder of ProjectVirginia.