President Obama’s State of the Union was strongly bipartisan and made smart moves to the center, although it missed a chance to really tackle tough fiscal issues like meaningful entitlement reforms. His Arizona speechwas terrific, his favorable ratings are climbing over 50, the economy is showing steady signs of improvement, and the stock market is up. So, how could he possibly lose his reelection bid? Just ask George H.W. Bush, who had an approval rating of nearly 90 percent two years out from his reelection. $#&! happens when you are at the helm of the free world. What could happen? Let us count the ways...
1. Velma Hart Syndrome
Many of Barack Obama’s supporters “are exhausted.” Many defected in the midterms. Independents, suburban residents, college graduates, working-class voters, and even Hispanic voters shifted right. Exit poll analysis by National Journal shows “white voters not only strongly preferred Republican House and Senate candidates but also registered deep disappointment with President Obama’s performance.” Team Obama will focus heavily on minorities, the young, and women, but voter enthusiasm may be tempered by economic exhaustion. Good news for Team O? Velma liked the speech Tuesday night.
2. The Obama Overexposure Effect
With counsel that he needs to get out more among the people to sell his message, voters may be turned off by the Obama Overexposure Effect. A Pew 2008 weekly survey showed, by a margin of 76 percent to 11 percent, respondents named Obama over Sen. John McCain as the candidate they heard about the most. Close to half said they heard too much about Obama. And by a slight but statistically significant margin, they then had a less favorable view of him. Before the 2012 campaign even kicks off, will Obama fatigue return?
3. Debt Bomb
The national debt reached $10 trillion under President Bush, but deficit spending is at an all-time high under President Obama, with $1.4 trillion added in 2009 and $1.3 trillion in 2010. And the CBO now projects a deficit of $1.5 trillion this year. That means the federal government will borrow 40 cents for every dollar it spends. Bankruptcies loom for many states faced with unfunded public pension liabilities; strong-arm demands for bailouts by unions will threaten Democrats’ credibility. Sixty-eight percent of likely voters already express a preference for smaller government and lower taxes. Talk of more federal spending and the potential for state bankruptcies will increase voter anxiety. As the GOP educates voters about what the exploding debt burden means for future generations, its cost-cutting measures and messaging will resonate.
4. Voters Aren’t Better Off
In 1980, President Ronald Reagan famously asked: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” The answer for many is “no,” with higher unemployment, more debt, record-high home foreclosures, and another housing dip on the way. The long road to economic recovery will continue to frustrate voters. And weekly reminders of rising prices at the gas pump and grocery store, where it hurts most, may cost Obama the election.
5. Ailing Health Care
• Mark McKinnon: 12 Reasons Obama Wins in 2012If “Obamacare” was historic legislation, so too was the House vote to repeal it. Though repeal today may be moot as Senate passage and a presidential veto are unlikely, as the true bottom line becomes known, in terms of increased costs, decreased access to care, and increased government controls, health care once again will be a decisive campaign issue. Efforts to dismantle or defund Obamacare will continue for the next two years. And as the public listens more to the credible Rep. Paul Ryan, the president will be on the defensive daily.
6. Tea Party Momentum
The momentum will not stop. With a majority voice and a mandate, GOP House members, and the increasingly popular Speaker John Boehner, are making all the right moves, with humility and focus on the most important issues: the economy and health care. Fired up by victories in the historic midterm elections, Tea Party, conservative, older, and right-leaning moderate voters will turn out in droves in 2012, challenging the Democrats’ ground game. With 33 Senate seats (23 of which are now held by Democrats), 435 House seats, 11 governorships, and perhaps the ultimate fate of Obamacare still on the line, all politics is turnout.
7. Obama’s Transparency Problem
If House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is effective in questioning mismanagement and opacity in the administration, Team Obama will be forced off-message as the public is reminded daily of the president’s one-time promises of transparency. A bill introduced on the first day of this session that seeks to cut off funding to 39 “czars” appointed without congressional approval may also find its way to the light of day on Issa’s desk. And sunshine tends to disinfect.
8. Congressional Districts Reapportioned
With the reapportionment of congressional districts from the 2010 Census, and with Republican control of more governorships and state legislatures, Obama’s electoral road to reelection is not without a few bumps. Eight states gained at least one congressional district; five of those are traditionally red states, including Texas, which gained four seats. Six of the 10 states to lose a district are blue. And once reliable Democratic states voted Republican in the 2010 midterms. While Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post shows how Obama could survive the challenge, Karl Rove builds a case for the president falling 67 short of what he needs to remain in the White House.
9. The Wars Aren’t Over
President Obama gets credit for continuing George W. Bush’s strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. And though the public grows weary, the anti-war movement is now strangely silent. The number of voters who believe the terrorists are winning is at its highest level in over three years, and voters continue to believe Obama’s ideas on foreign policy don’t quite match their own. Those concerns, along with growing international threats from Iran, and our increasing economic dependence on China, may push votes into the R column.
10. What About Overregulation?
By moderating his anti-business rhetoric, selecting William Daley of JPMorgan Chase as his new chief of staff, and naming General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt as the chair of the White House’s new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, Obama is sending signals of the administration’s shift toward the center. But without real changes to the overregulation strangling business growth, those signals may be seen as all smoke, no fire. And if private-sector job growth does not improve, voters may punish Obama at the polls.
11. Republicans Are More Trusted
The country yearns for an optimistic leader who believes in America, and who is willing to make hard choices to save future generations from the burden of our mistakes. Many thought that was Obama’s promise. No matter how it may be spun, the midterm elections were a referendum on the president’s performance and platform. And Republicans are now more trusted on all the top issues, including the economy, taxes, and health care.
12. The Vision Thing
Though President Obama has matched his highest job approval rating in more than a year, he is under 50 percent when it comes to the economy, viewed by the public as the highest priority. Trust in his ability to handle health care has dropped to a new low. And only 37 percent of independents would vote to re-elect Obama if the election were held today. A $1 billion campaign fund may not be enough if the GOP’s “Candidate X” presents a compelling and distinctly different narrative, a better vision for tomorrow.
As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.