It's surprising to me that so many people believe that Obama is unbeatable. Considering his record and the state of the economy the Obama campaign staff has a huge task ahead of them. Here are just a few of the obstacles they will have to overcome.
1. Unemployment will be very difficult to fix. There may be 2 million fewer jobs now than when Obama took office, but the slide started during the Bush administration. At the end of 2007 there were over 146 million people working. At the end of 2011 that number had dropped to 140 million even though the number of working aged people increased by 7.75 million.
In almost every year since 1947 both the number of people of working age and the number of people in the workforce have increased. From the start of 2009 through 2011 the population increased by 5.8 million but the labor force decreased by a total of 670 thousand. All these idle people may cause unemployment to increase when hiring starts.(see BLS numbers HERE)
2. Obama now has a record and, more importantly, future plans. His record will become a big part of the campaign. Start with his biggest problem - the promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, when in reality the US debt is now over 100% of GDP. Add green energy jobs and high speed rail, both of which crashed spectacularly. Healthcare costs guaranteed to be under $1 trillion while lowering premiums, allowing people to keep their existing coverage and not adding to the deficit. Failed stimulus, unemployment much higher than promised, mortgage assistance programs that didn't work, the housing collapse, a record number of Americans on food stamps and the S&P downgrade of US just to name a few.
The GOP should also focus on Obama’s plans for the future. His website is strangely quiet on what he wants to do if elected so Republicans have a chance to define the argument and should start doing so. Look at his past - it will predict his future.
3. Motivation - We have it, they don’t. Democrats can’t reproduce the swooning of the last election. Republicans not excited by McCain are chomping at the bit to turn out against Obama. Whatever the speech, whatever the candidate or issue, the tag-line is always the same - “We have to defeat Obama!” Many liberals, however, feel betrayed. Their president wasn't as radical as they had hoped and didn't accomplish the agenda many had set. This ‘failure’ won’t result in votes for the GOP but it will certainly dampen the enthusiasm of many hardcore liberals.
4. Gas (and other) prices. Newt received great response to his promise of $2.50 per gallon while the administration’s energy secretary has tied Obama with $8 gas. Prices will climb into summer especially if war breaks out in the middle east. There may not be too much the President can do about gas prices but most people don’t understand that. And you don't have to understand the irresponsible printing of money to know that almost everything costs more than it did 3 years ago.
5. Conservative attacks and support are divided - for now. Until there is an official nominee the GOP and other groups will spend much of their time attacking each other and splitting support among candidates. Very soon the focus will shift to the same candidate and the same opponent. If Republicans enjoy a 50/50 shot even amid the chaos imagine what will happen when they focus their message.
6. The Tea Party. We tend to forget that these groups (along with many similar grass roots organizations) did not even exist during the 2008 election. Tens of thousands of people that have never been interested in politics came out for events over the last few years. These groups will see resurgence over the summer and will play a big part in the fall elections.
7. Healthcare. If the Supreme Court rules the mandate Constitutional then conservatives will rally to block its implementation. If the court says that the government overstepped its authority, the argument will be that Obama will use a second term to try and get around it. Either way this single issue will drive a large anti-Obama turnout.
8. What else can Obama do? He has already killed bin Laden (and probably Qaddafi as well), pushed through national health-care, “added back more than 3.9 million private sector jobs”, pulled the country back from the brink of financial collapse, repealed don’t ask - don’t tell, got us out of Iraq, authored a $789 billion economic stimulus plan, taken out Somali pirates, extended the payroll tax cut, and gave us cash for our clunkers. And he is still barely at 50% against GOP candidates with an approval rating in the low 40’s!
9. Lackluster Fundraising. Obama is not raising the kind of money everyone initially thought. Labor unions are not as rich as they were in 2008 because of high unemployment and other fights all across the country. Hollywood has not jumped in, and people in general would rather spend what little they have closer to home and on their own families. And the PAC money Obama criticizes but so desperately needs is really running light.
10. Obama barely won in 2008. He pulled out a decisive victory in electoral votes (365 to 173) mainly because 9 states turned ‘blue’ after voting Republican in 2004. But he did this while gathering less than 53% of the popular vote. Realize also that the 2012 election will play out under a new census that redistributed population centers and even shifted some electoral votes from Democratic to Republican states.
11. The Debt Limit. Although the current limit was supposed to last past the election, another debt limit fight may come back to bite candidates before November. For the first 6 months of 2010 the US debt increased by an average of $54 billion every month. This number has risen to an average of $135 billion per month in the most recent 6 month period. At this rate (barring the shell-game trick the Treasury pulled in June-July 2011) we will hit the $16.396 trillion limit around September or October.
12. The Misery Index. Not yet getting much airplay, this number is calculated by simply adding the unemployment and the inflation rates. Accept the administration's unemployment (probably 8% by the election) and look at real inflation that removes big ticket items we rarely purchase like homes and cars and the Misery Index tops 16 percent - similar to what the Carter administration faced. See more about the ‘real’ inflation rate at the American Institute of Economic Research.
Bonus Reason - Scandals. Most everyone would agree the chances of a scandal with Romney are pretty low, but it seems that every few months we learn of some new controversy in the Obama administration. Fast and Furious, vacation trips, questionable loans to Green and other companies that donate to his campaign, GSA spending and, most recently, problems with the secret service. It seems likely that we will have several more before November, especially since it takes a few years before some of these come to light.
Carter Beats Reagan?
Of course he didn't, but this might have been your conclusion if you had looked at polling data in March of 1980 when you would have seen Carter with a 58 - 33 lead over Reagan. In late May the lead was still 39 to 32. Fortunately people came to their senses before the election. But no incumbent president in recent memory has been this far behind at this stage of the game. Help spread the word. Encourage your friends. And, more importantly, be ready to vote in November!