By George E. Curry
After winning the show-down with House Republicans shortly before Christmas over extending unemployment insurance and receiving an uptick in his job-approval ratings, President Obama is now in a better position to win re-election, despite a sluggish economy.
With the Iowa caucus over and New Hampshire as the next GOP battleground, Obama is expecting to face former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the general election next November. Former Speaker of House Newt Gingrich, like other candidates before him, briefly assumed the front-runner mantle before his poor performance in Iowa.
The good news for Obama is that his populist themes and his willingness to call out Republicans are winning over voters. A story in the Washington Post observed: “A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that Americans are still broadly disapproving of Obama’s handling of the economy and jobs, the top issues, but that views of his overall performance have recovered among key groups, including independents, young adults and seniors.” It noted, “Obama’s job-approval rating is now its highest since March, excluding a temporary bump after the killing of Osama bin Laden: Forty- nine percent approve and 47 percent disapprove.” The poll, taken Dec. 15-18, found Republican Congressional support has fallen to 20 percent.
Both parties have actively courted middle-class voters. And Obama seems to be winning that matchup as well, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll. When asked about protecting the middle class, 50 percent of respondents said they trusted Obama over Republicans, who were favored by only 35 percent.
This does not mean that Obama is guaranteed re-election. While Democrats enjoyed watching Republican candidates form a circular firing squad in Iowa, aided by unprecedented spending by outside groups called super PACs, they realize that once the GOP selects a nominee, all that negative campaigning will be aimed at Obama. A large segment of the GOP hates Mitt Romney, but they hate Obama more. This will be the first presidential election since a pair of 2010 Supreme Court decisions cleared the way for unlimited corporate and individual donations to support independent political organizations. It is estimated that such contributions to candidates seeking federal office could reach $6 billion to $7 billion this year.
On another front, the Washington Post reported Sunday that Republican officials have created a video catalogue of every word Obama has uttered since launching his 2008 presidential campaign. The story said, “The GOP playbook is designed to take one of Obama’s greatest assets – the power of his oratory – and turn it into a liability.” One attack on Obama will feature a 2009 clip from the “Today” show in which he said that if he could not fix the economy in three years, “then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the Post, “That’s a clip the American people will hear and see over and over and over again … the nice thing about Barack Obama is that he’s given us plenty of material. The one thing he loves to do is give speeches.” Obama plans to use even more speeches to argue that he is a stronger advocate for the middle-class and unemployed workers than Republicans. He hopes to depict the GOP as concerned only about the plight of superrich and keeping tax loopholes for large corporations. Like Harry Truman, who campaigned against a do-nothing Congress, Obama is drawing a sharp contrast between his administration and Republicans. However, Obama can’t totally disassociate himself from Congress if he wants any additional legislative victories. One of his first tests in 2012 will be to obtain a one-year extension of unemployment benefits, which is set to expire in less than two months. Obama’s team also must do a better job communicating his message if he is to win a second term. Many polls show that although Obama’s personal approval ratings are low, many of the policies he has proposed – including using a combination of higher taxes on the wealthy and spending cuts to lower the deficit – resonate with most voters, including many Republicans.
Both Democrats and Republicans are disappointed that the economy remains sluggish. When asked on the CBS program “60 Minutes” why he should be re-elected, Obama replied, “Not only saving this country from a Great Depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we’re going to start lowering health care costs and you’re never going to go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts and the system is more stable and secure. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field.” He added, “But when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do. And we’re going to keep on at it.” George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach.
He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.