A year from now, President Obama will be at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., making his case to the nation for four more years.
Already, it’s clear he has a mighty tall order ahead of him.
Mr. Obama’s own budget office forecasts 9 percent unemployment through 2012 – higher than any president seeking reelection has faced since World War II. Economic growth is tepid. Consumer confidence is in the dumps.
And he has a gaggle of Republicans, all vying for the chance to face him one on one in November 2012, slamming and ridiculing him on a daily basis.
It’s enough to make some wonder if he won’t just turn to his secretary of State and onetime Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and say, “I give up, you run in my place.”
Surely that won’t happen. Besides, another bad August for Obama is over. Time to hit the reset button and try to get his mojo back.
At the very least, Obama faces no shortage of advice on what he can do to save his presidency.
“I think the question coming next year will be two things: One, can he make the public feel that Barack Obama really cares about ‘people like me,’ ” says Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, quoting the classic polling question.
Second, Mr. Fenn continues, since the public grants that the nation’s problems are not all Obama’s fault, can he convince enough voters that the Republicans trying to replace him will only make things worse?
“Are they so far out there that they don’t really have any solutions either?” says Fenn. “In fact, will what they propose be counterproductive?”
To be sure, Obama can’t count on the Republicans to nominate someone who’s unelectable. No smart politician sits back and hopes the other side implodes. But Obama’s task may not be as far-fetched as it seems.
He doesn’t need to win over Republicans or the tea party to win reelection; he just needs to peel away enough independent voters to get to a bare majority. And in this volatile time, that can’t be ruled out.
“The economic data buttress the view that this presidential election is the GOP’s to lose,” writes nonpartisan analyst Charlie Cook. “Although if Republicans nominate a candidate who has difficulty connecting with the independent voters between the two ideological and partisan 40-yard lines – that is, the voters who ultimately decide elections – they may well test that proposition.”
The conventional wisdom holds that former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) of Massachusetts is the most electable of the GOP’s leading candidates. But it’s not clear that he can win the nomination, as conservative energy moves toward the more colorful Gov. Rick Perry (R) of Texas. It’s also not clear that the Republican field is complete yet – and that former Gov. Sarah Palin (R) of Alaska isn’t the only potential candidate who might yet jump in.
Much speculation centers on what Obama will say next Thursday evening, when he presents his long-awaited jobs plan to a joint session of Congress. Will he go big and try to draw contrasts with the Republicans or will he go smaller, in the hope of winning Republican votes in Congress?
The plan is expected to include proposals for more stimulus spending and a continuation of the payroll tax cut. At his briefing Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney would not reveal details, but said that the plan would “by any objective measure … add to growth and job creation in the short term.”
Ultimately, though, Obama’s tone and manner may end up being more important than the content of his speeches, especially as he moves into campaign mode.
“The calm, cerebral President Obama may need to give way to a more combative, visceral candidate Obama next year,” writes Thomas Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, on the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball political website.
Fenn, the Democratic strategist, agrees. “You really need the passionate side of Obama to be out there,” he says. “Not the cool, calm, collected Calvin Coolidge decisionmaker, but the give-’em-hell Harry Truman style.”
Mr. Schaller suggests Obama will frame his appeal for four more years on the idea that he inherited problems that will take more than four years to fix.
“Whether Americans – or a majority of them, at least – are willing to demonstrate that kind of patience is the central question upon which the 2012 election will turn,” he writes.