Why Obama should be worried
By JIM VANDEHEI | 2/2/12 4:37 AM EST
To hear Democrats (and much of the media) tell it, President Barack Obama is a man on the rebound. The president turned in a strong State of the Union speech, picked a smart political fight over taxing the rich and authorized another heroic Navy SEAL mission in terrorist territory. Sounds like a recipe for reelection, they say.
There is a big problem with this Pollyanna punditry: There are a bunch of real-time numbers coming in that tell a much different tale.
In short, there’s a new Congressional Budget Office report that shows unemployment likely to climb to nearly 9 percent by the election, there’s polling data showing Obama tied or trailing Mitt Romney in the most important swing states (and doing only marginally better against Ron Paul), and there is mounting evidence that the assumption of a decisive Obama fundraising advantage for the fall might be flat wrong. All of this is happening while Republicans are at their worst, with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spending millions of dollars and using all of their air time explaining why the other is untrustworthy, deeply flawed and eminently beatable by Obama.
Let’s look at each:
A new CBO report grabbed lots of headlines for projecting the deficit will top $1 trillion this year — making Obama the first president ever to pile up $1 trillion or more every year in office. That’s not great politics. But it’s not even the worst news contained in the CBO report. The unemployment number is.
The CBO projects unemployment will rise, hitting 8.8 percent in the third quarter of the year, the heart of the campaign. That’s terrible politics. Obama advisers have told us repeatedly on background that if unemployment is above 8.5 percent in the final months of the campaign, it will be extremely hard, if not impossible, to win. The advisers say independents will not return to Obama if it looks like economic growth is anemic and uncertain and it looks like his policies did little, if anything, to create new jobs under his watch.
Economists seem divided on the question of whether robust enough economic and job growth can happen in time for Obama to benefit. Some see signs of possibility in holiday sales and consumer spending in some parts of the country. Others see more of the same: a slow slog back. The CBO sees 2.2 percent growth in the quarter ending in September, essentially the same sluggish pace of a year earlier.
Swing voters in swing states
If Obama is on the rebound, someone forgot to tell swing voters in the most important up-for-grabs states in 2012.
Gallup, which both parties praise for its detailed appraisals of voters’ moods, just crunched the numbers in the 12 states that can authentically be called swing states. The results were hardly great news for Democrats.
Romney and Obama were tied.
Heck, Ron Paul is running only a few points behind Obama, and he’s yet to win more than 23 percent of the vote in a GOP primary or caucus.
Gallup also reported some disturbing national news Monday for Team Obama: The president had a 50 percent or better approval rating last year in only 10 states and the District of Columbia. In five states that could decide the election — Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia — Obama’s slide has been steep and uniform. In each state, approval in 2011 had fallen 12 or 13 percentage points from 2009 levels.
Most state polling’s no better: Of four Florida polls to offer an Obama-Romney head-to-head in late January, the president won just one. A PPP poll of North Carolina, released last month, had the president up just 1 point. An Ohio Quinnipiac poll from mid-January had the president up just 2 percentage points, though Obama fared better in a PPP poll of Ohio out Wednesday, besting all four potential GOP challengers and leading Romney by 7 points.
This is a 50-50 country. If Obama can’t win independents and can’t win the swing states, he can’t win reelection.
Let’s rewind six months for a moment. Back then, Obama advisers talked privately of their decisive fundraising advantage for the general election, how the combination of the reelection campaign, the DNC and a web of outside groups set up by Obama intimates would together raise north of $750 million and possibly $1 billion to bury the GOP.
This could still happen. But Obama fundraising has not been as strong as many Democrats had hoped or anticipated. More troubling for Democrats, there are signs that Republicans, especially if front-runner Mitt Romney wins, could match the most prolific fundraiser in the history of presidential politics, thanks to rich businessmen and their handy-dandy super PACs.
Look at the latest numbers: Romney, the RNC and the super PAC run by his allies have raised a total of $175.7 million during 2011; Obama, the DNC and the super PAC run by his allies have raised $209.3 million. As far as cash on hand, Obama enjoys an edge but not a decisive one: $96 million to $63.5 million.
This doesn’t factor in super PAC American Crossroads and sister nonprofit group Crossroads GPS, which plan on raising as much as $240 million for the election cycle, or the political spending of the Koch brothers, David and Charles, who together plan to funnel $200 million to various conservative groups this cycle. It is possible Republicans could actually outspend Obama.
Frustrated by Obama’s economic policy, wealthy businessmen are coughing up a lot of coin to defeat him. Consider this: Priorities USA Action has tagged just two donors so far for $1 million or more: DreamWorks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Service Employees International Union. Pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has tagged 10. And the heavy fundraising season is just beginning.
Zachary Abrahamson and Dave Levinthal contributed to this report.