Gleefully watching the Republicans as they cut each other up, some of my Democratic colleagues are getting their swagger back after the 2010 “shellacking.” The new thinking: a) we beat these folks before; and b) we’re going to beat them again.
Yes, even conservative pundits like Ross Douthat are complaining about the GOP field in “this underpowered race,” admitting: “They’re a B-team, and the A-team is waiting in the wings.” Conrad Black in National Review added: “Though it is distressing to be enduring such a dismal election campaign, it is not unprecedented. … There have been other candidate droughts in the past.”
But if ever there was a time to avoid overconfidence, Democrats, this is it. With over 67% of Americans telling a Washington Post poll that “things have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track,” another 80% telling Gallup they are “dissatisfied” with the state of the union, and with over five million fewer Americans working than in 2008, all incumbents could be vulnerable. We’ve just gone through three straight “wave” elections — for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008, for the Republicans in 2010. Who knows what the voters have in store for 2012? To say that we live in volatile times would be a vast understatement.
As a partisan Democrat, I’m rooting for Mr. Obama, but there are numerous problems, both visible and unforeseen, that could trip him up.
Barring the nomination of a Republican ticket of Ron Paul and Christine O’Donnell, anyone who says this election is in the bag is crazy. How could President Obama lose? Let us count the ways.
1) The president could win the national popular vote but lose a majority in the Electoral College
In 2000, for the first time since 1888, the winner of the national popular vote failed to carry the Electoral College. Al Gore won New York, Massachusetts, D.C., and California by a total of over four million votes. But he lost the key swing states of Florida by 537 votes, New Hampshire by about 7,000, and Ohio by 167,000, thus costing him the presidency in a one-state defeat. In effect, Gore’s huge margins in those coastal states were “wasted” votes. The odds are against it, but Barack Obama could get Gored in 2012.
2) The Nixon-Reagan-Bush coalition could re-assert itself
From 1968 to 2004, Republicans put together a coalition of the South, the West, suburbia, and the Farm Belt, winning seven of ten national elections — and control of the U.S. Senate for nearly half those years. That GOP coalition lost in 2006 and 2008, but heartland America and suburbia boomed big for Republicans in 2010. It’s certainly possible that President Obama could get isolated in the inner cities and coastal enclaves while losing almost everything else, a la Mondale and Dukakis in the 1980s. Maybe the Tea Party revolt of 2009-10 is for real.
3) The president could get personally blamed
With over two-thirds of Americans unhappy with the condition of the country, we can never be sure that a massive “throw-the-bums-out” mood won’t be directed at the man at the top. That certainly happened to Herbert Hoover in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the first President Bush in 1992.
4) The president could fall victim to a “flash-crash”
In early September of 2008, John McCain had been buoyed by his successful convention, and his choice of Sarah Palin had ignited the right. He surged to a five-point lead in the early-September Gallup poll. But the financial crisis of mid-September ended the momentum in a hurry and drove the Democratic sweep in November. Could history repeat itself in 2012?