The South Carolina primary results have made President Obama a very happy man. He and his campaign high command know the longer the Republican nomination fight drags on, the less time the eventual nominee will have to turn his full attention and resources towards defeating Obama.
Some strategists believe that a prolonged battle strengthens the candidate and prepares that person for the general election. The Hillary/Obama primary fight of 2008 is often cited as an example how a bruising battle helped to hone campaign skills and otherwise prepare the victor.
However, in 2012, I disagree with this line of thinking. What is potentially shaping up to be a tough prolonged battle between Newt and Mitt will result in neither one emerging as a stronger candidate and the reasons why are as follows.
Unlike in 2008, we have a first-term president hovering above the fray with enormous advantages of incumbency and statistical odds of re-election.
As noted in this piece I co-wrote last January discussing Obama’s re-election prospects: “In the last 56 U.S. presidential elections, 31 have involved incumbents; 21 of those candidates have won more than one term. Based on these historical odds, Obama has a better-than-67-percent chance of winning reelection.”
On January 24, when he gives his State of the Union message, Obama will stand above a joint session of Congress looking very presidential on a high prestigious platform. Contrast that scene with Mitt, Newt, and to a lesser extent Rick and Ron, continuing to sling mud at each other while the media chronicles their every attack. (Mitt is supposed to release his tax returns around that time so that might steal some of Obama’s thunder, but not in a positive way.)
Since Obama cannot run on his anemic economic record, he will instead wage a frontal assault against his future opponent. So what could be more perfect than stacks of great material provided by the candidates themselves?
Based on how successful Newt’s attacks are against Romney or Romney’s attacks on Newt, Team Obama will have the luxury of watching from the sidelines, gauging how well the attacks impacted voters and the level of media interest. Then they can pick and choose which lines of attack will be re-packaged and re-played for the general election. You can fully expect Mitt’s or Newt’s words to be cleverly used against them. Thus, the longer the battle, the higher the ammunition stock-pile to the delight of Obama.
Obama and the Democrats love the idea of a prolonged battle because the longer the GOP race is unsettled, the farther to the right the candidates will be forced to run in order to please a base, which, by all accounts, is becoming more conservative and less representative of the center-right general electorate.
This will leave the eventual nominee with less time and room to drift back to the center where the candidate must move in order to attract more moderate and independent voters who will determine the election.
Then, consider how a stretched and vicious primary battle only increases the chances of voters becoming disgusted with all the Republican candidates.
My 86-year-old mother, a political observer, said just the other day, “The candidates are acting like they are in high school. I am so fed up with politics.” I hated reminding her that it’s only January!
Prolonged attacks by a Newt vs. Mitt race offer the potential of turning off general election voters who have turned against Obama and are thinking about voting for the Republican. Furthermore, the longer and dirtier the intra-party fight, the less time the nominee will have to focus exclusively on Obama and work to gain back lost respect from the voters.
At this point my hunch is that President Obama would much prefer to run against Newt Gingrich, with the RealClearPolitics (RCP) poll average showing Obama defeating Gingrich by 11%. Compare that to Obama being in a virtual tie with Romney, defeating him by only 1.9%, well within the margin of error.
So now all eyes shift to Florida — where the next great battleground primary is on January 31st, but early voting has already started.
Voters who “think” Gingrich is still a stronger candidate despite RCP showing him losing to Obama by 11% need to “re-think” their position due to some inconvenient facts:
In 2008, Obama defeated McCain by 7.3%. (52% to 45.6%)
With his 11% spread, Gingrich would fare much worse.
But for those stubborn voters who don’t believe polls, try this:
The last RCP average before the 2008 election had Obama at 52.1% vs. 44.5% for McCain, a 7.6% difference. Which means RCP was only off by 0.3%.
RCP poll averages tend to be reliable because they are an average of all the major polls combining likely voters/ registered voters/ and all adults.
Therefore, I highly recommend checking out the latest RCP general election match-up polls before you cast your primary vote for the sake of our nation’s future. Obama must be defeated, so carefully consider the odds of the candidate who currently loses to Obama by 1.9% vs. the one losing by 11%.
Finally, there is another factor that I find troubling this primary season and one that will work to further weaken our candidates. The mainstream media is in favor of a prolonged nomination battle — the bloodier, the longer, the better.
After all, this leads to increased ratings, but also has the dual purpose of allowing Obama to remain untouched and presidential while the Republicans are engaged in political wrestle-mania for months to come.
In that case, you can fully expect President Obama to engage in his usual presidential behavior of lavish parties, vacations, and golf outings, while his team plans the biggest party of all, his second inaugural.