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Thursday, January 5, 2012

IOWA AND THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGY


It's over! But it's just begun. There must be multitudes of weary citizens who thought the Iowa caucus race would never end. What does the outcome mean? Not very much. Certainly not the electoral equivalent of the millions of dollars spent and millions of words written and spoken in over analysis. So just a very few more words. Essentially who wins or does relatively well is less important than who loses or does poorly.

Past winners were “uncommitted” ('72 &'76), Tom Harkin, Richard Gephardt, Robert Dole ('88), and Mike Huckabee. These candidates won the caucuses but failed to win their party's nomination. However, no candidate who came in last or second from last except Michael Dukakis ('88, 3rd of 4) has gone on to win their parties nomination since 1972. So doing poorly tends to narrow the field and often severely diminishes the prospects for those at the bottom. In this years caucuses, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry have fallen into this category. Bachmann has dropped out and Perry is in all probability next. He is currently polling 2.3% in New Hampshire and has focused his energy and money on South Carolina where he currently polling 5.7%.


So while co-winner in Iowa, Rick Santorum, should get a bounce in New Hampshire from Gingrich, Bachmann and Perry voters who will be swayed by the results in Iowa, he still is a long shot in both the next two primaries, New Hampshire and in South Carolina whose Republican Tea Party supported Governor, Nikki Haley has endorsed Mitt Romney. Perhaps not in South Carolina but soon, Santorum will have to broaden his appeal from his anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage message that won evangelical votes in Iowa.

Meanwhile, both the Romney and Obama campaigns are gearing up for the national election. It has been the “conventional wisdom” that the Obama 2012 campaign strategy will have two main characteristics. This of course could change as circumstances change, but for now the pundits have generally agreed that Obama cannot campaign on his record although liberals give Obama credit for things he didn't actually do; things he did that were flawed; and things he did of which the nation as a whole disapproves. These would include “leading from behind” in the NATO role in the Libyan revolution which was led by a Canadian general and with most air support coming from the British and French; the 700 billion dollar stimulus which was supposed to create “shovel ready”jobs and thus stimulate consumption, but which did neither because it was turned over to the Congress which used the funds for parochial interests which were mostly out in the future in terms of job creation; and the passage of the national health care bill commonly known as “Obamacare” which currently 53% % of Americans want repealed and only 39% support and twenty-six states have sued to overturn.

However, in general it is Obama's overall record on the economy that is his biggest political weakness. In his 2008 campaign he made significant promises which provide a stark contrast to reality. Unemployment remains at just under 9% and federal deficits and debt have reached historic and unsustainable levels.
This has produced a political climate that Obama will not wish to dwell on. In fact, seventy-one percent of the nation believes “the country is on the wrong track”.

This leads to the second predicted emphasis for Obama's campaign which is that he will focus on attacking the Republican controlled House of Representatives for allegedly blocking initiatives that would have energized an economic recovery, as well as personal attacks on Mitt Romney who the Obama campaign assumes will be the Republican nominee.

Congressional Republican bashing however, while popular with committed Democrats, will not give the American people as a whole, a reason to give Obama another four years. There is also some evidence that liberal pundits and Administration officials will try to provide more substance to the campaign message by claiming success in foreign policy. This however, will be a difficult argument and be mostly centered around the claim that Obama killed Osama bin Laden which was a military success but can hardly be called a foreign policy success.

In terms of actual foreign policy, the Administrations “outreach” to the Muslim world has produced no positive results. In a survey of seven Muslim nations (May, 2011) only 25% of those polled had a “favorable” view of the U.S. and only 29% had “confidence” in Obama.

He has provided no leadership and no results in the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum, and indeed has alienated both the government and population of Israel. His much advertised “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations has resulted in a cave in over the plan to station a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the revised plan involving radar stations in Turkey, Romania and Poland have resulted in threats by the Russians to abandon the provisions of the recently signed START II arms control treaty and to target the missile defense bases with their own missiles.

The Iranian nuclear program remains intact while the government of Iran threatens to close the Straits of Hormuz to both international oil transport and the U.S. Navy. The Iraq war has been ended in a way that threatens to devolve into a state of sectarian strife, if not civil war, while the Shiite controlled government becomes more influenced by Iran. The critical relationship with Pakistan has reached a new low which will impact anti-terrorist cooperation and the conduct of the war in Afghanistan which drags on.

The only upside of these situations and failures for the Obama campaign is that the American electorate is so focused on domestic economic issues that interest in foreign affairs is not a prominent election issue. That upside could disappear in the Fall when the inevitable presidential debate over foreign policy is staged.

With Obama's job approval hovering around 46% and with the reality of these economic and foreign policy issues providing the context for the upcoming political debate, Obama's campaign strategists have turned to an electoral college numbers approach to try and come up with a winning formula in what promises to be a very close election, with Independent voters playing a crucial role in the outcome.

The heart of the strategy, as recently described by Obama campaign officials, is to start the electoral college quest for the necessary 270 of 538 votes by winning the so called “Kerry states”. That is, the eighteen states, plus the District of Columbia, won by 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in his defeat by George Bush. These states are deemed to be “solid blue,”, or reliable Democratic states no matter what the political climate. In 2004, they provided 251 electoral votes for Kerry. Thus, under the Democratic strategy, Obama would only need to pick up 19 more electoral votes from the remaining 32 states to win reelection. Die hard Democrats are optimistic given that Obama won 28 states with 365 electoral votes in 2008. However, times have changed as the poll data cited above indicate.

First, the Constitutionally required decennial census was held in 2010. The census provides the basis for the reapportionment of state representation in the House of Representatives based on population shifts over the previous ten years. This process in turn, revises the Electoral College votes of each state since that vote is based on the number of members of the House from each state plus that state's two senators. The 2010 census reflected a mostly north to south population shift and subsequent loss of one representative in each of five of the Kerry states and a loss of two in one (NY) and a gain of one in the state of Washington. Thus the 2012 Electoral College votes in the Kerry states has been reduced from 251 to 245.

Taking a look at the strategy in the face of these new numbers and changed political environment reveals some real problems for the Obama campaign.

In 2008 Obama won nine states which went for Bush in 2004. While this seems to provide a fertile field for the search for twenty-five additional electoral votes, stated differently, Bush won 13 more states than Kerry where the now much discredited Obama must search for extra electoral votes.

First, a look at the current state of Obama's support in the “Kerry states”: Simply speaking the “Kerry Strategy has some dangerous holes in it. In seven of the eighteen Kerry states, the President is “under water in terms of job approval. 

                           Poll date    Approve/ Disapprove
Minnesota 10/26/11            41%/ 59%
Wisconsin 10/20/11            44/ 51
Michigan 11/13/11              46 / 46
Pennsylvania 10/30/11        37 -
NH           11/22/11             40 / 53
RI             12/15/11             44 -
New Jersey 10/13/11          43 / 52

These states have a combined total of 81electoral votes which are presently at risk of being deducted from the Kerry total. To make matters worse the so called critical “swing states” of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio with 62 electoral votes all have Romney tied or ahead of Obama even though he is not yet the Republican nominee. Obama's job approval ratings in these states are 45%/ 50% disapprove: 45%/50% disapprove: 47%/49% disapprove: respectively.

Clearly Obama's campaign strategy is built upon a shaky foundation. Much can change in ten months but once a Republican nominee is chosen opposition to Obama will become more focused and if Romney is the candidate, an appeal to the roughly 32% of the electorate comprised of self-described Independents should be more effective.

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